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May 13, 2009 at 3:52 PM

Wakamatsu meets with Betancourt: “You get to a saturation point”

Manager Don Wakamatsu said that the team had been talking about getting Ronny Cedeno some playing time, “and we thought today would probably be a pretty good day to do that.”
Indeed. And not just because Cedeno, who missed 13 games with a hamstring injury and the flu, and has played just once since April 22, needs the work. This is obviously just as much about sending a message to Yuniesky Betancourt, whose offensive and defensive lapses are getting to be an increasing concern.
And it’s not just a silent message. Betancourt and Wakamatsu had a long heart-to-heart talk today before the game. Wakamatsu said they’ve talked about these issues before, but never to the depth they did today.
“We had a discussion, and the biggest thing is, is he playing to his potential?” Wakamatsu said. “When you go through a stretch that we’ve gone through, it’s not so much singling him out. But obviously, to move forward where we want to go, he’s got to raise his level of game both offensively and defensively.”
Did Wakamatsu get the sense that his mesage was hitting home?
“I don’t think you know that until you get him back out there. One day is not what we’re looking for. We’re looking for the rest of the season – or at least consistency in that. Historically, obviously his lack of patience at the plate is something we talked about. It’s not something where myself or the coaching staff can hit for him. Those are adjustments he’s going to have to make as we go forward, and that’s what we talked about today.”
I asked Wakamatsu if he was getting less tolerant with Betancourt’s lapses as the season progresses.
“I think it has to do with what power you have. Or what options you have. We’ve said from day one, we’re not going to give up on these guys, and we have to continue to move forward. But the players have to make adjustments, too. You get to a saturation point, and you have to make some decisions.”
Wakamatsu noted that Betancourt has played in all 33 games this year, though he’s started only 31.
“As a manager, you can say, ‘We’ve given you opportunities to make adjustments in what we’ve talked about since spring training.’ The rest is up to him. But Yuni will be back out there.”
On other fronts, Wakamatsu said he’d like to get Wladimir Balentien more playing time. He’s starting in left field today.
“Similar to Vargas pitching yesterday, we want to see what we’ve got in our system. Obviously, Balentien was up here last year He’s a guy that does have power, and has had some good at-bats. The biggest thing for me is his approach going the other way, like the ball he hit in Minnesota. He’s worked extremely hard. So yeah, I want to see a little about his development, and can he continue with that. He’s played 17 games out of 33, and his numbers are pretty good. It’s a test for him to play a little bit more – can he sustain that? Basically, that’s what we’re looking at right now.”
On the team’s general malaise — 11 losses out of their last 15 games — Wakamatsu said, “We’re looking at whatever we can right now. A lot of our woes are uncharacteristic. I think we have a better offense than we’ve shown. We showed it more in the first month of the season. I think it can be contagious both ways, when guys swing well, and when guys don’t swing well. He (Balentien) is a guy that, as we go forward, can be a big part of it. We’ll see what he can do.”
Wakamatsu had talked after Tuesday’s game of exploring other lineup options. Asked about that, he said, “I think there’s some guys in the minor leagues, but in fairness to the players here, it’s such a long season, sometimes you have to weather the storm a little bit, and that’s what we’re doing now.
“When we have good pitching, you’d like to be able to match that with some offensive production, or else it goes to waste. That’s a lot of the stretch we’ve had right now, where we’ve had two or three good pitching performances, and we haven’t capitalized on it. Everybody gets frustrated with it, but you’ve got to back your team, and I’m here to say, I back my team.”
Elaborating on his frustration the night before, particularly regarding Texas’ six-run seventh inning, Wakamatsu said, “Again, what I care about is us playing fundamental baseball. When I see it break down, it’s a reflection on me, it’s a reflection on the coaching staff. If you do see me perturbed, it’s because we feel we didn’t do our job. It’s not about a pitcher going out and making decent pitches and good hitters taking advantage of that. It’s when you let 2, 3 or 4 runs score when they shouldn’t have, and pretty much eliminate any chance of coming back in that ball game.”
Finally, here’s what Wakamatsu said when asked what Cedeno has to do to earn more playing time: “Show us a little bit what he did in spring training. He really impressed us. It does add some versatility as far as his ability to bunt, which he does extremely well. I also liked his approach in spring training, where he drove the ball the other way. We need to get him back playing, being out as long as he can. In fairness to him, one game in Kansas City is not what he deserves, and what the team deserves.”



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