I just got off the phone with Mariners’ manager Don Wakamatsu in Texas. He said he that he had no inkling at the end of the year that Kenji Johjima wouldn’t be back.
“All I knew is that it was a tougher year because of injuries,” he said. “He battled through a lot of things this year. Because of the injuries and the (decline in) playing time, it’s tough on a guy of that caliber. But I really had no idea at the end of the season he wasn’t going to come back.
“I’ll tell you the same thing Jack (Zduriencik) said: I honor his decision, wish him the best of luck, and thank him for this year. I’m awfully positive about the whole thing.”
Naturally, I asked Wakamatsu how the catching situation stands with Johjima’s departure. He said he expects open competition for the job.
“I think it’s too early to tell,” he said. “Obviously, Jack is going to look around. We have to add depth at the upper levels. This takes away some depth we have, and leaves us with two awfully young catchers.”
I asked if he was prepared to go with some combination of Rob Johnson and Adam Moore: “I think spring training will give us a much better look where we are at that point…I know Jack will look wherever he can to bolster our club.”
On Adam Moore: “I think he did a heck of a job. He impressed us a lot, but it was a short look. I’m thankful we were able to look at him more than a couple of days. A lot has to transpire between now and the start of the season. We have to take a long look at him in spring training.”
On Rob Johnson: “We’re all hoping and crossing our fingers he’ll be ready at the start of the year. I don’t think he’ll be ready the first day of spring training. But I’ve talked to the doctors and trainers, and they say everything has gone extremely well so far.”
Wakamatsu was reluctant to talk about the perception that Mariner pitchers didn’t like to throw to Johjima, believing it was an inappropriate time to get into that. But he did say, “You can go back and negate some of that. Look at games he caught with (Doug) Fister, with (Ryan) Rowland-Smith, and even earlier games with Felix (Hernandez). There were games he caught tremendously well. I never thought that was a huge issue.”
Wakamatsu was clearly uncomfortable talking about the dismissal of his third-base coach, Bruce Hines.
“It’s a long, long time friend,” he said. “There’s nothing I can say that can ease that. We’re looking to go in a different direction, as vague as that is. It’s the toughest decision I had to make.”
Wakamatsu told Hines by phone. “It wasn’t fun. I think he wanted to be part of where we’re headed. All our conversation along the way, he was going to be part of that. It was a tough decision. I took a little while to make it, because it was not clear cut.”
Wakamatsu said the team has “a couple of candidates. I think we’ll look at everyone out there, and hopefully find the best guy.”
He said he talked to first-base coach Lee Tinsley after Hines was let go, “and there could be a possibility of moving him over there (to third base).”