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February 22, 2007 at 8:10 AM

Line ’em up

Great when a manager says he doesn’t want to divulge his planned lineup, then goes ahead and sort of does it anyway. That’s what happened here with Mike Hargrove this morning in his pre-workout chat with the media. Now, there is some flexibility in this, especially in spots 5-thru-7, but we have a better general idea of what’s coming.
Some of this might come as a surprise, though when you think about it, most of it makes sense.
Spots 1-thru-4 appear set in stone and will be as follows:
1. Ichiro
2. Adrian Beltre
3. Raul Ibanez
4. Richie Sexson
Now, if this was 2003, one might think Jose Vidro’s name would be up in the No. 2 spot. But Vidro has plenty to prove this season and will still be getting used to being a full-time DH. Not to mention the manager — and his bosses — wants Beltre to produce quicker than he has the past two seasons. Beltre was more productive as a No. 2 hitter and the team isn’t about to mess with that just yet.
Ibanez will remain in front of Sexson in the order. Sexson has his detractors, but Hargrove isn’t one of them. He envisions Sexson potentially clubbing 40 homers in this lineup and downplays the low batting average and on-base percentage he carried through most of last season.
“You don’t see a lot of power hitters have good batting averages,” Hargrove said. “You really don’t. Barry Bonds comes along not very often. Usually, when you see a guy hit for power, something has to be sacrificed. And it’s usually average. It always amazes me watching people get criticized — all the bitching and moaning about a guy who’s hitting 39 home runs and hits .240. Come on!
“I would love to see Richie hit .300,” Hargrove continued. “But I would also love to see Richie hit 40 home runs.”
But even Sexson knows he’ll have to improve upon the .218 average and .288 OBP he carried through last year’s all-star break.
Another, albeit very mild, lineup surprise to some will be that Kenji Johjima, who worked his way all the way up to No. 3 in the order last season, will drop down to the No. 5 thru 7 spot again to start the year. Johjima was a .300 hitter last year, gives you contact and did show a tendency to drive in runs. But this is — the Mariners hope –quite a different offense.
This team spent some decent money and traded two prospects to bring in Jose Guillen and Vidro.
Guillen and Vidro were both top and middle-of-the order hitters for the Washington Nationals in recent years. But Ibanez showed last year that his bat belongs up high and there’s no way he’s going to be bounced from there by a couple of guys who — let’s face it — were signed for their past exploits rather than the most recent ones. Until they prove otherwise, they get bumped further back.
Hargrove says he envisions Guillen and Vidro hitting from No. 6 on down in the order, then ammended that to say No. 7 on down. Much of that is about Vidro. With with a string of injury-plagued seasons, declining numbers and a DH job to get used to, he’ll be closely monitored.
Guillen provides the type of power, when healthy, of a middle-of-the-order hitter. So, it’s very likely he will be the No. 5 guy behind Sexson. Johjima hit .296 with runners on base last season and .344 with runners in scoring position. He gives you the contact you’d want from a No. 5 hitter, but has had very limited exposure or success that high up in the order. His most frequent spot last year was at No. 7 and with Hargrove wanting him to focus on aspects of his defense, my guess will be that the No. 7 spot is where he starts the year.
That leaves Vidro in the sixth spot, where his switch-hitting bat can break up the string of righties in the order. Now, this is all merely speculative on my part. And I can envision scenarios where the No. 5-thru-7 spots will shuffle around. But for now, I’d venture a guess that the rest of the order goes:
5. Jose Guillen
6. Jose Vidro
7. Kenji Johjima
8. Jose Lopez
9. Yuniesky Betancourt
Now, those final two spots could also be switched up as Lopez recovers from a sprained ankle. But as I said before, in a perfect world, this is what Hargrove would like to see. Betancourt is also the guy you want on base with Ichiro coming up to bat.
So, there you have it. If the whole thing changes by the season-opener, don’t start emailing me. I’m just the messanger and this is the impression that was put out there this morning.
If everyone performs to the level they are capable of, this could be the best offensive threat in the division. But a whole lot of things have to go right and there are still plenty of question marks surrounding the hitters being counted on. I count four serious question marks amongst the top six guys in the order and that’s a lot more than you’d like to see.
Off to go watch the workouts. Sean Green still not back out there, so he’s already lost a week to this hamstring thing. Word on the Mark Lowe MRI is expected this morning. Jeff Clement still has a sore finger, as we mentioned yesterday, and won’t be working out. But Johjima, tough neck and all, is on the field.



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