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

April 14, 2007 at 8:02 PM

Hold off on the firings

I feel somewhat responsible for raising a ruckus and generating the chorus I’m starting to hear from readers about how the Mariners should fire their manager, ship Jose Vidro off to Greenland and use Bill Bavasi as bait to catch some great whites in the process.
All together now, breathe people! The Mariners are in first place. I’m not sure how they’ve done it and a 4-3 record is nothing to throw a parade over, but they have won more often (when they play) than any other AL West team. Does that mean Vidro will go down as the greatest No. 3 hitter who ever lived? Maybe not. So far, his hitting hasn’t gotten me excited and has been a liability in the third spot because of the double-play possibilities he generates. But folks, it’s only the second week of the season. Yes, I raised the issue of some serious problems creeping in with this offense just the other day. No, I am not going back on that just because the team won one game this afternoon, aided and abetted by two huge Texas errors in the third inning.
But here is a simple truth of baseball. You do not fire a manager when his team is in first place two weeks into a season. It doesn’t matter what your crystal ball or mine tells you will happen three months down the road. Baseball is a one day at a time game. Not an overused expression, it’s reality. You or I may think this offense is about to drive off the proverbial cliff, but until it happens, nothing has been proved.
There is still not enough evidence gathered to suggest the team’s early struggles are anything more than a byproduct of all the stop-and-start of the first two weeks with half the team’s games being cancelled. No, I am not willing to wait forever. If the Rangers squeeze a few more grounders today, the Mariners might very well have lost again. The bats have to get going. But this is not the time for knee-jerk reactions. Would I move Kenji Johjima up to No. 3 — or No. 2 — in the order? No, I wouldn’t. He is the only guy hitting right now and if I’m the manager I want him to keep on doing it with consistency. Trying for a quick fix by jamming him up to the top of the order is just as likely to distract him and throw him into a slump. Too early to take that risk.
Can we blame Vidro’s lack of power or on-base percentage in the three-spot for the team’s struggle to score runs? Not any more than we can blame Ichiro’s nosedive of the past four games, his one hit today aside. Are we supposed to chuck Ichiro overboard based on the past four games? Of course not. There isn’t a GM out there — whether he’s named Bavasi, or Beane or Ricciardi or Epstein — who would do anything that stupid. And yes, Vidro is a “professional hitter” by anyone’s definition when healthy. The man can flat-out hit. He makes contact and was once the most feared NL second baseman out there with the bat. Yes, he is a double-play risk, as was Brad Fullmer, a less-heralded “profesisonal hitter” I got to cover for two years in his prime.
Does Hargrove keep using Vidro in the three-spot forever? I doubt it, if May rolls around and he’s still hitting .143 with a .200 on-base percentage. But I’ve written it before, it can take time to get used to being a full-time DH and the early-season snowouts did not help Vidro in that regard. How much longer should he get? A lot of that has to do with whether the M’s keep on winning. Every win they manage, every day they can stay atop or near the top of the division buys Vidro, Ichiro and everyone else some time.
Ichiro told me today that the early season layoffs aren’t really that hard to get over, which I find hard to believe given his performance. But he made a good point in that his past performance has set the bar somewhat high. He has gone through slumps before. Every player does, no matter how good. If he delivers 200 hits and 100 runs, he will have done his job and then some. It’s still far too early to panic and — I repeat — the team is in first place.
This is for “Stu” in the comments thread. I appreciate your input, I really do. You obviously put a lot of work into what you write. But if Hargrove was as unimaginitive as you suggest, he wouldn’t be asking Jose Lopez to bunt. He’d simply send him up there and have him do the same thing game after game. That is unimaginative. Different game situations dictate different approaches. And maybe bunting in those situations wasn’t always the right call. But you (and it isn’t only you, plenty of readers do it) cannot keep forming your opinion of how Hargrove is managing the team this season based on what he did in individual games last year.
This is 2007, not 2006! The Mariners have lost three games this year, by scores of 9-0, 14-3 and 5-2. Two of those games, they had zero chance in because of the pitching, even if the greatest managers of all-time are all gathered together in Seattle’s dugout for a combined effort. The other game? Last night? You saw it. How did Hargrove blow that one? Should Lopez have bunted this time when the first two runners got on in the middle innings with Seattle trailing 4-0? I’ll tell you what, they’d have had a better chance of scoring than watching Lopez hit into a double-play. But I’m just playing with you now. The point is, you can’t rag on Hargrove for having Lopez bunt away in 2006, then dump on Hargrove for letting Lopez swing away last night. Not that you’re doing that, but it’s the logical conclusion if we’re to blame Hargrove for the only loss in which his team had a remote chance.
Hargrove didn’t lose Friday’s game. The players who are supposed to come up with the big hits lost it. They were all put in positions to succeed and they all failed when it mattered. Stuff happens. The only game Hargrove has truly impacted this year, as I mentioned, was the loss he helped avoid in Cleveland.
No, we don’t wait this out forever. Yes, there are still problems with this offense that I get paid good money to try to point out before they can destroy a season. But nothing is close to being destroyed yet. The Mariners, through some Felix Hernandez pitching, some luck today, some scheduling misfortune and some serious troubles injury-wise in Anaheim, suddenly find themselves in first place. Enjoy it while it lasts and keep watching to see whether the patterns we’ve pointed out continue beyond this homestand.



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