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July 2, 2007 at 2:56 PM

Mariners vs. Royals, Game 1

Here’s a Richie Sexson injury update. Out with a bruised left thumb. X-Rays were negative and he’s day-to-day. But he’s long gone from this game. Brandon Morrow comes on to pitch the bottom of the 10th after Seattle hitters once again sleepwalk through the top of the inning. Let’s see how Morrow’s control looks tonight. No room for error here.
We nearly had our first post-loss managerial question coming up. Why did John McLaren lift a dominant-looking Felix Hernandez after eight innings and only 92 pitches? The move didn’t look too wise after reliever Eric O’Flaherty almost gave up the winning run in the ninth after allowing a double and a single.
O’Flaherty didn’t seem to be fooling anybody in that inning. The only reason Esteban German didn’t score from second on a one-out single to right by Mark Teahen was because the ball was hit too hard and right at Jose Guillen.
Sean Green came on to strike out Ross Gload. George Sherrill then fanned Alex Gordon (not exactly setting rookie records the way everyone thought, huh?) to escape the jam.
The Mariners didn’t nearly just lose this game because of their pitching. It was because the bats have stopped hitting after the first inning, mustering just two singles. Considering the quality of pitching being offered up — with starter Gil Meche only landing about 55 percent of his pitches for strikes — that’s not good enough. But Seattle is still alive, tied 2-2, heading to the 10th.
We’re into an important seventh inning for Felix Hernandez, who needed only 78 pitches to make it through the first six. Contrast that with the 113 pitches thrown over 6 1/3 frames by Gil Meche for the Royals and you can see that Hernandez is in excellent shape in this game. Since that DeJesus homer in the third, the only hit to leave the infield off Hernandez was the Mark Teahen double in the fourth.
OK, as I write this, Hernandez just got through a 1-2-3 seventh inning. That’s only the second time since opening day that Hernandez has gone at least seven. This rotation is looking up. The offense has to find a way to come through, though, as it has mustered just two hits since the first inning. A little “small ball” might be in order for the new manager.
This game started off real hot for the Mariners, scoring twice in the first inning off Gil Meche, but has since cooled considerably. We’re in a 2-2 tie after four innings and the M’s had some calls go their way to keep things even in the bottom of the fourth. I thought the umps got the check-swing call right on Alex Gordon and that he did go around. Not so sure about that Kenji Johjima pickoff play on Mark Teahen at third. So, the Mariners survive a leadoff Teahen double.
Felix Hernandez got hit hard in the early going but has mixed his pitches up a little better, getting eight consecutive outs before that tying home run by David DeJesus — who incidentally had gone 247 at-bats between homers (ouch!). So, Hernandez isn’t as dominant as he looked here back in May. But he’s kept the M’s in it for now.
Gil Meche had a rough first inning, but has since allowed only a single. He’s also had to contend with a Keystone Kops defense behind him that has made two errors and forced him to throw a bunch of extra pitches. The John McLaren lineup worked in the first inning as No 2 hitter Jose Vidro drew a walk, Raul Ibanez came through with a big double and red hot Jose Guillen singled up the middle to bring a pair home.
Not much happening for the Mariners since then. This is an important “catch up” night for them, as they are playing one of those “games in hand” they have on the idle Los Angeles Angels. You have to win those games for them to mean anything in the long run.
New manager John McLaren just finished his first pre-game press briefing with reporters, shortly after a closed door meeting with his players.
The first thing McLaren did in the closed-door session was tell his players he was completely unaware Hargrove was about to leave. McLaren says he asked team officials whether there had been any behind-the-scenes forcing out of Hargrove and was assured the manager had left on his own terms. Telling this to the players, wanting to clear up any clubhouse misperceptions, was his first order of business.
“I addressed that from the get-go,” McLaren said. “That was my first topic. How this thing unfolded and how I was blindsided. What my emotions were and what a rollercoaster it was.”
Hear the rest of what McLaren had to say on this audio clip.
So, how will the McLaren era differ from Hargrove’s? We’ve all speculated about the bench players getting a bigger role and McLaren confirmed that would be the case. “We’ve done things for such a long time, it’s hard to change,” he said. “I told these players ‘We have the toughest schedule in baseball, we travel on the plane more than anybody. On top of that we have good bench players. If I can give you a chance to catch your breath and give another good player a chance to play, I think it kills two birds with one stone.’ ” Listen to his entire audio clip on this subject.
I have to agree with this. As most of you know, I liked Hargrove as a manager. But the one thing I didn’t fully agree with was his limited use of the bench. I think players like Ben Broussard and Willie Bloomquist have too much upside and versatility and they were not being used to their full potential. What good is it to have a guy who plays three positions if he’s being used once a week?
Spoke at length with George Sherrill about whether he expects to see his role grow under a new manager. Many of you have suggested that the team should avoid going after a proven set-up guy for the bullpen and expand Sherrill’s current role. Sherrill has put up some convincing numbers against righthanders, holding them to just eight hits in 36 at-bats for a .222 average. As one reader pointed out, that is comparable to the eight hits in 43 at-bats (.186) allowed by Eric Gagne. Sherrill also has a .494 on-base-plus slugging percentage against compared to .602 for Gagne.
Brad Lidge has a greater sample size against righties, holding them to 19 hits in 84 at-bats (.226) with a .631 OPS.
Some of you think Sherrill should be gradually eased into the eighth-inning set-up role full-time rather than the team going out to secure another high-priced arm and leaving Sherrill as the situational lefty. I worry about whether Sherrill would become less effective over-all — and especially against lefties — if used to the point the Astros now rely on Lidge. By the way, “Joe” wrote about this topic a few days ago, so everybody, clap your hands.
Anyway, I asked Sherrill about this and he also figures that former manager Hargrove had these same reservations. That Hargrove was more of a traditionalist with set ideas about guys pitching in set roles. Sherrill is optimistic about the future and hopes to see an expanded role at some point.
“I don’t think it’s ever been a case of skipper not having any confidence in me against righties,” Sherrill said. “I just think he thinks I’m stronger against lefties.”
Hear the full audio here.
Other big news? Mike Goff is the new full-time bench coach. Batting practice pitcher Johnny Moses slides over to first base for tonight, but the team is considering a number of options for the spot. Could be Moses, or an outside candidate. But Goff gets the bench coach job the rest of the season.
J.J. Putz is the AL Pitcher of the Month for June. The fact that he won that honor as a relief pitcher speaks volumes about the work he did. Starters usually win these things, so a reliever has to be that much better and beyond. Putz didn’t know how to take the whole thing when I spoke to him. He feels slightly uncomfortable, perhaps shy, about all the attention he’s been receiving of late. But he credits the entire bullpen — a group he considers “close” more than any other word — his hitters and some improved efforts by starters of late.
Tonight’s lineups: (Note that Jose Guillen is back at the clean-up role, while Adrian Beltre is bounced back to No. 7 and Jose Vidro is again up at No. 2.)
CF David DeJesus
2B Esteban German
RF Mark Teahen
1B Ross Gload
3B Alex Gordon
DH Shane Costa
C John Buck
SS Tony Pena Jr.
LF Joey Gathright
RHP — Gil Meche
CF Ichiro
DH Jose Vidro
LF Raul Ibanez
RF Jose Guillen
1B Richie Sexson
C Kenji Johjima
3B Adrian Beltre
2B Jose Lopez
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
RHP Felix Hernandez
HP Dana DeMuth (crew chief)
1B Derryl Cousins
2B Kerwin Danley
3B Doug Eddings



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