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April 28, 2008 at 12:28 PM

Going bat-ty

Can’t blame any of you who pulled your hair out watching yesterday’s game. I stuck to merely shaking my head, nice and slowly, as I spent the afternoon culling over travel receipts (our expenses are due this week) and watching the Mariners waste a fine pitching performance by Felix Hernandez. I’m sitting at the airport as we speak, waiting for a flight to Cleveland (through Minneapolis) that’s an hour late. Northwest Airlines this time. You’ve all seen my videos. How many late flights, all with different airlines? Nice way to run a business. Maybe if I filed all my game stories late, we could still run a profitable newspaper. What do you think?
Anyhow, it’s getting real late, real early for the M’s. Yesterday’s game had to be a wake-up call for this team if it wasn’t already. I’ve been saying all along that mid-May should be the cutoff point for a decision to be made about whether some bats are going to turn around, or not. Now, I’m starting to think I may have been too conservative. When a guy gives you seven shutout innings like Hernandez, you simply cannot throw that away because you offense has gone to sleep.
The M’s are now 0-10 in games in which they’ve trailed by two or more runs at any point. This offense is now in chronically bad shape, to the point where small ball is only goingt to make up some of the difference. John McLaren got the ball rolling on some changes by moving Greg Norton more into the mix that he’d been before. Jose Vidro might see playing time reduced going forward unless he can prove he should be in there every day.

A month has gone by since the season began. We’re getting a clear picture of what this team has. It has fantastic starting pitching. It has a pretty good bullpen, though not as good as last season. Some of the young arms have not rebounded from a poor finish last season. Without the experienced George Sherrill around, the bullpen is less stable than a year ago. We still don’t know who the right handed setup guy is. No one has stepped up and locked-down the job. I still say Miguel Batista could be that guy down the road if things continue this way. But we’ve got some time to wait on the bullpen. I think injuries, guys pitching outside their set roles and others having not pitched all that much recently (Arthur Rhodes and Mark Lowe) have contributed to the slow start by the relievers.
But the hitters don’t have that excuse. Brad Wilkerson, Jose Vidro and Richie Sexson all entered the season with question marks hanging over them and have still not answered all. Sexson has shown flashes of power, which is encouraging, but has to start doing at home what he does on the road.
It won’t be easy finiding replacements for three power positions in the lineup. I’m sure the team does not want to make trades for a ll three spots and is hopiong, praying, that at least one, if not two, come around. But do you know what? There is no longer any excuse for Jeff Clement to be sitting at Class AAA Tacoma ripping the cover off the ball when the offense is in such bad shape.
This isn’t a matter of waiting for Vidro to find his DH legs, or Raul Ibanez to come off an injury as he did last season. As far as we know, the problems this year won’t be solved by injuries healing or guys getting used to their roles.
If you have a left handed bat down in the minors who is ready for major league ball, he should be up here right now. Should be on the plane and headed for Cleveland. If Clement hits in the majors, then you’ve got a guy who can be rotated around. He can be a DH some, can even catch if he has to. If anything, it maybe fixes one of the trouble spots and buys some time on the others while trades are pondered. I don’t know about Wladimir Balentien’s readiness just yet, coming off that injury, but Clement is healthy and he’s hitting. This team just threw away two games to the Oakland A’s because of an inability to score more than two runs in both contests.
Seattle got pretty good pitching in all three games, but almost got swept in the series. That can’t be allowed to happen any more. The schedule is about to get a whole lot tougher than it’s been.
If Erik Bedard is healthy and the bullpen is healthy, then it may be time to go back to 11 pitchers. If the team wants to wait on Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva’s health status, I understand. But then, it gets tougher to justify having Miguel Cairo around. This has nothing to do with what I think of Cairo as a player. He has not had a chance to show what he can do — unlike many of the other hitters.
But if the team isn’t going to use him, it’s got to do away with this fantasy of pinch-running teams to death late. It’s been a month. That plan isn’t working. It isn’t even getting a chance to work. Two pinch-runners is a luxury for a team where more than a third of the lineup is barely treading water.
Why did the team extend Kenji Johjima for three years? Beats me. Either it has absolutely zero clue about timing, or, as has been suggested to me repeatedly this week, this was a call made by the ownership in Japan. Perhaps Johjima will rebound. For the team’s sake, he has to. But his extension should not preclude Clement from coming up and being used part-time behind the plate if it’s going to help the team.
It should have nothing to do with him staying in Class AAA another day. Bill Bavasi told me aty the press conference the other day that Clement’s bat is his big league ticket in any case.
Good then. It’s time to punch that ticket.
Because watching this offense another day, whether it’s you, or me or the starting pitchers, is going to start driving us all batty.



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