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May 20, 2009 at 5:36 PM

Adrian Beltre now the No. 2 hitter for Mariners, Wladimir Balentien bats clean-up

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A look, above, at the new No. 2 hitter for the Mariners. Just got done listening to manager Don Wakamatsu, who hopes that batting Adrian Beltre second will force him to become more selective at the plate.
“When guys struggle, most guys look at batting average,” he said. “And when you try to look at struggles, you try to figure out ‘What is it?’
“And to me, I think it goes back to being not much different from Yuni (Betancourt), it’s on-base percentage and are we swinging at the right pitches? So, some managers will say when a guy struggles, let’s move him down in the order. And some managers will say the opposite: put him in a situation where it maybe forces him to maybe be a little more selective and change their role.
“Adrian’s got to be a force in our lineup. And we’re looking at different ways, we’re going to try different ways to get him back on-track. And this is one. Putting him in the two-hole, it might force him to grasp that role a little bit more. We might hit and run with him. There’s different things we can do with him.”
Beltre’s OBP is down to a horrific .236. By comparison, the much-maligned Betancourt is at .284.
For his career, Beltre has an OBP of .324. So, there’s about 100 points of room for expected improvement.

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The second part of the lineup shuffling was to get Wladimir Balentien’s bat in the heart of the order. Balentien’s not the perfect clean-up guy, with a slugging percentage of only .432 and an OPS of .753.
But he’s the best thing the Mariners have going for them at the moment other than Russell Branyan and Wakamatsu wants to keep his mid-order lefty bats split up.
“Balentien’s a guy that we like and in the future, we’d like to think that this guy could be a power bat in the middle of the order,” Wakamatsu said. “So, whenever we have an opportunity to do that, we’re going to do that.”
I caught up with Miguel Batista before the game. He doesn’t do a whole lot of talking anymore, ever since he got caught up in a bit of a controversy for some statements he made in New York last June about the unwillingness of some of his teammates to play hurt. At the time, Batista was pitching with two fractured bones in his back, something he wasn’t fully aware of at the time.
Now, the 38-year-old is pitching pain-free for the first time in years.
“I was talking to Jamie Burke before he got sent down,” Batista said, “and I told him ‘It’s incredible, we’ve been playing for so long with sore arms and some tightness and we’ve forgotten what it feels like to pitch pain-free.’
“I mean, now, I go out there and a lot of people are surprised. Especially in my warm-ups. Before, I used to take a long time. Now, by the fourth pitch, I’m throwing extremely hard.”
And it shows. The only bullpen member with a higher strikeout rate per nine innings this season is David Aardsma. Batista is now consistently hitting 95 mph with his four-seam fastball and getting his cutter over at 91 mph. Last season, compensating for the pain he felt in his back, he couldn’t get that much velocity on his fastball without having to sit out several days to recuperate. And his fastball was topping out at 88 mph.
He’s always had lots of movement on his pitches.
“But now, it’s more narrow and it’s late,” he said.
So, instead of a big, sweeping motion, the pitch comes in much tighter and doesn’t break until the last moment — making it tougher for the hitter to track the ball.
“Sometimes, I miss my spots,” he said. “But I’m getting the movement that I normally get. Last night my cutter was 91. Before, it was 86, or 88. It was too big. It looked like a slider.”
Batista has now tossed five scoreless outings in a row and logged 10 strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings during that stretch. Five of those strikeouts came in his last two outings alone — two last night and three over three scoreless innings against the Red Sox on Saturday. After that outing, several Red Sox players claimed Batista’s stuff was some of the nastiest they’d seen all year from any reliever.
Batista said he was throwing a variation of his sinker against the Red Sox, one that went slower than it usually does but with greater movement.
Opponents are hitting only .205 off Batista, who all of a sudden is looking like a closer candidate again in a bullpen becoming stocked with hard throwers like Mark Lowe, Aardsma and — if he can find his command again — Brandon Morrow.
Batista says he told the coaching staff the final two weeks of spring training not to look at his results. That he was merely trying to get his body ready for the regular season and would be OK once the games began. He was used only sporadically the opening month, getting in just one game between April 22 and May 3, but then pitched four times in five days the last road trip and has been in a groove ever since.
“The only reason I didn’t pitch on the fifth day was because I had the flu,” Batista said with a laugh. “I was aching so much that they said ‘OK, just take the day off.’ ”



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