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February 24, 2010 at 1:03 PM

Jack Wilson will quarterback the Mariners infield on defense

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Don’t forget Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 6 p.m. Pacific time
Before I get into a little news this afternoon, the photo above shows the kind of stuff Mike Sweeney does that makes everyone appreciate him. Sweeney was hustling between fields when he saw Brian McKibbin, 11, of Lincroft, N.J., playing catch with his father on the grass near the spectator stands. Sweeney went over and talked to McKibbin, then told him to come with him. Sweeney brought him beyond the fence and on to the side of the field where the Mariners were working out. He then darted in to the dugout and produced a ball for the young boy.
“If you’re going to play catch with your Dad, you might as well use a major league ball,” he told the starstruck McKibbin.

Sweeney quickly posed for the obligatory family-taken photo before hustling off to work.
Safe to say, this is already a memorable spring trip for McKibbin and his family.
On to some news, after today’s workout, Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu revealed that shortstop Jack Wilson will be the one giving out the signals as to the infield’s defensive allignment. This was previously done by third baseman Adrian Beltre and is almost always the role of a corner infielder.
In fact, Wakamatsu said he’s never been involved with a team that didn’t have a corner infielder giving the defensive signals. That’s all changed for Seattle. The team is centering a lot of its allignments around the talented glove of Wilson. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, I suppose, considering the team is trying out Jose Lopez at third base.
Lopez has enough on his plate for the moment and encumbering him with defensive signals is the last thing he needs.
Having Wilson, one of the game’s premier defenders, at shortstop, enables the Mariners to take that load off Lopez’s shoulders. Same with Chone Figgins, who won’t be doing the signal-calling even if he eventually does end up at third.
Wilson enables the Mariners to contemplate a Lopez switch to third because of how well he ranges to his right. That means, the shortstop can get to balls Lopez might otherwise allow to slip past him in th hole. In other words, Lopez’s range doesn’t need to be as good with Wilson getting to those balls.
“It’s almost like I don’t really want them to cover too much ground over there because it’s going to take one of my (strong) things away,” Wilson said. “Whatever guy ends up being over there, we’re going to be in a very good situation. We’re going to have a very good defensive team.”
Wilson was denied a Gold Glove last year, largely because he only played a half-season in each of the NL and AL. But he did win a Fielding Bible Award and is extremely proud of it. In fact, he just received the plaque a few days ago from the relatively new award — chosen by a panel of baseball followers and created by John Dewan, author of The Fielding Bible book.

“It’s actually a pretty big deal, I think, for players,” Wilson said. “Because it’s not something like a Gold Glove that’s voted on by managers and stuff. It’s more of an award that’s by the numbers. They’re trying to come up with a formula to where this is almost like a batting average. It’s, I guess, the truest defensive award you could get numbers-wise. So, to me, it’s a pretty big deal. Since it started about four or five years ago, I’ve always looked at that, took a lot of information from that, having the book, reading through the players and stuff like that.”
Wilson is an avid follower of more modern defensive metrics like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and the Plus/Minus system invented by Dewan.
“When it came out, being a defensive player, we can actually use this in salary negotiations and stuff because finally there is almost a set value for defense when there never was before.
“You couldn’t compare defensive players, but now you have the UZR and all these different defensive ratings where you actually could almost compare two players defensively. Which for a guy like me is pretty important because the biggest thing I bring to the table is defense.”
Wilson says “in general” the Gold Gloves are “a pretty rock solid award” though there have been some questionable decisions and elements of “a popularity contest.”
I should mention that Wilson has fnished second in Gold Glove voting a number of times. He says he’s love to win one, but cherishes his Fielding Bible Award and has reserved a special place for it in his house along with other baseball honors.
So, there you have it. Wilson certainly loves his defensive metrics.
In other news, Wakamatsu confirmed today that Ichiro will start the season as the leadoff hitter, while Figgins will hit second. Wakamatsu was speaking to the two hitters about that today, and joked around at first, telling them Franklin Gutierrez was going to be the team’s new leadoff guy.
But Wakamatsu wasn’t in such a joking mood when talking about the stiches taken on the face of reliever Shawn Kelley after what the manager said was “horsing around” by the pitchers before a pre-workout stretch.
Kelley and Lowe would not confirm there was horseplay involved. Kelley said he bent over to do something (he said he thought it was to tie a shoes but could not be certain) when Lowe kicked his foot up and caught him on the chin.
There is sometimes a fine line between what’s acceptable and what isn’t for these Mariners when it comes to having fun. For instance, there were quite a few laughs shortly afterwards when Wilson, during a pickoff drill, let a throw go right through his glove at the bag.
Lopez was part of the drill and could not stop laughing hard. He was up next and had a perfect throw from the mound bounce in and out of his glove.
More laughter ensued. So, obviously it was not a deadly serious environment. Some managers (more old school) might have erupted at the casual-like atmosphere. This coaching staff let it go and, to be fair, things got pretty serious quickly afterwards. Wakamatsu said the team is actually far ahead of last year in the baserunning fundamentals they’ve been working on, so it seems that — laughs aside — the work is being accomplished.
And it should be noted that the injury did not occur in a drill. It was in a pre-drill stretch where all the pitchers were in close proximity to one another.
“Sometimes, I look at those things as more of a positive,” Wakamatsu said of Kelley’s minor injury. “No. 1, no one got hurt very bad. And No. 2, it gives you an opportunity to address the club kind of about the atmosphere and what we’re trying to do and what we’re not trying to do. So, we’ll treat it that way.”
Wakamatsu plans to address the club about this tomorrow.
“When we start, we’re extremely focused,” he said. “I think you see, there’s not a whole lot of joking around going on in the fundamental stuff. You don’t want to take that away from them, but you also have to…I think Mr. Kelley realizes, that it can be a lot more serious than it turned out.”
Though Wakamatsu says he didn’t see the incident, he assumes the pair were messing around. Like I said they both told me they weren’t, so let’s just stick to what we know: that Kelley has stiches and the team will be addressed tomorrow.
By the way, we’ll have more on this tomorrow, but the Mariners have gotten rid of all the free weights in their weight room. They are now going to be working with Dr. Marcus Elliot of California, who has done extensive work with NFL teams. They have re-designed the entire strength training routine and workout room where the M’s are concerned. No more bench press and stuff like that. A whole bunch of newfangled workouts involving resistence, with special cables, machines and other types of approach. We’ll have more for you tomorrow.

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