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March 22, 2007 at 11:47 AM

Sherrill on the Hot Seat

The wind hasn’t died down much from yesterday as the Mariners begin their final game of this three-day stretch in Tucson. One pitcher who hasn’t made the trip out here, but is still generating plenty of questions, is lefty reliever George Sherrill, who threw 26 pitches in one inning of a minor league game yesterday while giving up two runs.
Sherrill’s numbers have looked ugly down here. In seven outings, including five Cactus League matchups, one charity game and one minor league contest, Sherrill has allowed a whopping 20 of 40 batters faced to reach base. A .500 on-base percentage by opposing hitters simply won’t fly at any level and manager Mike Hargrove is running out of patience.
“George needs to show something,” Hargrove said here this morning, as his players took batting practice at Tucson Electric Park. “He does. There’s a certain amount of grace time that who give people who have been important to a club. But there comes a point in time when you need to step it up.”
Does Sherrill need to “step it up” before camp ends?
“Now would be a real good time to step it up,” Hargrove said.
The manager added that he envisions one, possibly two open bullpen spots he hopes to fill by next Thursday. Hargrove can envision top draft pick Brandon Morrow making the squad. “If he keeps throwing like that, it doesn’t make it difficult at all,” he said of the pending decision.
The other spot will be a bench job, with Ben Broussard and Willie Bloomquist looking like pretty sure bets to make the squad, barring a last-minute trade.
Hargrove also has to choose a backup catcher, and may do so by early next week. He says the choice between Rene Rivera and Jamie Burke isn’t “going to be as tough” as filling some of the other spots.
Felix Hernandez could be named the Opening Day starter after he pitches tomorrow. But Hargrove may hold off on that decision until Monday, giving him time to discuss his choice with GM Bill Bavasi and fill out the rest of the rotation.
Here are today’s starting lineups for the 1:05 p.m. game:
Seattle Mariners (8-15)
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16 Willie Bloomquist, SS
29 Adrian Beltre, 3B
5 Jose Vidro, DH
28 Raul Ibanez, LF
44 Richie Sexson, 1B
12 Mike Morse, RF
2 Kenji Johjima, C
4 Jose Lopez, 2B
7 Jeremy Reed, CF
————————-
26 Horacio Ramirez, LHP
Chicago White Sox (9-14)
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17 Darin Erstad, LF
15 Tadahito Iguchi, 2B
25 Jim Thome, DH
14 Paul Konerko, 1B
23 Jermaine Dye, RF
24 Joe Crede, 3B
12 A.J. Pierzynski, C
32 Brian Anderson, CF
5 Juan Uribe, SS
————————-
52 Jose Contreras, RHP
RAINING AT GAME TIME
The rain drops began falling just as Bloomquist stepped into the batter’s box to begin the game. About a third of the crowd went scampering for the exits, but they began the game anyhow. No telling how much longer it will last. The rain is just drops for now, but there have been reports of lightning in the area.
Bloomquist just drilled a hard grounder that took a nasty hop past first baseman Konerko and out into right field. It was ruled a hit for Bloomquist, who entered the day with a .408 average. Bloomquist just stole second, his eighth swipe of the spring. He has yet to be nabbed.
MARINERS 1, WHITE SOX 0, BOTTOM IST
Bloomquist advanced to third on a fly ball to right field by Beltre. Contreras then bounced a pitch a foot in front of catcher Pierzynski and it bounded all the way to the backstop. That enabled Bloomquist to trot home with his team high 14th run scored this spring. No, he isn’t going to make the starting lineup. But he’s had a good spring. Vidro bounced out to second, but Ibanez kept the inning going with a single to left center.
That brought Sexson to the plate. Want to guess what happened next? Come on, guess, guess…
OK, time’s up. First, we’ll tell you that Ibanez stole second on a 2-2 pitch to Sexson. OK, guess what Sexson did next. A walk? A home run? Nope. He bounced out to shortstop. Where’s Ben Broussard? Oh yeah, he’s back in Peoria. Good thing, because Sexson is the starting first baseman. Like him or not, you’ve got to live with it. Repeat after me, it’s only spring.

WHITE SOX 2, MARINERS 1, RAIN DELAY

The bottom of the first began with an infield single by Darrin Erstad. Yes, him. He ran like I haven’t seen him do in five years. One out later, Thome muscled a 1-2 pitch from Ramirez over the left field fence. Then, the skies really opened up. Konerko was in the middle of an at-bat and bounced one to shortstop Bloomquist, who bobbled the ball in the rain. Konerko was running so slowly that Bloomquist still had a play at first base. But he one-hopped a terrible throw that Sexson made an equally bad scoop attempt at. With the game looking like a sandlot affair, the umpires promptly signalled a delay. The tarp is out on the field and they might call this one before any further play.
A note on Bloomquist in response to a question below: yes, he did get caught stealing, in the fourth inning of the Charity Game against San Diego. But the stats from that game do not count in Cactus League totals. Good catch, though.
GAME ABOUT TO RE-START
OK, it’s about 2:10 p.m. and they’ve taken the tarp off. Looks like they’ll try to play. The rain has stopped. Lots of clouds all around though. One more delay and they’ll likely bag this one. Ho Ramirez is done. Not much of a day here, at one-third of an inning. Brad Thomas is now on the mound for Seattle.
MARINERS 8, WHITE SOX 6, TOP 4TH
This game is degenerating quickly after that 47-minute rain delay. The Mariners jumped into a 3-2 lead in the second inning as Morse greeted Charlie Haeger, who replaced Contreras, with a solo homer to left on an 0-1 pitch to tie it. Lopez and Reed followed with one-out singles and Bloomquist — yes, him again — singled to right to bring the go-ahead marker home.
Seattle extended its lead in the third as Ibanez opened with a double, Sexson walked, Morse grounded out — moving both runners up — and Johjima notched an infield hit to shortstop that made it 4-2. The Mariners added a run that same inning as Lopez grounded out to the right side.
But Chicago just scored three in the bottom of the frame as Iguchi led off with a double, Thome walked and Konerko doubled both runners home with a shot down the left field line. Dye singled to leave runners at the corners and Crede hit a sacrifice fly to left that tied the game.
Pierzynski then singled, leaving runners at first and second with one out. Seattle then botched a rundown play after getting one out, as Bloomquist threw high to the plate in an attempt to nab Dye. That put Chicago up 6-5, but the Mariners just scored three in their half of the inning to regain the lead.
A leadoff walk to — Bloomquist! — was followed by a Beltre single to right, leaving runners at the corners. Vidro then hit a sacrifice fly to center to bring Bloomquist home. Ibanez walked and Sexson grounded a single up the middle for an RBI that put Seattle ahead. Yes, I repeat, Sexson just notched another single. Call off the hounds! Morse then singled to center to score Ibanez. The way this game is going, we’ll be here after dark.
The good stuff we’re seeing from the Mariners today is plenty of situational hitting. The pitching is a write-off, given that Ramirez was about the only one worth watching today.
NOTE ON SHERRILL
In response to some comments below, I’d say Sherrill has been feeling pressure for quite some time now. Yes, I would agree that Eric O’Flaherty is a possible replacement for Sherrill should he not head north. O’Flaherty has looked good this spring and the coaching staff is impressed by his physical strength. In other words, he could go more than a batter or two at a time, which is what Sherrill can do when needed. Arthur Rhodes will make the squad as a lefty, but may not be used as anything other than strictly a one-batter type guy.
Justin Lehr pitched the fourth for Seattle, striking out the first two batters, then allowing an Iguchi single and walking Thome and Konerko. Lehr got out of it by getting a fielder’s choice groundout on Dye, but the big question now is whether this turkey of a game will end before my girlfriend, Amy, lands in Phoenix on an Alaska Airlines flight tonight at 7:30.
Yes, that’s right. She’s landing in Phoenix, I’m in Tucson. It’s a two-hour drive at the best of times. Not in rush hour. Oh good, it just started raining again. Fans are scrambling, but it’s not as bad as the last time. Looks like they’ll keep on playing. On to the fifth, only two hours, 15 minutes, 14 runs and 20 hits after it all began. By the way, Bloomquist is coming up.
BREEZING RIGHT ALONG
OK, Bloomquist grounded out in that last at-bat. But believe it or not, we have now cruised into the eighth inning. More on that in a moment. Anyhow, Bloomquist came up again, doubled and just stole third base. His ninth straight steal of the spring. He’s 3-for-4 today.
The reason the last three innings just shot by? Well, perhaps some veterans had a word or two with the young folk and told them to start swinging. Lehr also did his part on the mound for Seattle, tossing three scoreless frames and allowing only one hit while fanning a pair.
Forget everything I’ve written about Lehr and the cyber-interest he attracts. He’s my new favorite pitcher. It was bright and sunny here a minute ago, but now the storm clouds are threatening again. Went to the clubhouse and chatted with Ramirez, who threw about 70 pitches in a tunnel under the stadium to get his work in. He was up at 5:45 a.m., so he isn’t thrilled with the one-third of an inning here, but what can you do?
Bloomquist just scored on an Adam Jones double on a sinking liner misplayed by whatever minor leaguer is now in right field. So, make it 9-6 for the Mariners, with 16 runs scored by Bloomquist this spring. Unreal.
FOUR-HIT GAME FOR BLOOMQUIST
Don’t look now, but Bloomquist just singled again in the ninth, his fourth hit, to drive home one of two markers for Seattle in the inning. It’s now 11-6, heading for the finish.

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