Few guys in camp have more pressure on them than Richie Sexson this coming season. Sexson is from the Pacific Northwest and feels the boos and jeering everytime he gets it from the home crowd at Safeco Field. Some may say there is no pressure on Sexson, given how he can’t possibly do any worse than his .205 batting average, sub-.400 slugging performance of last season.
That’s one way to look at it. Another is that his career could be on the line with a repeat performance. It’s doubtful he’ll get another $14 million yearly contract after this current one expires at season’s end. But a repeat of last year, and he may find himself below the $1 million mark. Not to mention the pride factor. No one wants to bomb in front of the home crowd, no matter how wealthy they are. In any case, the fortunes of Sexson could very well impact this team’s fortunes in 2008. He took his first cuts in the batting cage this morning.
No, I am not going to rate the first swings of spring training. Lets just say he hits the ball further than any of us can. What matters is how he does it in April and May. Joining him in camp were Adrian Beltre and Yuniesky Betancourt, who also took batting practice.
Above, you can see Betancourt, on the left, watching Beltre in the cage. Below, a shot of Beltre and Sexson waiting for their turns to hit. We’ll have some video footage for you later.
In our morning chat session with manager John McLaren, there was plenty of talk about knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and his chances of making the team. Many teams are reluctant to use a knuckleballer in relief situations, especially with men on base, fearing they could worsen already-bad situations through wild-pitches and passed balls. McLaren, not surprisingly, is focusing on the upside Dickey could bring. I saw some discussion on this site a couple of days ago about successful knuckleball relievers and was surprised to see nobody had brought up Tim Wakefield.
I mean, of all the modern-day knuckleballers, he has arguably been the most valuable as a reliever, or, as McLaren likes to say, a “staff saver”.
“Staff savers for me really play a big role because you don’t have to use all your pitchers to get through a game,” McLaren said, in a clip you can listen to right here.
What that means is, the Red Sox have often brought Wakefield into games to rack of a bunch of innings they’d otherwise have had to burn three or four relievers on. The most famous of these occasions came during Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, when the Bosox were getting blown to smithereens by the Yankees to fall behind 3-0 in games. Wakefield plowed through the final 3 1/3 innings of that game, sparing the bullpen, preventing another starter from being used, and becoming the unsung hero of that historic four-game rally that vaulted the Red Sox to a title.
Does this mean Dickey will do the same? No, it does not. I’m just telling you how the M’s see him. If he lands the job as a long reliever, it will be because of his ability to throw multiple innings on short rest. Think of all the talks we’ve had about the bullpen burnout late last season. So, when the team talks about keeping Dickey in long relief, it isn’t on the same par as a Ryan Rowland-Smith, or a Horacio Ramirez. Neither of those guys will be able to recover as quickly and throw multiple innings as often as a knuckleballer will.
That doesn’t mean Dickey has the job. Much will depend on the control he exhibits down here in spring training. That will be weighed against the potential for greater accuracy by the other names I’ve mentioned. But if Dickey can show the reliability the team is looking for, I’d say he has an inside track. Remember, he’s a Rule 5 pick, so it’s a now-or-never situation for the M’s.
Below, a shot of Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln this morning as he watches Dickey (bearded pitcher, second closest to the front) and others take some bullpen tosses. To Lincoln’s left, in the white jacket, is the team’s longtime traveling secretary, Ron Spellecy.
On the “Moneyball” front, we note the retirement a couple of days ago of Jeremy Brown, the so-called “fat catcher” chronicled in the Michael Lewis best-seller in 2003. It says he left the game for “personal reasons” and could eventually return. Never justified all the pages written about him, but, from what I’m told, he could hit and might have eventually lived up to the hype. We may never know.
To answer some questions from readers, yes, that was Brandon Morrow seen throwing in the bullpen next to Jarrod Washburn yesterday. By the way, some of the pitchers, like Morrow, are throwing only fastballs and changeups for now. Others are trying some breaking stuff on a limited basis.