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September 4, 2009 at 6:10 PM

Kenji Johjima battles on despite diminished playing time

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Just some quick news here that Ken Griffey Jr. has been scratched from tonight’s game with soreness in his knee. Griffey had missed most of the past week with knee soreness, then played last night and is now out again. They gave him a shot at being in there depending on what he did in batting practice. Manager Don Wakamatsu had been optimistic Griffey would make it in, but BP is over and he’s out.
On to the topic of our pre-game post.
Back in late-May, Kenji Johjima broke a toe here in Oakland on a play at the plate. His season hasn’t been the same since. Johjima was the team’s starting catcher when he went down on May 25 and his .722 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that month — while hardly lighting up the scoreboard — was the best he’d produce in any monthly period.
In the first half-dozen games after his return in late June, Johjima started four of them — as the team insisted he would since he was still the No. 1 guy. But that didn’t last long. Johjima, as many had expected, was gradually eased out of the No. 1 role. He appeared in three of the next six games after that, and then two out of the next six, then one out of the six following.
He’s on pace for about 200 fewer at-bats than he had in 2007, the last season he was the team’s undisputed No. 1 guy.
So, I decided that, after his home run and two hit game on Thursday — which helped earn him a start again tonight — I’d ask him what it’s like trying to improve his game while getting fewer opportunities, I also asked him whether his season indeed took a definitive turn after that toe injury, which enabled Rob Johnson to take over as the everyday catcher for the first time in his absence.
First, Johjima claimed, through an interpreter, that he hadn’t even remembered that Thursday was his first game back in Oakland since he broke his toe. Then, he said all the right things about liking the team, his teammates and manager Wakamatsu. And then, as if in resignation, he shrugged and said “I don’t know what you expect me to say.”
Then, he added: “In baseball, it doesn’t matter what situation you’re in. It’s difficult no matter what. So, as ballplayers, what we have to do is produce in a way like nobody else can in difficult circumstances. That’s our job and no matter what the circumstances, it’s difficult.”
Johjima says he wants to wait until the season is over before assessing his 2009 campaign as a whole. So, that’s where things are. It hasn’t been easy. But he’s working at it and trying to stay positive.

For those of you who are interested, and I know many are, I asked Walkamatsu about his decision to use the bunt in last night’s ninth inning with the bases loaded and only one out. The Oakland Athletics were down by two and had just walked Ichiro to set up the double-play. Some of you wanted the Mariners to let Franklin Gutierrez swing away and knock in more than one run.
Others were satisfied with the Mariners getting simply one run in that situation and turning a two-run lead into three.
“You take some chances sometimes and even if he makes an out there you’ve still got possibly second and third with (Jose) Lopez coming up,” Wakamatsu said. “You just want to get on the board. You want to get that run in and give your bullpen a little bit of cushion. It’s not always a conventional situation but they’re going to walk Ichiro to get in a double-play situation and we’re trying to take it out of their hands.
“But having a guy that’s leading the lead or right up there in sacrifice bunts, you have a belief system that he can get the bunt down, even against a guy like (Jeff) Gray.”
Gutierrez had no idea Wakamatsu was going to try to bunt in that situation.
“Normally you don’t expect that with two or more men on,” he said. “I wasn;t thinking bunt, but I saw the sign and knew we were going to do something different. Normally, it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t matter. My job is to get the bunt down and score the run and that’s what I did.”
The lineups:
MARINERS (71-64)
RF Ichiro
CF Franklin Gutierrez
2B Jose Lopez
DH Mike Sweeney
3B Adrian Beltre
LF Bill Hall
1B Mike Carp
C Kenji Johjima
SS Jack Wilson
LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith
3B Adam Kennedy
CF Rajai Davis
C Kurt Suzuki
LF Scott Hairston
DH Nomar Garciaparra
2B Mark Ellis
1B Bobby Crosby
RF Ryan Sweeney
SS Cliff Pennington
RHP Clayton Mortensen



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