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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

February 26, 2007 at 6:11 PM

Mariners getting schooled

As you may have guessed from the previous posts, there is a lot more emphasis being placed on certain fundamentals this year than in previous ones. Manager Mike Hargrove wants added focus on situational hitting, which is how you wind up with contests like the one featuring $100-a-head batting practice bets. Hargrove is also paying more attention to the team’s baserunning, saying he wants players more aggressive but less adventurous.
There is a fine line between the two and it doesn’t necessarily involve base-stealing. The trend in baseball in recent years has been to get away from the stolen base, with statistical experts arguing that it is not worth the effort unless the runner in question is successful 75 per cent of the time. Stealing bases also tends to disrupt the concentration of the hitter, not to mention the legs and body of the guy doing all the sprinting and sliding.
I think a lot about Shannon Stewart, the new Oakland A’s signee who will be causing Seattle and other AL West opponents fits at the top of the order if his feet and legs stay healthy this season. Stewart stole 51 bases in his first full season with Toronto back in 1998. But he chopped that number down in ensuing seasons, mainly to cut back on the continuous leg injuries he attributed to his zeal for the steal.
As the seasons went on, however, Stewart still proved himself a serious threat on the basepaths with his ability to grab extra bags. He could easily cruise from first to third base on a single hit to even the strongest right fielder. On balls hit to the gap, he’d be on the way home from first base before the outfielder even hit the cutoff man. This is the type of player the Mariners want to see more of in 2007.
There aren’t many here who can match Stewart in speed. But the Mariners have to be more adept at grabbing extra bases on singles and doubles. The guys hitting those singles and doubles also have to be advancing to second or third when an outfielder’s throw home is allowed to bounce all the way through to the catcher. They have to be able to move up a base on a deep fly ball. And they have to be more comfortable at judging when to get aggressive. The one thing this team has shown in recent seasons is that its power hitters lack consistency from week-to-week, month-to-month. The walk-walk-homer approach isn’t going to work here with any full-time success. Seattle will have to start putting more pressure on opposing teams and pitchers by squeezing out some runs on nights the big bats don’t come through. One thing the bats of Jose Guillen and Jose Vidro give you is more extra-base power, especially the ability to hit doubles to the opposite field. Some more aggressive running can go a long way towards making up the run differential this team faced last season because of its power shortage relative to AL opponents.
Sandoval Update
I promised you earlier that I’d tell you how Juan Sandoval, a pitching prospect who is blind in his right eye, did during today’s bunt fielding drills. Well, I watched Sandoval on one of the side fields. On one attempt, he picked up a bunt toward the third base side, but dropped the ball before he could make a throw. He was made to repeat the drill and threw successfully to first for the out.
In another drill, making a “daylight” pickoff move to second base, his throw was right on the money. My only concern came when Sandoval was standing on the side with some of the other pitchers. At one point, a coach flipped a ball underhanded towards pitcher Justin Lehr, who was standing near Sandoval.
Lehr actually had to reach in front of Sandoval’s body for the ball. Sandoval did not appear to see him until the pair bumped into each other. It was a very minor, almost unnoticeable bump. But it’s clear that Sandoval has an issue with peripheral vision that he will have to compensate for in other areas. He admitted as much to me during our interview sessions last week. Obviously, he faces challenges during his comeback. It will be interesting to see him pitch in tomorrow’s intra squad game. All I can say is, he’s one brave ballplayer and I think everyone in camp wishes him well.
Sherrill alters throwing approach
Caught up with George Sherrill after today’s bullpen session. Sherrill was scheduled for 50 pitches, but the final bunch of his were thrown at something less than full throttle. Sherrill is battling an elbow stiffness issue that flared up during the second half of last season — he says it was a minor sprain back then — and is essentially going to dog him the rest of his career. The stiffness returned on the weekend and Sherrill now says he’s no longer going to “amp it up” in every bullpen and live batting practice session. He’d rather save the bulk of his juice for games as he learns to deal with this new challenge. It will be something worth monitoring closely.

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