I talked to Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik earlier in the week for this column which ran in Friday’s Seattle Times. It was impossible to get all his quotes into this article, and I thought he had some interesting things to say that I left out. So I decided to run the interview in close to its entirety.
What is your two-week impression of the season so far? “There’s been a lot of positives, especially since we’ve gotten home. No one makes excuses. Everyone gets into this situation here and there. You’re on the road for a long, long time in spring training. Tip your hats to the clubs that played the way they played us on the road. But now we come home, and I think there’s a little bit of a comfort level here, a chance to get your feet on the ground.
“I thought we would swing the bat better than what we did. I think just the club jelling as a team. There’s so much that ties into that – there’s a lot of new players, and the comfort level, them feeling comfortable with each other. All those types of things – a switch of positions, a couple of injuries here and there. There’s so many things that tied into what happens the first week of the season.
“Now we’re starting to see what we are. There’s some real positive signs. I’ve been impressed. It’s been fun to watch this club this past week, because you know you can get good pitching; your defense has done some tremendous things; timely hitting. All those type of things. It’s fundamental baseball.
Isn’t that the formula for success you envisioned? “I’m happy that the guys have approached the game the way they’ve approached the game. I tip my hat to the staff. They’ve done a great job of staying the ship and all of that. So here we are, and let’s go. There’s some bright spots ahead of us, too.”
When the team was 2-6, were you worried? “Nah, because what happens through the course of any of those early losses, a timely hit here or a timely hit there, or something that would have bounced this way or that way, changes the complete outcome of a ballgame. That’s what I was seeing – a break here or a break there, or like I said, someone comes through in the clutch, and you knew eventually they would. You’re looking at some of the batting averages the first week, and you know those guys aren’t that bad. It’s just a stretch we went through. It’s a long, long season, and I kept saying to myself, hey, there’s 98 percent of the season, or 96 percent of the season, to be played yet, whatever the number was.
“I thought once we got home and got our feet on the ground, the true identity of this team would come out. We’re starting to see what we are. We’ve had some tremendous defense, which is great. Pitching, baserunning, timely hitting here and there. Like I said all along, we’re not going to go head to head with any of the big bombers in baseball. That’s just not how this club is designed.
“But the positive is, you’ve had a chance. We had this even at the beginning of last year. You gave guys opportunities, and players rose to the occasion. Some of these guys are establishing themselves right now, building upon last year, or coming in here and establishing themselves as quality major league players. These guys that have had an opportunity to pitch have done a great job over the last few games. I’ve got to tip my cap to them; they’ve seen an opportunity and they want to make the most of it.
“There will be some bumps in the road, too, as we go forward. But I think the character of this club is strong. There’s a strong desire to win here. All I thought about all along, all I want is the opportunity for us to be healthy. That’s all. I just want the club to be healthy. The sooner we get healthy, the better off we’re going to be. Once we’re able to put all of our cards on the table, then let the pieces fall where they may. Whatever happens, happens. But I like the personality of this group of guys, I like the approach to the game. It’s been fun to watch for me and everyone else that’s been watching them.
Are you willing to ride out some of the offensive struggles? Sure, sure. You don’t try to create anything. You have your club here right now, you know what this club is. You want guys to continue to jell and improve and gain from experience, and I think we’re seeing that.”
Do you like the way Milton Bradley is fitting in? “Great. What I’m real happy about is our fans are supporting him the way they are. Because he’s a good person, and he truly cares. For our fans to be behind him, and of course he’s done some things this week that are real positive. The homer the other day, and the double. He’s made nice plays in the outfield. He’s a contributor here, and that’s all we asked. That’s all we wanted him to do, come in and let Milton be Milton.
“I wouldn’t single out any player. Any time we bring a player here, we want him to be part of the club. We want him to join in and be part of a very good thing we think we have gone here. Like I said, I’ve been proud of the fans, they’ve been supporting every member of this ballclub. Sometimes, in opposing parks it can be a little tough for him. But our guys have been supportive of him, and I think he knows every guy on this team truly cares about him. But we care about each other. Every single player on the club. It’s a good environment.
What about Ken Griffey Jr.? “Look, we know Junior’s had some big hits for us. He’s already had a game-winning hit for us in Texas. Guys have to get on track. Like everything else, you continue to let guys play, let them get their ABs, and the season will unfold, and guys, what they are will come to the top.”
Your early impressions of the AL West? “I’ve said all along it’s going to be very competitive. I never felt anyone had a true complete edge. If anyone did, it would be Anaheim, simply because they’ve been there, done that, and they’re the defending group to beat. The team has been, if you will, the class of the division. In terms of everyone else, everyone has made improvements. Texas has a really good offensive club, we are what we are, and Oakland has very good young pitching.
“This is a long season. You see things unfold as the year goes on. And injuries will be a factor. There will be a lot of things that happen from now through the first third of the season, the middle third and the end, that changes the complexity of how this division plays itself out. So to sit here today – did I think it would be competitive? Yes. Has it been that way? Yes. Has everything happened like I thought clubs would be? Yeah. I thought this would be a dog fight. There will be a lot of things tied into how this thing is won at the end. None of us know what they are right now.”
(Seattle Times staff photo by Jim Bates)