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August 29, 2009 at 5:54 PM

Russell Branyan gets MRI, out indefinitely with back woes

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Some quick news for you: Mariners No. 2 overall draft pick Dustin Ackley will meet with the Seattle media at a Monday press conference at Safeco Field, then take batting practice afterwards. Maybe he could even play, given all the bodies dropping left and right.
The Mariners were already shorthanded heading into today, missing Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro and Adrian Beltre. Now, they won’t have Russell Branyan back for the rest of this homestand. That appears to be the gist of things after Branyan had an MRI done on his sore back, which has been bothering him on and off for much of the season.
It’s one reason, I’d suspect, that the team would look to use him in more of a DH role come next season if he’s brought back as expected. It’s not as if Branyan offers you Gold Glove defense at first base. Not using him in the field could, in theory, allow him to put less exertion on the back.
I asked manager Don Wakamatsu about that at today’s press gathering. Specifically, I asked whether he’d consider easing Branyan into a DH role come September, when the team could add some first basemen from Class AAA to an expanded roster.
“I think a lot’s going to be determined on the results this time, to be able to make that statement,” Wakamatsu said. “Ideally, I’d like him to play in the field but if it’s something where they’re going to sit there and tell me that because he’s out on the field that puts a lot more strain on it. I don’t know. I think swinging has a lot more to do with it than playing the defense, in all honesty.
“But yeah, as we go forward, we’re going to have to look at every option.”

Wakamatsu and company had not yet gotten the MRI results. Of course, nothing I’m saying here is crossing his mind for the first time. Wakamatsu, Jack Zduriencik and their assistants all have to be wondering how to best keep these back problems from resurfacing. And while Branyan’s swing may be the trigger that causes the flare-ups, common sense dictates that a bad back won’t get any better by exerting it through the physical activity of fielding.
But that’s their call.
Like I said, Branyan’s defense isn’t adding a ton of value. The team has guys in AAA like Mike Carp and Chris Shelton, who can hit from the left and right side respectively. None of those guys are outstanding fielders. But if one has a bad back, and the other two don’t, well, we’ll see what gets decided…
Heading into next year, I think Branyan would make a fine DH candidate, given his ability to hit both righthanders and lefthanders. What remains to be seen is how he would handle that sitting around in-between. From a physical standpoint, some guys do feel they get worse back and other muscle stiffness from sitting around cold and then being asked to exert themselves physically. They find it easier to stay loose by playing the field.
And from a mental standpoint, let’s not forget, the Mariners have spent all season reluctant to thrust Branyan into a clean-up role that practically begged for his bat. The idea being he was still getting used to a full-time role and the team didn’t want any added responsibilities throwing off his comfort level.
So, food for thought.
This isn’t an automatic decision. But I just think it might be for the best in the long term. And yes, I do think we’ll see Branyan re-signed for next year.
As we told you yesterday, Ichiro looks doubtful to return this weekend. He’s running but still not flat-out. Beltre is still targetted for a Sept. 1 return.
As a result, tonight’s lineup is an adventure.
You have Josh Wilson batting second and playing third. Hmmm. Who would have bet that back on April 6?
ROYALS (49-79)
LF David DeJesus
RF Willie Bloomquist
1B Billy Butler
DH Mike Jacobs
2B Alberto Callaspo
3B Mark Teahen
CF Mitch Maier
C John Buck
SS Yuniesky Betancourt
RHP Gil Meche
MARINERS (67-62)
CF Franklin Gutierrez
3B Josh Wilson
2B Jose Lopez
DH Mike Sweeney
RF Bill Hall
1B Jack Hannahan
SS Jack Wilson
LF Ryan Langerhans
C Rob Johnson
RHP Ian Snell



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