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February 16, 2008 at 10:05 AM

Looking for vocal leaders

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Nothing like a little pitch-blocking drill to get those quad muscles stretched out nice and early in the morning. Hope Jamie Burke is having fun.
I’m sure some of you are intrigued by the headline of this post. After all, we’ve debated “vocal leadership” on this site for the past year. But I’m just messing with you a bit today. Because right now, when I say “vocal leaders” I’m not talking about Ichiro taking a more active clubhouse role. I’m talking about what’s going on in the Mariners clubhouse down here in Peoria before each day’s workout. Seems the coaching staff is trying to keep things light and has introduced a daily singing routine by players into the morning’s schedule. The first “victim” to belt out a tune was non-roster invitee Roy Corcoran, a 27-year-old right handed pitcher who signed with the club as a minor league free-agent in November.
Talk about picking on the defenseless.
Anyway, Mariners manager John McLaren knew Corcoran’s brother, Tim, a pitcher for the Devil Rays the past three years and whose time with that club overlapped McLaren’s. So, there you have it. Corcoran chose a Brooks and Dunn tune. No, I don’t know which one. They all sound the same to me. By the end of the day, other M’s players were refering to Corcoran — to his face — as the American Idol.
“It’s kind of a light moment in the day to start the day off with a laugh,” McLaren said in audio you can listen to right here.

McLaren this morning tried to enlist Canadian residents Erik Bedard and Chris Reitsma to sing that country’s national anthem. They weren’t thrilled at the idea. No clue yet how this morning’s singalong actually went. The players for that morning’s song get picked at random, so it’s not like they have a whole lot of time to warm up their lungs.
Speaking of Bedard, down below, you’ll see a shot of the franchise’s near-term future, Bedard and Felix Hernandez, throwing a bullpen session this morning. Video on it later.
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I think McLaren’s reading some of the comments on this blog because he went out of his way to mention to reporters just how hard the players down here are working. I know some of you are commenting on the light running you’ve seen in the video clips, but I can tell you, that’s just to limber up the muscles for the day’s workout routine. The real conditioning stuff doesn’t take place until much later on and, as I’ve said, the idea here isn’t to train for an ultra-marathon. There are still eight months to go before the regular season is done.
The reason I suspect McLaren is peeking at this blog is that he also went to great pains to explain that the position players already in camp — a list that now includes Jeremy Reed, Mike Morse, Charlton Jimerson, Wladimir Balentien, Tug Hulett, Yung Chi Chen and Matt Tuiasosopo — aren’t working out on the same field as the pitchers and catchers. They aren’t allowed to and the team would get in trouble with the commissioner’s office if that were the case. They do all of their workouts on a separate field, much like some of the minor leaguers working out here. That’s why, when you watched the video of Balentien taking BP yesterday, it looked like there was hardly anyone else around.
Some of you wanted us to ask McLaren what the team is doing with players here to address the poor walk rate amongst many of the Mariners. Here is what he said: “I think we have, first of all, some young guys that are still learning,” he said in audio you can listen to right here. “Betancourt and Lopez and of course, Balentien. The real young guys like that. They’ve learned on the major league level. It’s a learning process, it’s trial and error. You know the old cliche ‘You can’t walk off the island’? Well, we want to let them know thye’re off the island and we want them to be more selective.”
The audio goes on for quite a while and McLaren provides more depth to his answer. For the record, I don’t think Lopez and Betancourt are the only culprits on this offense when it comes to swinging away. Richie Sexson comes to mind. If he’s hitting 35 homers, his strikeouts get mitigated. When he’s hitting .205 with 16 home runs, the strikeouts are a black hole offensively. And Sexson is an easy target. This entire lineup can learn a thing or two about selectivity (hello Kenji Johjima). Again, Jose Vidro and Ichiro are about the only guys getting on-base at an above average level. Yeah, they do it mainly with hits instead of walks, but I’ll take it. They are getting on-base. Vidro drew more walks last season than he has in five years. In Seattle, his on-base numbers are a big improvement to the lineup. I don’t get hung up on walk rates if a guy finds some way to get on. Shannon Stewart made his career getting on with hits instead of walks and he was a leadoff man for years. Ditto with Ichiro.
Brad Wilkerson, before he went to Texas two years ago, would have also been in that category. The team will need him to get back closer to where he was with Washington in 2005.
But yes, to conclude, more walks are needed by the starting nine.
We’ll close with a photo below of a sight you’re unlikely to see anywhere but spring training. Yes, that’s J.J. Putz about to swing a bat.
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Here’s the context. It was part of a drill with his fellow pitchers.
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