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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 19, 2009 at 12:07 PM

Desert musings from drizzly Seattle

Now that I’m safely returned to Seattle — how many r’s in “brrrrrrrrrr? — I thought I’d give some reflections on what I saw from the Mariners in my two weeks in the Valley of the Sun.

First of all, their play was pretty consistently ragged, but Don Wakamatsu was looking at a lot of guys that won’t be a factor this season, at least not at the outset. I’m talking the likes of Prentice Redman, Mike Wilson, Justin Thomas (who could have been a factor, if he had shown anything in Peoria), et al. In other words, I’m not reading too much into all those walk-filled, error-marred messes that I witnessed.

NOTE: I originally had Sean White in that list of players above who won’t be factors this season. While that may well be true, as a reader points out, White has pitched very well this spring — a 2.25 ERA in six appearances. So I’m retracting his name.

However, the team is going to have to tighten up considerably, and it won’t really have an opportunity until the World Baseball Classic is over and they get back 44 percent of their starting lineup (Ichiro, Kenji Johjima, Jose Lopez, Endy Chavez) and 40 percent of their starting rotation (Felix Hernandez and Carlos Silva). If Venezuela meets Japan in the finals (as I predicted two weeks ago, and still do), then that won’t happen until next week, barely 10 days prior to Opening Day. That stretch will really test Wakamatsu’s ability to pull together all the threads of this team and quickly weave a cohesive product.

Speaking of Wakamatsu, some observations: It’s way too early to tell what kind of a manager he’s going to be, but I was quite impressed with him in our twice daily media sessions, once in the morning and again after the game. Wakamatsu observes everything, seems to have a clear vision of how he wants the game played, and a firm but not overbearing method of conveying that to the players. I was struck by how quietly biting Wakamatsu could be in his assessments. Here are a couple of examples, and there’s more:

  • On Yuniesky Betancourt, who is exasperating yet another coaching staff with his free-swinging ways and seeming refusal to try to change: “I think it comes down to production. And if he doesn’t produce, then we’ll look to go in a different direction.”

  • On starting candidate Garrett Olsen, after a brutal outing: “You talk about pressure situations or competing for a starting job and I thought it got the better of him today.”

  • On Jeff Clement (to John Hickey, formerly of the P-I. about a week ago): “We haven’t seen much out of Clement so far this spring. It was a big thing for him to come up last year and play. He needs to hit and to improve his defense.”

    Those aren’t exactly rip jobs, but he gets his point across.

    A couple of other thoughts:

  • Ken Griffey Jr. seems to have a good clubhouse rapport going. He’s not trying to take over the room, as he has in the past, but he definitely makes his presence felt without over-doing it. Griffey seems to have especially hit it off with Mike Sweeney — those two are constantly high-fiving — and Russell Branyan.

  • Most improved player I’ve seen, hands down, is Matt Tuiasosopo. Not only has he been hitting the ball with authority, consistently, but he’s played solid defense at third base. Tuiasosopo won’t make the team, but if he can keep this up at Tacoma, it will make it a lot easier for the Mariners to ship off Adrian Beltre at the trade deadline.

  • Besides Betancourt, who could be in real danger of losing playing time, if not his job, to Ronny Cedeno, the other player who has to step it up in a hurry is Mark Lowe (15 hits and four walks in 6 2/3 innings).

  • Speaking of Lowe, I still have no clue who the closer is going to be, but I wouldn’t be totally shocked if that person is not currently on the roster. If I had to pick today, I’d take David Aardsma.

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