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

March 2, 2007 at 8:19 AM

Felix, Vidro two biggies to watch

No doubt the Mariners and San Diego Padres will be sick of each other in 48 hours, having squared off in three consecutive exhibition games by then. Today’s tilt should prove interesting, given how Felix Hernandez is set to throw two innings in his spring debut. Another point of interest for team brass will be to see how Arthur Rhodes does in his first mound appearance. Rhodes is set to work the sixth inning of the game, depending on how things go.
Here’s today’s pitching rotation for the Mariners and the number of innings each hurler is slotted to go:
Felix Hernandez — 2
Ryan Feierabend — 2
Julio Mateo — 1
Arthur Rhodes — 1
Jon Huber — 1
Sean Green — 1 or 2
And the lineup for today, a little different than the one I posted yesterday because Ben Broussard will be starting in right field. Broussard was scratched from yesterday’s lineup to give his tight right quadriceps muscle a chance to be more rested than it was after he first hurt it in an intrasquad game on Wednesday.
CF Ichiro
3B Adrian Beltre
DH Jose Vidro
LF Raul Ibanez
1B Bryan LaHair
RF Ben Broussard
2B Willie Bloomquist
C Rene Rivera
SS Rey Ordonez
I note the presence of Vidro in the No. 3 spot in the order and wonder if the team truly is serious about having him hit third come April. The biggest weakness on the offense last season was clearly its on-base-percentage (OBP). Vidro as a No. 3 hitter last season posted a .303 OBP. For those unfamiliar with the workings of this stat, a .300 OBP is about the equivalent of the .200 “Mendoza Line” commonly refered to when batting average is discussed. As a No. 2 hitter, Vidro had a .410 OBP last season with the Washington Nationals. Now clearly, we’re talking about a small sample size here since stats for both batting positions were compiled in less than 200 at-bats.
If we look at Vidro’s combined numbers over the past three seasons, the case for hitting him third gets better, since his OBP is a very respectable .358 in the No. 3 hole, only slightly inferior to his .361 out of No. 2. Once again, the trouble is with sample size, since there were only 571 at-bats for Vidro out of the No. 3 spot over the past three years.
There is no question of batting Vidro second for now, since Adrian Beltre got his bat going in that role last year and the team doesn’t want to mess with something that’s finally worked for him. So, this becomes a question of whether to bat Vidro near the top of the order, or further back — an albeit unfamiliar role for him — in the lineup near No. 6 or No. 7 to take the early pressure off him as he adjusts to a DH role.
The season in which Vidro has the most at-bats at No. 3 since 2004 was last year, with the .303. Which Vidro will the Mariners be getting this season? The one with the .303 OBP from a year ago, or the one who posted a .384 OBP in 302 at-bats at the No. 3 spot in 2004? The one certainty is, with so many other big bats to choose from, the team can’t afford another OBP “Mendoza Line” black hole near the top of the order in April.
Remember, the Mariners are still waiting to see whether Beltre and Richie Sexson can figure out how to hit in the first half. That’s a lot of dice rolling up high in the order for a team wanting to get off to a quick start.
Then again, even Mr. Dependable, Raul Ibanez, had only a .328 OBP in the No. 3 spot last season. So, there isn’t a clear-cut case to be made in any one direction. And using Vidro third allows Ibanez to be bumped back a spot into the clean-up role as opposed to having Sexson there and all the risks his low first-half OBP entails.
Either way, Vidro has a lot to show the Mariners over the next four weeks. And whatever the Mariners take out of that showing, their hunches had better be right. That is, if they want to win. Which I know they do.
Off to go watch some morning drills. Game time is about noon PST once again.

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