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

April 19, 2007 at 6:34 PM

Twins 6, Mariners 5 final

Hello everyone. As you might have been able to tell, I wasn’t covering the game today. This was my “travel” day to Los Angeles, so I wasn’t around to update the blog during the game. My apologies for that. Rest assured, we weren’t “scooped” on anything, since Danny O’Neil, our fine football writer, delivered the news online. We try to limit these gaps in coverage on days when I am not around, since the paper won’t allow me to cover all 162 games (nor would I want them to). Once again, my apologies.
Tons of email and comments flooding in asking about today’s game, Felix Hernandez and last night’s baserunning decision in the ninth inning.
We’ll start with today. The Mariners were competitive throughout, but just couldn’t score until it was too late. You can’t expect to overcome a four-run deficit in the ninth.
As for the seventh, Hargrove was bringing in Julio Mateo to face just the one batter, Michael Cuddyer, figuring his slider was a good match. Many of you have commented on Mateo’s groundball/flyball ratios making it unlikely he’d get a ball hit on the ground. But a manager does go batter to batter when it comes to these matchups and figured a fastball-hitting Cuddyer would be jacked and prone to bite on the slider. Mateo had executed his pitches this season, for the most part. In this one at-bat, the execution of the slider was poor. The next move, had Mateo gotten Cuddyer out, was going to be to use George Sherrill on lefty Justin Morneau. That plan went out the window after Cuddyer’s go-ahead double.
I have no problem with Hargrove yanking Jarrod Washburn. It isn’t just the pitch count you look at in those situations, but the “stressful innings” a pitcher works. Washburn had already had a few and Cuddyer, as we’ve seen, is as underrated a dangerous hitter as there is in the league. I can see why he wouldn’t risk Washburn in that situation.
As for Mateo, he’s Hargrove’s first righthander out of the bullpen when it comes to protecting leads. Cuddyer had been 1-for-5 lifetime off him. He was 1-for-2 off Sean White with that two-run single in the eighth inning on Tuesday night. And White’s the long man, not a one-batter guy. Do you want Brandon Morrow in there in that situation? I’m not sure. He’s put a lot of guys on already and it was still only the seventh inning. Mateo had allowed just two hits over 5 2/3 innings of his last four outings. You have to save Chris Reitsma for the eighth and you’re not going to use Sean Green with the game on the line his first trip up from Tacoma. So, who then?
Yes, I know Mateo hung the slider. I know he drove some fans crazy last year. Most relief pitchers do at one time or another. But he’s on the team now and as I mentioned, the options were limited. And given the choice between using a tiring lefty against perhaps the best righty hitter the Twins have, he went with the hot righty out of the bullpen. Will Hargrove keep going to Mateo in a situation begging for a groundball? We’ll see.
I will say that I found the ending to Wednesday night’s game rather bizarre. I can’t recall ever seeing a team make the final out at home plate by trying to score from first base on a single to right field with the cleanup hitter standing in the on-deck circle. Hargrove can defend third base coach Carlos Garcia all he wants and it’s his job to do so. But if you’re not going to pinch-run for Adrian Beltre, who is still an OK runner, you had better be darned sure that right fielder missed the ball completely before waving him home.
Garcia did not have that certainty on his side. There is aggressive baserunning and foolish baserunning. In my view, trying to score on such a low percentage play, when the only thing the M’s had going for them was the element of surprise, was a mistake. Especially with a struggling closer on the mound. If it’s Mariano Rivera out there, I could see the logic a little more. But Joe Nathan has not been Rivera-like this season. And Raul Ibanez is your guy offensively. If not, he shouldn’t be batting clean-up. Wave the guy home from second and I’ve got no problem if he’s thrown out on that play. But from first base?
I guess the clincher for me was seeing Ibanez go deep in today’s ninth inning. The first thought I had was “What if?” The other clincher was remembering how Hargrove spoke at spring training about wanting to not only be aggressive on the basepaths this year, but smarter. It was one of the first things he talked about in February. To me, the play on Wednesday just didn’t seem smart. In fact, the brief element of surprise gained when the stunned second baseman looked up and saw the runner heading home was likely negated by the surprise Beltre must have felt in being waved around third.
Anyway, it’s over with. Garcia has not made a slew of such mistakes and all third base coaches get burned. Brian Butterfield of the Blue Jays, formerly with the Yankees organization, is one of the best third base coaches in the business and players around the game will tell you that. But Butterfield has been left red-faced on a handful of occasions when what looked like an aggressive play wound up turning into a certain out. I remember a couple of debatable waves last year, before I switched over to start covering the Mariners. I guarantee you, if the same situation presents itself, Hargrove’s desire for aggressive running aside, Garcia holds the runner next time.
As for the “good news” on Hernandez, it’s good from the sense that there are no torn tendons or ligaments in his elbow. Losing him for three or four starts (including last night) is not good news for a team that, let’s face it, has trouble winning without him. The Mariners are not out of the proverbial woods yet, not by a long shot. In Toronto just last year, I saw pitchers Gustavo Chacin and A.J. Burnett both have celebratory “good news” days like this with their arms and then miss months of action after they returned and the problems flared up again. J.J. Putz is the other end of that spectrum, since he appears to be fine after his nervous spring, though he’s yet to have to work in a save situation and has given up a fair number of home runs already.
In other words, we don’t know yet. If I had to coin it, I’d say “Sort of good news…for now.”
Big road trip coming up. The spark the team showed late these past few games has to continue from the get-go in Anaheim.
By the way, some of you may have noticed Jose Vidro was the hottest hitter this team had on the 2-4 homestand. Vidro’s at-bat in today’s ninth demonstrated why he is called a “professional hitter”. He kept fouling off pitch after pitch to stay alive with his team one out from defeat. That stuff drives pitchers crazy and often forces them to make a mistake by giving in and throwing a pitch they don’t really want to make. Ibanez never gets to hit his three-run homer if Vidro doesn’t do what he did.



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