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

March 15, 2007 at 4:13 PM

Now it counts

Great to be back here in Peoria after a week recuperating from the rigors of the meaningless part of spring training. It’s wonderful to have guys like Greg Bishop who can drop in at a moment’s notice and give us weary folks a break. Believe me, spring training is a grind for writers, no matter who you are or what city you’re working in, and it’s important to be spelled so that you’re firing at 100 percent heading into the regular season. When it counts. But any more of Bishop’s work down here and the Times would be keeping me in Seattle on a permanent basis. So, it’s time to get back to work.
Larry Stone, as you all know, is still down here and was at the game in Mesa today. He assures me he loves the whole blog deal, getting instant feedback from readers and such, and was actually a little sad it’s over. But Stoney has enough on his plate already without any more babysitting for yours truly, so it’s time to give him a break as well.
What did I miss the past week? Absolutely nothing. The team is more or less set and what we have to look for now is the fine-tuning that takes place over the next 14 days, beginning tonight. The lineup Seattle sent to Mesa for the 9-3 wipeout suffered at the hands of the Cubs was a joke. Good thing the Cubs can fold their laundry and have a packed stadium come to watch, otherwise, the M’s would have some explaining to do. So, they’ve got the big boys ready to go tonight for their spring television opener and there’s no better time for it since camp officially ends two weeks from today. That’s right. Two weeks. I know, I know, there are two games to be played after that in Las Vegas and San Francisco. But I’ve been a part of such theater before and can assure you it’s all a glorified show by then. Nobody in the lineup on opening day will be going the full nine in those contests. Nor should they. So, the countdown starts now.
Two weeks. That is the time frame many hitters have told me they need to truly get their swings going. The 14 days is also when starting pitchers go from tossing a handful of innings to building up the arm strength needed to throw the minimum amount of frames required (five, in case you were wondering). These upcoming two weeks are very important for the Mariners. Why? Because they need to get off to a good start against teams that will make the likelihood of that happening a remote prospect from where I sit. Seattle will have to play home openers in both Cleveland and Boston, two cities where playoff hopes run high. That’s after the Mariners do their own home-opening act against arch-nemesis Oakland. A little on down the way, they get to witness the Jose Guillen “homecoming” in Anaheim and won’t that be a hoot?
No, it will not be an easy April schedule for Seattle, no matter what Fox Sports thinks of the team’s chances in the AL West. Personally, I don’t think it’s healthy for any team — or its fans, for that matter — to be basing preseason optimism on the over-all mediocrity of a division. For those of you who would like the Mariners to truly do something worthwhile this season, here are some things to watch for these two very important final weeks:
HEALTH: There have been players bouncing in and out of the lineup with regularity all spring, as is normal this time of year. Jose Guillen has sore ribs and won’t be in the lineup tonight. But it has to stop soon. The M’s will want their regular lineup getting more and more time together as the season approaches and regulars need to start playing seven or more innings. All those bullpen aches and pains? Time to sort them out.
STARTERS: This was a big concern for me heading into camp and so far, so good. Three things to watch: Jeff Weaver has looked better since his debut, but he’ll have to keep on perfecting that new leg action. I’ll be curious to see him in tonight’s start. Jarrod Washburn has also had better success against lefthanded hitters and has to keep improving in that area if the team is to garner any significant return on its investment in him. And Miguel Batitsa must keep getting the ground ball outs he’s notched this spring if the M’s want him to be anything more than the 11-win max pitcher he’s been his entire career.

I’ll really be watching this situation unfold the next two weeks. J.J. Putz threw a bullpen session today, but that’s not the same as closing in the ninth. Chris Reitsma needs a few more successful outings under his belt before I’ll exhale and George Sherrill, well, only he knows how badly that elbow is bothering him. But when a team’s closer and main righty and lefty set-up guys have question marks associated with their elbows, it’s something to wonder about.
LINEUP: Jose Vidro is looking like what the Mariners wanted when they traded for him. It’s looking more likely that he’ll be the No. 3 hitter to start the year. Not sure what to think about that. It isn’t your typical way to build a lineup, but then again, this team needs to start changing the way it goes about finishing last so the unorthodox approach might not be a bad thing here. I’ll be watching Guillen closely as well. He has to stay healthy or this offense might not improve. Richie Sexson is on-record as saying he uses this latter part of camp to get his swing going. No better time than now to start that process because he hasn’t been hitting all spring.
Off to go talk to some of these guys.
P.S.: Cyber-fave Justin Lehr didn’t have the greatest day against the Cubbies, getting lit-up for three earned runs on four hits in an inning of work. Last two innings of spring work for Lehr? Five runs on seven hits. Sure seems like a lot of electronic trees were needlessly felled so folks could chat online about that signing.
Mariners top draft pick Brandon Morrow fared far better against Chicago, while generating much less winter blog chatter. Morrow tossed two scoreless innings and fanned Jacque Jones, Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa in the process.



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