ADDITIONAL NOTE (10:28 p.m.): Word is that Chris Shelton is on his way to Seattle from Tacoma for tomorrow night’s game. Expect Jason Vargas to head down to Class AAA to clear the roster spot since he has no more starts to make until after the all-star break and Garrett Olson is still fresh enough to be used in the bullpen. Shelton would be filling in Mike Sweeney’s role as a pinch-hitter, backup first baseman and possible righthanded DH.
Yes, I realize that’s an old file photo we’ve pulled up. Put it there to help emphasize a point, though not quite sure what it is.
Anyhow, Yuniesky Betancourt made his second base debut tonight for Class AAA Tacoma. One of our writers, Tom Wyrwich, was there to see it firsthand and relayed the details to me. First, the good news. Betancourt made what Wyrwich described as “a nifty play” at second when he scooped a ball with his glove over to first baseman Jeff Clement. Yeah, I know, we’ll gripe about Clement’s situation another day.
Now for the not-so-positive Betancourt news. Or, what I’ll call Yuni being Yuni.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
First, he roped a solid RBI double. Well, that sounds good, right? What could possibly be wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, until the next hitter stepped in and Betancourt promptly broke from the base on contact and was easily doubled off on what became a routine fly ball out. I’m told it looked as if he’d forgotten how many outs there were.
And then, there was the flyball to shallow center when he was playing second base. How could that possibly lead to anything bad, right? Well, it nearly did when Betancourt and the center fielder bumped into each other as the ball was caught. This time, nobody had a knee torn to pieces. It was a fairly innocent collision. The type you hardly notice. Kind of like the one he almost had with Franklin Gutierrez the night after the Endy Chavez disaster.
Anyone sensing a theme here?
Look, I know it’s too early to jump all over Betancourt’s performances at a position he just started playing tonight. But both incidents are the type that tend to arise from a lack of focus.
And in the grand scheme of things, it points to something else the Mariners will have to contemplate as they move forward.
If they do manage to overcome today’s disaster and not lose this series coming up to the Texas Rangers — because if they do, it looks like sellers they will be — they will have to add a bat at either third base or shortstop post-All Star Break. As we wrote yesterday, there are some compelling arguments for going after a shortstop, moving Jose Lopez to third and Betancourt to second. Lopez’s two errors today will likely hasten calls for him to be moved to third.
But there are some downsides to that arrangement as well, as we saw today with Chris Woodward unable to barehand that ball in the ninth. A good third baseman makes those plays. An inexperienced one doesn’t. It was a tough play and this isn’t a knock on Woodward, who has played third before, just not on an everyday basis at this level. He just isn’t going to be making plays right away like a natural born third baseman, no matter how much work he puts into it. He’ll make those tough plays some of the time, like he did last night, but not with consistency.
And by installing a new shortstop and moving Lopez and Betancourt to new positions, you’ll have two guys in unfamilliar territory. We haven’t even seen Betancourt making double play throws or turning the pivot at second in the face of an oncoming takeout slide yet. The kind of slide Lopez almost got buried by in today’s ninth. If you don’t know what you’re doing out there, you can get seriously hurt playing second and trying to turn a double play. Lopez knows what he’s doing and how to avoid the worst. Betancourt doesn’t. And mid-season isn’t really the best time to learn.
The new shortstop might be a better thing than adding a new third baseman. But it won’t automatically make this a better infield. Lopez looked shaky at second today, but he at least knows the position. Move him to third, it’s a whole new ballgame. And this team could be in for some growing pains at second and third as it fights to stay in contention.
These are some of the things that GM Jack Zduriencik has to be considering as he prepares his next move. I guarantee you he’s thought about it a lot. He’d have to hope that the good of replacing Betancourt’s terrible shortstop defense will outdo the bad of using him in a less difficult spot and putting Lopez at a hot corner he’s hardly played.
Players are not like chess pieces you move around on a board. It all sounds easy, until days like this afternoon’s ninth inning when you learn to appreciate the value of good defense. And when you start shuffling pieces around, balls won’t always be caught.
First things first, though. Best way for the Mariners to overcome today’s debacle — which takes a ton of steam out of that 5-4 road trip, let me tell you — is to hope the Rangers hold on to their big lead tonight against the Angels. Texas winning tonight was seriously the best outcome for Seattle. Now, the Mariners have a direct ability to get closer to first place by beating Texas. If Seattle wins this series, takes at least three of four, then it will be no further back than 2 1/2 games behind Texas and likely no more than two or three out of the division lead by the break.
A split doesn’t do much. The Mariners botched a serious opportunity against the Orioles and are running out of time as the trade deadline nears. A 4 1/2-game gap, should they split, is sizeable. Take three of four, the M’s can head to the break comfortably in the race and worry later on about how they’re going to hit and field in the second half.