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May 26, 2007 at 8:45 PM

Baek here to stay

Looks like the Mariners won’t be making the same mistake with Cha Seung Baek that they already did once last off-season. I asked Mike Hargrove after his team’s 9-1 rout of the Kansas City Royals what the big difference is between the Baek he now sees and the one who looked so impressive for Seattle last fall.
“He hasn’t changed,” Hargrove said. “We’re pretty much seeing the same things we saw last September. The thing that’s changed from…the two previous times I’ve seen him, is the fact that he’s throwing more strikes now. He’s ahead of more hitters.”
But Baek hasn’t changed since last fall is the point. The only thing that has changed, apparently, is the team’s willingness to keep him up here. Baek is now 2-2 with a 4.60 ERA, but more importantly, he’s logging the innings this Mariners bullpen desperately needs to avoid a burnout by July.
That’s two “quality starts” of seven or more innings by Baek in his last four outings. I’ll come right out and say it. He’s the third-best starter this team has right now behind Jarrod Washburn and Felix Hernandez. I like Miguel Batista and he’s solid as a No. 3 or No. 4 guy. But Baek works into the seventh inning and beyond more consistently. He doesn’t go hot and cold as often. As for Jeff Weaver and Horacio Ramirez, there is no comparison. Not yet, anyway. Baek has had one bad outing that’s inflated his ERA. Other than that, just what this team needs, regardless of the pricetags spent on other pitchers.
“He’s really establishing himself as one of our guys,” Hargrove said. “You always talk about the guys who get an opportunity and do something with it. He’s a perfect example of a guy who’s doing that.”
Baek doesn’t speak English very well, but makes an effort after every outing. He’s very low key, which may have hurt his chances of landing that fifth starter role. Who knows? That theory seems as plausible as any other I’ve heard from either the media or the team. This guy pitched very well last fall.
Does he feel a permanent part of the team now?
“I don’t know,” Baek said. “That’s not my decision. I hope so, I’ll try to stay. But I have to win.”
Yes, he does. Or at least, he has to give the team a chance to win. He’s done that virtually every time out. Others can’t say the same.
So, the M’s are now 4-1 on this six-game tour of cellar-dwelling towns. Win behind Washburn here tomorrow and they’ll not only have that elsuive first three-game sweep, but that chance we discussed about gaining ground on the Angels. You have to figure the Yankees won’t get swept at home, but John Lackey has looked very strong of late.
If the M’s lose, there’s a chance they’ll gain zero ground on the Angels and that would be a shame. As we mentioned before this trip began, 4-2 would be nice, but likely won’t cut it in the division race. The Mariners truly need 5-1 and have their most consistent starter heading to the mound.
Talked to Richie Sexson afterwards and he feels better after that collision in the eighth that preceeded his ninth-inning home run. Tony Pena not only slammed into the back of Sexson’s head with his knee, but stepped on his calf as well. Hargrove was considering giving Sexson a day off tomorrow, but the slugger says he doesn’t need it.
If Sexson plays, Jose Lopez and Kenji Johjima will sit. Johjima hit four grand slams in Japan, but tonight’s was his first in the majors.
Ichiro seemed pleased about keeping his hit streak alive at 19 games on that infield hit in the ninth. He says he feels fine after that early collision with the wall on another fine catch. Ichiro banged the wall with his knee, but in one of his typical attempts at humor afterwards, gave one of his more bizarre quotes to indicate he’s OK.
“My knee is still my knee,” he said. “My knee is not my butt.”
Hmmm. Interesting.
I’d ask for a translation, but we were already getting one from interpreter Ken Barron at that point. Barron took another run at the interpretation, asking Ichiro to clarify.
“I hit it against the wall, but it’s not big like my butt,” he said.
Certainly not. Once the quizzical looks and laughter subsided, Ichiro, smiling, offered these words of advice.
“For my interviews,” he told the reporter who’d asked the initial question, “please expect that much from me. Please do not come here with a soft heart.”
OK then. Anyway, he’s got a 19-game hitting streak, longest active one in the majors. That’s really all that matters. But I’m glad his knee isn’t bigger than his butt. I’m sure his wife agrees.



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