You can see the New York Yankees, out taking batting practice as I write this, in the photo above as they begin warming up. New York begins tonight with a .639 winning percentage and a seven-game lead over the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. As for the Mariners, they will have Felix Hernandez out there, trying to strengthen his bid for an AL Cy Young Award.
The Mariners won’t have Mark Lowe in the bullpen tonight, as he threw two innings yesterday. They still won’t have Chris Jakubauskas, who threw a side session today and will be ready by Sunday.
Russell Branyan has left the team and gone back home, then will join the club in Tampa Bay next week. Branyan has been doing a bunch of swimming workouts here. He’ll hook up with a physical therapist he knows from his Indians days while he’s in Florida.
“He’s had some success with him,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said.
At the earliest, he could be back when the team goes to Toronto late next week. But that’s the earliest. We still don’t know whether he’ll play again this season.
One guy who is in the lineup still is Franklin Gutierrez, who has been bothered all season by tendinitis in his knees. The Mariners want Gutierrez to adapt his workout regimen this off-season and do more strengthening of his legs primarily. The idea will be for Gutierrez to put on about five or six pounds of muscle, again, mostly in the legs, so that he’ll feel stronger towards the end of the 2010 season.
A lot of players have trouble keeping their strength up as a season progresses. The M’s feel Gutierrez can hit for more power, but that he’s been slowed by his sore knees as this season wears on. Obviously, Gutierrez can’t get into serious training until his knee soreness subsides through rest once the season ends. But once that happens and he feels better, there is hope an adapted regimen can produce better results.
Clearly, the M’s are thrilled with the play of a guy many feel — and rightly so — is the MVP of this team.
Gutierrez had an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .801 before the All-Star Break, but it’s at .677 since. His slugging percentage was only .339 in August and is at .355 in September despite being well above .500 in both June and July. So, the Mariners feel he can deliver more power once he adjusts his body to the rigors of a 162-game schedule.
Had a chat with Ryan Rowland-Smith before the game to ask him whether he’s intentionally become more of a ground ball pitcher. Rowland-Smith had a chuckle when I told him he’s been getting ground balls at a higher rate than in the past. As a reliever in 2007, he generated ground balls at only a 33.6 percent rate, improving that slightly to 38.6 percent last year when he became a starter late in the year and now to 41 percent when he’s been exclusively a starter.
Rowland-Smith has been up at 49 percent his last three outings, but insists he’s not doing anything differently.
“I’ve been doing the same thing,” he said. “Getting the same results. I’m just trying to get ahead in the count, not walk guys, get deep into games.”
Rowland-Smith said he doesn’t pay all that much attention to ground ball and fly ball rates. He can understand, he said, a guy like sinkerballer Derek Lowe being concerned with having a high grounder rate because it’s something he specializes in.
“With me, whether it’s ground balls or fly balls, all I care about is whether I can keep the hitters off balance,” he said. “If there’s a guy on first base and I get a pop-up, or a shallow fly ball, I’m not going to be upset because I didn’t get a ground ball. So, I don’t worry too much about stuff like that. I just want to keep the hitters off-balance so they don’t square up opn me.”