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May 17, 2007 at 9:43 AM

Playing the Sexson blues

A question from “AzM” is the previous thread asked why Mike Hargrove wouldn’t pinch-hit Ben Broussard for Richie Sexson in last night’s sixth inning. The flippant answer would be that Hargrove wants to stay employed. But there is a case to be made for Broussard, who is 6-for-21 (.286) lifetime off John Lackey with two homers and four RBI. That said, I’m not going to make that case here.
I know that many of you don’t want to hear it, but Sexson is the team’s clean-up hitter and being paid $14 million to drive in runs in situations like last night’s sixth inning. If you’re going to go with the numbers in Broussard’s case, you can’t simply throw out Sexson’s .429 career stats off Lackey heading into Wednesday either. And therein lies the Sexson quandry for this team.
Every year, it seems, the wait begins for Sexson’s bat to arrive. And every year, he manages to finish with roughly 35 home runs and more than 100 RBI. Now, before all of you start screaming, you have to realize that I am very much aware of how Sexson compiles his numbers in bunches — and usually later on in a season.
I wrote about it last September, just weeks after arriving here. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how he’d been hurting the team. Spreading 35 homers out evenly over six months is very different from piling them up over two or three months. It’s the three or four missing months, in those latter cases, that tend to hurt the team at times when those home runs and RBI are most needed.
Sexson is what he is and is not going to change overnight. The reason Ichiro is now playing center field and the team spent $5.5 million on adding Jose Guillen in right field was to bring in another power bat to offset those down months where Sexson is concerned. To an extent, that plan has worked. Despite the usual slow start by Sexson, along with Adrian Beltre, Ichiro and even Raul Ibanez, the addition of Guillen has helped the team stay afloat. The Mariners are a game over .500 despite all the offensive and mound struggles they’ve had.
So, in that case, as I mentioned, the off-season “plan” by GM Bill Bavasi has worked. If this was last year and there is no Guillen, the Mariners might be a few games under .500.
But even with Guillen offsetting some of the blow, there is still hope among management and coaching types, especially manager Mike Hargrove, that Sexson will emerge from his funk sooner rather than later. Remember, it was only a week ago that he seemed to have found a groove in Detroit after being installed in the clean-up role. He had been hitting the ball hard, but right at people. Unfortunately for the Mariners, the trend last night of hitting the ball right at infielders on the left side is a sign that Sexson kept getting fooled by the same sinker pitch. It’s probably an indication he needs time off.
But benching Sexson, or pinch-hitting for him in these situations, is not the answer. The Mariners have banked their season largely on Sexson. They have to hope he emerges from his sub-.200 slump by June instead of July or August and that’s simply it. You can’t chuck him now and rebuild the plan because Broussard as a full-timer is not going to get it done. Disagree? Then why aren’t teams lining up boatloads of prospects to acquire the low-cost Broussard? Likely because they know the same thing the Mariners do. Broussard is very valuable, but in a certain role. The time to experiment outside that role is when the Mariners are out of a race and it won’t matter if the whole thing blows up. Not when the team is still in the thick of it and waiting for the real Sexson to show up, as he always does.
And remember, Lackey tried the same move by intentionally walking Ibanez to get to Sexson on June 10 of last season. The result on that night was a Sexson grand slam. With that bit of history, Sexson’s career numbers versus Lackey and the fact his team’s management has crossed-fingers that the annual Sexson-wait will end any day now, there was no chance of Broussard seeing an at-bat in that sixth inning.
You play the hand you’re dealt in this game. There is room for changing a card or two. But not the entire deck. Bailing on the clean-up hitter on May 16 would represent a deck swap. The Mariners have built too much of this offense around Sexson and simply don’t have that luxury. They will sink or swim with him. And if that means many of you are fititng yourself for life preservers, then so be it. Watch out for sharks.



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