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August 19, 2009 at 8:52 PM

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu on Bill Hall: not sure where he fits yet

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Just got up from a happier post-game clubhouse than we saw last night, after this one ended with a David Aardsma strikeout (photo above) of Alex Avila. Small wonder, since the Mariners now have 62 wins — one more than all of last season.
While that part is nice from a symbolic perspective, it’s not all that much to crow about considering how low the bar had been set by the 2008 squad. What is worth crowing about is how the Mariners came in here, one night after a devastating loss, and took it to Cy Young Award contender Justin Verlander and the Tigers.
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Now, they didn’t run Verlander out of the yard. This was only a 3-1 victory, after all and Verlander did strike out 10 batters in eight innings. But the Mariners did some little things right tonight, starting with that stolen base and first run by Michael Saunders.
More on that in a moment.
First, we spoke to manager Don Wakamatsu post-game about newly-acquired third baseman/outfielder Bill Hall and where he’s going to play when he gets here tomorrow. It turns out, Wakamatsu has no idea yet.
“I think the 11th was the last day he played,” Wakamatsu said, “He’s been in Arizona. That’s some of the questions we’ll talk to him about. How he feels physically. But we do have some lefties coming up and there’s a chance that I’ll probably put him in at least one of those games.
“Tomorrow, I’ll probably let him take batting practice on the field, take a look at his swing, let him get acclimated to the club and then look at Cleveland.”

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So, where exactly will Hall play once he’s able? Wakamatsu can’t answer that.
“The biggest thing for us is just going to be to sit down and talk with him, see where he’s at,” Wakamatsu said. “What’s gone on, obviously he’s had a lot of success in his career. He had some big numbers over there in Milwaukee. Whether it’s a belief system, or a change in mechanics, we don’t know yet.”
Wakamatsu has an idea of what Hall can do.
“He’s a versatile player,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s played short, center, second, third. He can do just about everything and he’s proved that he can hit. The rest is…I think as we look forward, we’ll feel our way and see where he fits. I can’t answer that right now.”
Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik told me earlier tonight that he isn’t going to dictate to Wakamatsu where and how often Hall should play. At least not now. He’s leaving that one up to his manager.
I’ve seen some comments on this blog and others that suggest Hall will be used as a utility infielder, sort of like Willie Bloomquist. I can tell you that’s not the objective right now. The M’s are hoping they can turn Hall around and get him back to where he was a few seasons ago, when his splits saw him post an .846 OPS versus righthanded pitchers.
Obviously, three seasons have passed since then.
But Zduriencik kept reiterating that Hall is a young player, still under 30 — the implication being that since he’s put these numbers up before, he can do it again. It’s not like he’s at an age where players see their physical skills decline, unable to be recovered.
Now, if this is the best Hall can be — what he’s shown the last two seasons — then, yes, at worst, the team will have a good utility player for a pretty low cost. But for now, the team will see whether he can be an adequate replacement for Adrian Beltre, either in a platoon with Jack Hannahan, or on his own. When Hall was at the top of his game, he didn’t need a platoon partner.
So, we’ll see,
Wakamatsu’s words lead me to believe that Josh Wilson will be the one let go tomorrow to clear a spot on the major league club. This team still needs a third baseman for tomorrow night and that’s Hannahan’s role at present. The only way Wilson stays is if the team decides to cut a relief pitcher — somebody like Miguel Batista, who hasn’t thrown in quite a while. But it’s not as if the starters have been lights-out, so we’ll see on that.
Back to tonight’s game, I spoke to Saunders about his stolen base and the run he scored on Wilson’s bloop single to open the scoring. Saunders told me that, the way Verlander pitches, he’d made up his mind to go if left an opening to steal. That’s because he didn’t know how many scoring chances the M’s would get.
Once he scored, Ichiro came through with the two-run homer on the next pitch and that was the game. But obviously, that stolen base was a key play. Saunders had missed much of the past week after jamming his shoulder diving back into first base several times in a sequence against the Yankees last week.
I asked him if he was worried about tonight’s stolen base attempt.
“Before the game, yeah, it crossed my mind a little that it could get hurt again,” he said. “But once the game started, I didn’t give it any thought.”
I’ve quoted winning pitcher Ian Snell in my game story, so let’s take a look now at the excellent work tonight by Mark Lowe. Last night, he was throwing a bunch of breaking balls early and falling behind hitters. Then, his fastballs were coming in straight — now on a downward plane — and getting whacked.
Tonight, completely different results.
“Some nights you don’t have your best stuff,” he said. “Last night, I went home and watched some video from some previous games this year where I was doing well. Just looking at how I attacked hitters differently. And I just went in with the mindset today where I would use my fastball, then pitch with my slider after that once I got ahead.”
The Tigers were aggressive with their swings and he took full advantage.
“they were swinging first pitch, I got ahead with my fastball and was able to put guys away with my slider,” he said.
Lowe said he wasn’t even thinking about the downward angle of those fastballs. But he did make a small adjustment, coming to a set position a little bit lower with his hands.
“It’s not much of a difference,” he said. “But when you’re pitching, even the smallest adjustment can make a big difference.”
How does setting his hands lower change anything?
“It just keeps me from collapsing on my back side a little bit,” he said. “My hands have always followed my legs my whole career, even when I was a little kid. The lower I can set with my hands, the less I collapse. So, I was able to use my height and then the mound for some angle.”
Whatever he did, it worked.



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