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May 6, 2008 at 3:57 AM

Clement, Balentien need to be quick studies

NOTE (9:40 a.m.): OK, in reading the first 30 comments or so below, I see some of you, quick to defend the two callups, have clearly missed the point. It isn’t that Clement or Balentien are going back to Class AAA anytime soon if ever, nor should they after six games. It’s not about comparing them to what Vidro and Wilkerson did in their first five games when the team was still right up near the top of the division. It’s that this struggling team is already 6 1/2 games out and if Clement and Balentien take the normal time to get their feet wet, as they did the first five games, all Seattle losses, the Mariners might fall out of the race entirely. Not judging them, just telling you how precarious this team’s situation is. And how badly it needs a boost from these two — yesterday, not in three weeks. I’m sure both guys will be fine down the road. But this team doesn’t have “down the road” time. I’m sure, as some of you have written in, that it puts some undue pressure on everyone involved. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. It does.
3:57 a.m.: I can see the Mariners did something right last night, judging by the scarcity of comments in the threads as the game wore on. I’m sure some of you enjoy it when your team wins, right? Sure, it was only one win. I understand. Didn’t really change much. Seattle still trails the Angels by 6 1/2 games, with one fewer game on the schedule to try to close the gap. But hey, it’s a start. Jarrod Washburn gave them the shot in the arm that was needed on the mound. Better than what the team had gotten since Saturday. Wladimir Balentien also stepped it up with that home run and the single. Of course it’s not fair to judge him, or Jeff Clement, based on their first half-dozen games. But this isn’t about fair. This is not a rebuilding year for the team like Adam Jones is having in Baltimore, where he can swing and miss and drop some balls while popping the odd home run, or double — usually against the Mariners.
Balentien and Clement were brought up here to produce better that the guys they were replacing. In Balentien’s case, that was Brad Wilkerson. And in Clement’s case, it’s Jose Vidro who is no longer the full-time DH because of Clement’s arrival. Heading into last night, though, the two Tacoma graduates had not done better at the plate than the guys they’d replaced. They had done worse. Clement’s OPS was at .527 compared to Vidro’s .546, while Balentien had a .500 to Wilkerson’s .652. Yes, an extremely small sample size. But again, this isn’t about fairness. The kids didn’t hit and it did nothing to improve an already-staggering team that failed to win a game with either of them in the lineup until last night.
This isn’t about fairness, I repeat. It’s about what the team needs right now. Not next week.
So, in reading some of the back-and-forth arguments some of you were having about the pair in our comments sections yesterday, both sides are right. It is unfair to judge them as hitters based on a half dozen games. But it is fair game to judge the imapct they’ve had. Again, it’s not their fault this team had so many regulars struggling at once that a pair of Class AAA callups were seen as a quick solution. But that’s what this team needs right now: a quick fix.
Seattle needs to win games in a hurry. Lots of them. Or the team will be buried once June rolls around. Sorry, but those are the facts. A loss last night would have left the M’s 7 1/2 games out of first place and that’s just too big a gap to be letting form this early.

The team is trying different scenarios, like hitting them further back in the order to reduce pressure, so that the two youngsters can “get their feet under them” so to speak, which is a process that can take days, sometimes weeks, maybe months. In the M’s case, they hope it’s days. These two have to be quick studies for the team to recover from this swoon. They weren’t in the first five games and the team — in need of instant saviors — lost all five. Having them around was roughly the same as having Wilkerson and Vidro and Kenji Johjima taking all of the same at-bats as before. It sounds bad to say that about two players just starting out, I know, but that’s why these moves are risky. Just because a guy had an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .900 in Class AAA does not mean he’ll put that up right away in the big leagues.
Might take a while. It’s why teams often don’t like to thrust such players into pennant races with six weeks or a month left in a season unless they absolutely have to. You just never know. The M’s would probably settle for an OPS of .750 to .800 from both over an entire year to start off. That would be loads better than what Wilkerson and Vidro were providing daily. But if they take the entire month of May to “find themselves” before putting up those numbers the final four months, it may be too late to get this season back on track for the team. Balentien and Clement don’t share all the responsibility, if any, so let’s be clear. There are others on this team not pulling their weight.
But alas, we knew that already. It’s one of the big reasons why Clement and Balentien were rushed up now, as opposed to, say, June or July, in the first place. Make no mistake, the apprenticeship for these two won’t be the same as it is for Jones in Baltimore, or players on other rebuilding squads. The M’s have invested over $100 million to try to make the playoffs this season. They won’t take away any of that “Ah, look at the kids blossom” kind of warm and fuzzy feeling some of you express while watching each new experience these two have.
Yes, it’s unfair. Very unfair. The guys who have already been here a while should be the ones upping their games right now. Not two guys fresh out of AAA. But this is the reality. This team’s survival right now depends on Clement and Balentien figuring out major league pitching a lot sooner than Jones or others will have to. Last night was a start. It needs to happen more.



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