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May 19, 2008 at 7:26 AM

Pitchers do their jobs

Erik Bedard and Felix Hernandez did exactly what they had to do this weekend and the result is, the Mariners head off on this road trip still only 7 1/2 games out of first place. Could have been a whole lot worse. Bedard stepped up in the best way possible, delivering that eight-inning quality start we’d written on Saturday that this team needed badly.
Hernandez had his best outing in a month and looked certain to go seven frames had he not hurt his calf muscle.
The end result was that “one-two punch” not seen in a while. It proved just enough to give this offense a chance to come back in both contests.
So, that’s back-to-back wins for the first time in a month. That’s three wins in four for Seattle, all comebacks in which the offense helped pick-up the pitchers and vice-versa. Team baseball. And that’s the first series win for the M’s after eight straight defeats.

None of it will matter much if the Mariners head to Detroit and drop the series there. This will be the team’s biggest series of the season to-date. The M’s, as I mentioned, have won three of four. They are close to going off on one of those rolls they’ve so badly needed. Take two of three in Detroit, that would be five wins in seven with Bedard and Hernandez on the mound at Yankee Stadium next weekend. Lose two of three and the M’s are back where they started.
And they may have to do it in Detroit with the three starters not named Bedard or Hernandez. We’ll see if Miguel Batista gets skipped or not. Or if Bedard gets an extra day’s rest. This will be a challenge these next three games.
As for shipping Jeff Clement back to Class AAA, I don’t see what all of the fuss is about. Clement is burning up service time in the majors and not hitting. Jose Vidro can hit .150 as a DH without using up valuable service time for Clement, who did little to help the team in nearly three weeks here.
Will a healthy Vidro do more? I have no idea, but it’s worth another shot. If he can’t do it, go to Plan D, or is it E of F? Whatever. This team is still on the fringes. It has not been eliminated from anything, hard as it may be to believe, with over four months to go. A 7 1/2 game deficit is formidable, but it is not officially the throw-in-the-towel time. Not when a four-game win streak can get you back to 3 1/2 behind in the race. Do I think this is about to happen? No, not this week anyway. But a team has to keep its options open, even slim options, when it’s only May.
Clement may have hit the ball well in Class AAA. He did not do so here. It happens. Great numbers at one level do not automatically mean fantastic starts in the majors. This team cannot afford the learning curve Clement was forcing on it — no matter what his projections said. The M’s are suffering big-time in power at RF, 1B and DH. It needs more production from all three.
Richie Sexson and Wladimir Balentien are at least providing some semblance of production, with Balentien producing an OPS+ of 102 and Sexson a 92. Neither is really what you want at either spot, especially Sexson’s total. But Balentien has been an upgrade over Brad Wilkerson. No problem keeping him around. Clement was not an upgrade over Jose Vidro. So, he wasn’t helping the team and he was eating up service time that could see him reach free agency a year early. He had nearly three weeks to show something. The M’s can always call him back up if Vidro flops.
But this way, you get some added outfield defense with Jeremy Reed, plus the chance to see if his bat is more ready than Clement’s was. You also get to see if a healthier Vidro can provide more production. I’m not sure why all the tears are being spilled.
This is supposed to be about putting the best team out there and trying to win a season that has not been lost yet. This offense, the one I saw this week — even when winning — was not going to get it done. You can’t come back every night by expecting pitchers to hold opponents to two runs or less. This bullpen is back in form. J.J. Putz is back to being Putz. The rotation has to see the bottom two guys step forward. And this offense needs to take a quantum leap.
If Clement was named Vidro, you’d all be applauding this move. They’ve put up nearly identical numbers. Enough with this rookie-veteran nonsense. You can’t keep rooting for one guy because of age and against another guy because he’s older. That stuff is for losers. And losing teams do that all the time, in losing markets populated by fans used to watching losers. It’s called September call-up season. When losing teams worry about the future and have time to watch rookies strike out at a 300-K per season rate. That’s when you give your prospects a month to “find themselves”. This team may not survive another three weeks of Vidro-Clement-like production out of the DH spot. It needs more. We’ll see if it can get some.
But it’s a long way from September.
And please, let’s hold off on talk of moving Raul Ibanez to DH — with Reed playing one of the corner outfield spots full-time, Balentien the other — until we at least see whether Reed can hit up here. He couldn’t the last time. It might take time for Ibanez to adjust to being a DH. He is the team’s top hitter right now in on-base plus slugging percentage, which matters a whole lot more than batting average. The last thing you want to do is risk messing up Ibanez’s bat for even a small bit of time if Reed is going to take weeks to adjust to being a major league hitter at another full-time spot. For now, I can see Reed and Balentien splitting time. Balentien isn’t exactly setting the world on fire. He’s been adequate. Nothing wrong with giving him a little push. It’s what I thought this team was originially going to do with either Wilkerson or Greg Norton and Balentien at the right field spot. Cutting Wilkerson I understood more than releasing Norton when he could have spelled Balentien while he got his feet under him. He still hasn’t done that. Not entirely. So, what I agree with is splitting time between those two until one or both shows he can do the job with something better than merely adequate numbers. Then you think about maybe shifting Ibanez to upgrade the defense. As bad as the defense has been, it’s the offense that’s the worst problem. The M’s starters gave up two runs or less in both weekend wins and nearly lost. Not because of sub-par defense. Because of an offense that still can’t hit with any consistency. That’s what has to be upgraded first. Once you know you can do that, you maybe think of moving Reed to the outfield full-time and Ibanez to DH. But we’re a ways off from there.
Balentien at least proved he could “cut it” with league average production, so he stays. Clement did not prove he could, at least not yet. So, he goes. It’s not too hard to figure out once you put the biases aside and look at things rationally.



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