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

May 14, 2008 at 9:46 PM

One for the road

Very sorry for how long it’s taken me to post about the game. I’ve had a very tight work schedule today and am now back in Seattle, believe it or not, after covering today’s game. I had a feature-length story I had to basically write this afternoon as well as the game story. Not to mention a flight out of Texas that left at 6:40 p.m. local time. When the 4-3 win by the Mariners over the Texas Rangers went 12 innings and finished just before 5 p.m., it naturally had me scurrying. We don’t get in to the clubhouse until 10 minutes after the game ends, so I had to scramble for some interviews, run upstairs, and finish writing the game story.
I was at my car by 5:25 p.m., then had to drive to the airport, through some rush hour traffic, drop the rental car off, take the shuttle over to the terminal, clear security and still make it for my on-time flight. Not really sure how I did it. I think a couple of traffic violations may have helped. Sorry, no video this time. Too much hurrying and would have been too dangerous to show you a real “getaway day” under pressure. But if you saw the last video, you’ll know this was no cakewalk.
So, anyway, the Mariners did salvage the win today, with Miguel Cairo — of all people — coming through with that single in the 12th. And then there was Jarrod Washburn notching the save, allowing a walk in the 12th, but otherwise coming through. Washburn told me he’s been working out with the bullpen guys the past two days. The M’s decided earlier in the week to bump back his next start. With some off-days coming up, most of the rotation would have been working on seven days’ rest at some point had the M’s not pushed back somebody. So, Washburn was available out of the bullpen to notch his first career save.
“The adrenaline and stuff is a lot different,” Washburn said of working in relief. “The rush you get from just being out there.”

Some of you were criticizing John McLaren’s bullpen decisions in this game. I realize that he did empty the bullpen. But some of you may not know why. With all of the shorter starts being delivered the last little while, several of the bullpen members are running dangerously close to overuse again. Remember what happened last season? McLaren is trying to prevent a repeat. But that’s tough when the best a starter delivered this series was Carlos Silva’s 6 1/3 innings today. Felix Hernandez went six yesterday, as we’ve widely discussed. Before that, Erik Bedard went only two-plus. Again, the so-called “quality starts” of six innings and three earned runs or less allowed are OK, but get too many of the six-inning kind in a week and the bullpen is still taxed.
Throw in Bedard’s flameout and two extra-inning games in the series — which the bullpen was already tired heading into — and you can see the problem. That’s why he was using guys just an inning apiece in this one. Until he got to J.J. Putz, who he squeezed two frames out of. But you don’t want to burn your closer with the Padres coming to town this weekend. So, he didn’t push it and went to Washburn. Cha Seung Baek threw a bunch of innings on Monday and was not available.
In all, I’d say McLaren did a good job of managing the bullpen today. It’s not his fault the Mariners needed 12 innings to score four runs. Good thing Jeff Clement came through with that triple in the seventh to follow up his earlier double or this might have been a sweep. Had the M’s not scored in the 12th? The game was probably over real soon after that.
But Cairo came through when he had to.
“It was nice to get a break,” said the .188-hitting Cairo, who also began a huge double play in the ninth when Chris Shelton tried to bunt with a runner on first and none out. “We needed a break.”
How many of you thought the M’s were going to lose when the leadoff man got on? I sure did.
This is stuff the team needs to see more of. Everybody contributing. All of the players being accountable for what they do at the plate and on the field. Picking each other up. It was only one game, so I’m not getting too excited. Sweep the Padres and some folks might break a sweat, but the truth is, this team has buried itself so deep that it will take a six or seven-game win streak to even make a dent in the gap.
So, all we can do is wait.
To answer a couple — only a couple for now — of your questions from today, I’ll take the one about why I think Bill Bavasi and McLaren should not be fired right this instant.
On Bavasi, it makes little sense for a team to fire its GM in May, less than a month from the June entry draft. Teams spend a lot of time preparing for these things and an organization could really harm itself by changing the entire front office on the eve of the draft. Imagine how much the Seattle blogosphere would complain if the M’s did that, went to the draft unprepared, and came away with choices that haunted the franchise for years to come? No jokes please. OK, make a few.
That’s why teams will almost never fire a GM at this stage of a season. Or, during seasons. Let’s face it, the guys on the field are that GM’s blueprint. A new guy coming in could, I suppose, use the second half to rip up the existing team and start all over. I’m not convinced that’s the way this ownership wants to go. We’ll find out over the next couple of months whether this franchise truly is plagued by a losing culture, or whether this team shows signs that it may really be a few hitters away.
Like I said, you don’t make this move until after the June draft at the earliest. Most teams make them towards season’s end in September, or right after the season, especially if they have a candidate already in-place. You do it a little earlier if you expect a longer search and want to have time to prepare for the winter meetings in December and the GM meetings prior to that. But otherwise, firing a GM mid-season serves little practical purpose.
A manager is a different story and there have been plenty of cases where changing field bosses mid-stream can help. And lots of other cases where a bad team goes right on losing under the new guy.
That’s the challenge here, as I mentioned this morning. This ownership, which is on the conservative side when it comes to change, will want to see how much difference a managerial move is going to make. As I mentioned on the Mitch in the Morning show on KJR AM 950 today, during my Talkin’ Baseball segment, the M’s will have no choice but to fire McLaren if he keeps losing 12 out of every 14. There comes a time when teams have to make moves, even if only to appease an angry fan base. That time could come, but I don’t think it’s arrived.
This franchise hired McLaren with the expectation he would be here several years. For it to completely revise the plan, the guys in charge, Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, will have to be convinced that someone else could have done a better job with these players. Remember, plenty of you thought McLaren was the answer when Mike Hargrove left his job. Now, you’re convinced, less than a year later, that it’s someone else. So, what if McLaren is fired tomorrow, Jim Riggleman takes over and the team goes on to lose 12 of the next 14? Do you fire Riggleman next? Do you give him a year and fire him then? There is only so much change any organization can withstand in a short period of time on the managerial front without sustaining long-term damage. New coaches have to be brought in, different philosophies taught. It’s a real upheaval. I’m not saying it won’t happen. As I said on KJR this morning, it will have to happen at some point with McLaren if the losses continue to pile up at this alarming rate. If only for appearances’ sake.
But for now, before that upheaval begins, the M’s will want to make sure McLaren truly is the problem. They will want to be certain that this isn’t really a bunch of players so ingrained in a losing attitude, pre-dating McLaren’s arrival, that any new manager will continue to have the same problems.
That’s a tough call to make. It takes time. And when the Mariners finally do make the call, I expect that they will show some accountability and explain exactly why McLaren stays or goes. A simple “he’s done a great job” won’t suffice because on the scoreboard and in the standings he has not done a great job. If the losses continue and the team does decide that it’s not McLaren, but the players causing the defeats to pile up more than ever, then I’d expect some major changes on that player front.
That is what accountability is all about, whether you’re playing on a team, coaching it, or running it in a front office or owner’s suite. It’s not about saying that you are accountable to your teammates, coaches, the media, fans, or whatever. It’s about proving it through your actions.
Otherwise, maybe folks have to start seeking changes higher up this team’s food chain.



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