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May 19, 2007 at 10:40 AM

Mariners quandry

A few of you have emailed to point out that I goofed in writing that Kevin Kouzmanoff was the one who couldn’t squeeze the Jose Vidro liner. It was, of course, Khalil Greene, as I’d written earlier and then changed for some reason in the later editions of our paper. Maybe it was all the “K” letters in both their names that confused me. Who knows? Kouzmanoff didn’t drive Jose Cruz Jr. home with a double in the seventh, either, that was Brian Giles. Kouzmanoff had the earlier double to score a pair of unearned runs in the third.
Hey, it’s been a busy time. Now that all that is out of the way — thankfully — let’s get down to this Richie Sexson business.
Hard to tell what Mike Hargrove was thinking after last night’s loss, since he didn’t speak to the media. But I’ll take a guess that it had everything to do with Richie Sexson, now putting up some of the worst batting average numbers historically (.162) for any cleanup hitter with a season nearly two months old.
The thing that will keep Hargrove awake nights is that there is no instant solution for what to do about the Sexson black hole in the middle of his team’s batting order. Sexson clearly has to be moved further back in the order to get someone else in the No. 4 spot who won’t be leaving four or five guys on base every night.
Problem is, there are no candidates making a compelling case to take his job. Sure, replacing the Sexson we saw last night with just about anyone would be an improvement. But a long term improvement? Not really. The Mariners need Sexson’s replacement to be the version of himself that was on-display throughout the second half of 2006. Minus that, this team is in a heap of trouble.
Raul Ibanez has been a shadow of the hitter we saw at spring training. Yuniesky Betancourt has two more home runs and only two fewer total bases at the moment. Yes, Ibanez does have a team-leading 23 RBI and hits very well with runners in scoring position. It’s very possible that Sexson’s struggles behind him in the order have lessened the amount of hittable pitches sent Ibanez’s way. Also, that Adrian Beltre’s performance in the No. 3 hole resulted in fewer RBI opportunities for Ibanez. Right now, Ibanez seems like the best bet to take over at No. 4. But remember, it’s not like he was lighting things up when he was in that position a couple of weeks ago.
Ibanez clearly needs better protection behind him, either in the form of Kenji Johjima or Jose Guillen. I like the idea of batting Sexson seventh right now, taking the RBI heat off him so he can focus on making solid contact …quot; something he had been doing until the past week.
That means Johjima has to go somewhere. The M’s have hit him fifth before, as well as third, so he can go to either spot. But I also like the idea of having Jose Guillen’s bat closer to the top of the order. Guillen is a proven home run and doubles hitter and has shown the ability to get on base in May, running at a .413 clip. Over-all, he is a more explosive power bat than Johjima and that’s what I want out of my third hitter.
Johjima has shown above-average power for a catcher and has the ability to drive in runs. I like a solid RBI guy in the No. 5 spot and right now. I think Johjima would do that on a steadier basis than Guillen. Besides, if I’m Hargrove, I want Ibanez protected better than what Sexson was doing for him. Putting Johjima in the fifth spot gives you a better than three-in-10 chance of making the other team pay for pitching around Ibanez.
For me, the seeds for the move were sown when John Lackey walked Ibanez intentionally to load the bases and get to Sexson the other night. That was the beginning of the end for him in the clean-up spot. If opponents fear Ibanez so much more, maybe it’s time to start considering their reasons why. What we’ve seen the last two nights solidified that opinion. This isn’t about Sexson, his confidence, or his feelings any more. This is about winning games. Sexson had his chance to win them the first seven weeks of the season. That’s well beyond what most players are given. In order for Ibanez to be effective, he has to get something to hit and getting Sexson out from behind him, at least for now, should help.
As I said, you can flip around either Guillen or Johjima in the No. 3 or No. 5 spot, but I’d take Guillen’s raw power higher up and Johjima’s consistency further back.
Adrian Beltre has hit better since being dropped down to No. 7 and then No. 6 in the order. I don’t think this is the time to be moving him any higher up. He sure wasn’t doing much out of the No. 2 spot.
Jose Lopez has shown power and actually is tied for the team lead in home runs. But that’s OK. He’s too inconsistent and inexperienced for a power role higher up. Same with Betancourt.
So, here’s the lineup I think would better help this team beginning tonight:
Jose Vidro
Jose Guillen
Raul Ibanez
Kenji Johjima
Adrian Beltre
Richie Sexson
Yuniesky Betancourt
Jose Lopez
It still spreads the power throughout the order, but Sexson’s black hole is pushed further back so it can cause less damage while he sorts things out. The point here is not to humiliate him by dropping him down to ninth. Hargrove and the Mariners need Sexson on-board at some point or this season is a lost cause. Remember, this is only a temporary solution. All of the names I’ve mentioned, aside from Johjima, have struggled with their consistency so far this season. There is no perfect candidate. All I know is, those names are all hitting much better than .162 and these are fast becoming desperate times for a team that, while still in the race, is coming close to slipping a little too far behind the division leading Angels.
Time to halt that slide. The Mariners cannot afford to give away any more winnable games because of a truckload of runners stranded on base.



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