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

September 17, 2007 at 10:57 PM

Two M’s come up big

NOTE TO “VICTOR”: (1:50 a.m.): To answer your question about Kenji Johjima, the team was very concerned this past off-season about his inability to properly frame pitches in order to get umpires’ calls. They had him work on it extensively at spring training. It remained a concern throughout this season and became a public issue during this crucial stretch run. George Sherrill made reference to it in relaying a conversation he had with the plate umpire after a critical walk he’d given up against the Yankees. The umpire told him the ball, as seen in the catcher’s glove, was out of the strike zone. That’s a framing issue. Considering the M’s have been concerned about this all year and the rash of umpire calls going against the Mariners at the plate, I’d say the framing thing is still quite a concern. Hope that helps.
On to the post…
That was a long time between successes for both Miguel Batista and Jose Lopez. Batista notches his first win in exactly a month, beating the Oakland A’s by a 4-0 score. Three of those Seattle runs came courtesy of the first home run by Lopez since July 8. That’s right. A mighty long time.
Batista had pitched a little better over the past month than Lopez had hit for the previous two. But still a big night for both of them.
Four more walks issued by Batista over his 6 1/3 innings. Two of them were a little selective, as I mentioned, when he put men on an open first base rather than get beat by a big hit from a power hitter.
“You don’t want to walk anybody,” Batista said. “Sometimes, you are forced to walk a guy.”
In this case, he walked Nick Swisher and then Dan Johnson, putting two on with one out each time before escaping. When you think of it, a big reason Dan Haren has one win in five starts against Seattle this year — other than poor run support — is that he did give up some huge extra base hits in those affairs. So, there is some method to Batista’s madness.
“You don’t challenge a good hitter if you don’t have to,” Batista said. “Sometimes, it’s hard with these kinds of (pitch taking) teams. They don’t go chasing pitches. But you can’t give in to them.”
The problems for Batista, as evidenced the past month, came when he couldn’t put the next hitters away and all of those extra baserunners began trotting home.
“What I saw is he’d pitch around a guy and then walk the next guy unintentionally,” Mariners manager John McLaren said. “And it comes back to bite you.”
Not this time. The one thing Batista, for all of his 78 walks already this year, does give the team is an ability to go at least six innings on most nights. That’s more than the rest of the rotation other than Felix Hernandez can say of late.
This was a big night for Lopez in many ways. He needed a confidence booster.
“In that situation, with runners on first and second, I thought he might throw a sinker,” Lopez said. “A sinker is the kind of pitch you use to try to get a double-play, so I was expecting it.”
“It was a long time,” said Lopez, who wore a yard-long smile as he rounded the bases. “I knew it was hit good. I knew it was gone.”
So, Batista is a win away from winning 15. The team now has 79, one more than it managed last year. It won’t matter much now that the playoffs are a pipe dream. It’s all about next year now and both Batista and Lopez figure prominently in that.
As for McLaren? I’m not sure. One reader asked me tonight — I think it was “Tommy” — whether I thought he was coming back. I was told that he’d be here well beyond this year a month or two ago but you never know with a losing stretch like what this team just endured. McLaren has had a number of decisions backfire on him during this stretch, looked indecisive at times both in the dugout and on some personnel decisions like his previous benching of Lopez. I agree that he has indeed looked shaky.
I guess it depends on how long-term the front office’s vision was about the manager’s job. One reason McLaren left Lou Piniella and returned to Seattle was that he was left with the impression the job would be his if Mike Hargrove was to not return. That usually implies a commitment beyond an interim tag.
No job is guaranteed in this life, though. Just ask Adam Jones.
And please, no more questions about whether I’m afraid to discuss McLaren or the front office’s performance. Or that the Times is afraid of me losing access to the team. That’s simply not true. Let me dispell this notion once and for all. What I wrote the other day was that I’m not allowed to advocate for hirings or firings. That’s a columnist’s job. It’s not that I’m afraid to do it, or the paper is afraid for me. We just draw a distinction between the two. There is already a fine line being walked here between me being analytical on topics I objectively report on. It’s a brave new world this blog domain.
The reason I didn’t go for McLaren’s head right away, after the Cleveland loss, is because he did have a logical explanation for why he did what he did with Rick White instead of J.J. Putz. The move, in hindsight, looks terrible given the context of the team’s tailspin and the fact Putz only pitched a handful of times over a two-week stretch. And the fact that some of you wanted him to use Putz before — meaning it wasn’t truly “hindsight” in some cases — doesn’t change the underlying fact. There was logic in what McLaren based his decision on. You don’t have to buy into it. But believe it or not, not every manager in baseball would have used his closer in that situation. It was not the absolute slam dunk that some people claim.
That differs decidedly from third base coach Carlos Garcia waving around Adrian Beltre with two on and none out in New York. On that play, there is no logic in sending Beltre unless absolutely certain he can score. Every coach at most levels will agree with that. It was a true brain cramp. There was no logical explanation or defense for it. In cases like that, I (and most writers covering this sport) will come down hard on the offender in print. And we did.
But I’ve told you before, I’m not going to jump on-board and crucify a guy for something I don’t believe just because a lot of you feel passionately the other way. It’s when you get belligerent about that passion — arguing that your way is absolutely the only way and that everyone else is foolish — that I get annoyed, as “Scott M” pointed out earlier tonight.
We’ve criticized every member of this team when they deserved it, and not selectively either. But we praise them when they do things right as well. When they’re in-between? Well, that’s why we get paid the big bucks. But it’s rarely an all-or-nothing situation, requiring that kind of a stance. Very rarely. The world just isn’t that simple.



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