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July 19, 2010 at 5:24 PM

Don Wakamatsu says Mariners baserunning blunders are being addressed with veterans

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Anyone watching the Mariners this past month has seen a high number of baserunning gaffes committed, some by young players but a whole lot by veterans. It’s one thing to get upset at Franklin Gutierrez for hitting the ball to the third baseman on a contact play (something he has done more than once this year), but quite another to have to remind veterans of the basics.
Ichiro’s baserunning gaffes didn’t just start this week. There were a couple earlier this month in which he did not go to second as the trail runner when Jack Wilson stole third in a key situation, and also a play in which he missed the third base coach waving him home on a blooped hit because he wasn’t looking for the sign.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu and others on the team quickly covered for Ichiro on those two occasions, neither of which was cut-and-dried his fault, since an argument could be made in his defense. But still, you got the feeling the team expected a little more. Wakamatsu wasn’t covering for Ichiro this past weekend in Anaheim when he ran into an out during a rundown between third and home and failed to allow Gutierrez to move up into scoring position.
Ichiro was not the only culprit, though as the team’s ranking veteran, he rightfully comes under the most scrutiny. Jack Wilson also gaffed on the bases, as did Milton Bradley. Again, these are vets who know better. And when they mess up, it looks bad. Especially on the manager.
The key thing is, what is being done to address it? It’s a tricky thing with vets, because, as I said, they are supposed to already know this stuff. Telling them the obvious risks aggravating them even more and can create an eventual rift with a manager. Then again, though, it is the manager’s job to hold everyone accountable for mistakes, especially on a team headed for 100 losses.
So, I asked Wakamatsu what is being done about the gaffes.
“I said post-game (in Anaheim), some of those are veteran players,” Wakamatsu said. “We’ve talked about accountability. A lot of these players have had a lot of games under their belts. The ball is in front of them. I also say that, sometimes with the offense, when you’re looking at a three-run offense most nights, you tend to be overly aggressive in situations.
“So, we’ve talked about those things. Jack Wilson came up to me after (getting thrown out going from first to third on a hit with his team down by three) and said ‘It’s a tough mistake three runs down’. Absolutely. Those are some of the things we’re fully aware of.
“But it’s a Catch-22. And that is, we’ve publicly said there are going to be some situations where if we’re down in a ballgame, to sit and wait for our offense to manufacture four or five runs in an inning…we’re going to steal a base and might get thrown out.
“But the early leads (leading to pickoffs) are not something that’s acceptable. We talked about one with Michael Saunders where we thought it was a balk on that. The other ones are bad baseball and that’s what we’re going to continue to address.”

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But the question is, how do you address these issues with veterans who are supposed to know better?
“Those situations, after they happen, whether it’s a dialogue between myself or a veteran player, once it happens, they know they’ve made a mistake,” Wakamatsu said. “But yeah, we address that. We address it in our pre-game meetings. It’s something we know we’ve talked about the last couple of months. That one mistake might cost us a ballgame. And we don’t have the room for error.”
Wakamatsu said the blunders could be discussed “right there during the games. It might be the next day. It might be in the advance meeting as a group. Every situation is different.”
But make no mistake, this is an important issue. It cuts right to the heart of how these players are responding to what the coaching staff is telling them. And it’s up to the coaching staff to get the players to play the game the right way. This is not an issue that Wakamatsu can afford to have cropping up time and time again.
Because if it does, it will lead to questions about how he is managing the team. Every manager faces key moments like this. It’s now up to Wakamatsu to get these blunders to stop happening.
The big problem is, he’s limited right now in the stick he can use when dangling the carrot doesn’t work. The M’s aren’t going to bench Ichiro. Michael Saunders is still hurt, so Bradley is going to play in left field regardless. Jack Wilson could sit out in favor of Josh Wilson, but if the team wants to showcase the starting shortstop for a possible trade, this isn’t the time to be benching him either.
So, for now, the “accountability” part of this amounts to Wakamatsu calling his players out in the media. Sometimes, that’s enough. Hurting a veteran’s pride a little can go a long way, especially with the true professionals who care about their image as guys who come to play.
Wakamatsu will have to hope that message gets through, for now.
Russell Branyan is feeling better after that coffee table fell on his toe and sidelined him in Anaheim. He’s back in the lineup tonight.
Saunders is getting his right middle finger looked at again today, but Wakamatsu is hopeful that “he should be ready to play tommorrow.” So, Bradley is back in left field again.
Mike Sweeney is hitting the ball in Class AAA, but there are no plans to bring him up just yet. Nobody will say this out loud, but there just isn’t all that much room for Sweeney on this team anymore. The addition of Justin Smoak has the M’s suddenly crowded with a bunch of first base/DH types. Sweeney probably could have been playing again before the break and, to be honest, his back injury might not have been serious enough to warrant going on the DL under different circumstances. But he’s been squeezed for playing time slowly yet steadily and the M’s could soon face a choice about what to do with him.
For now, Wakamatsu would only say that Sweeney will play in AAA tomorrow.
“We’re just going to let him play right now,” he said.
Shawn Kelley is playing catch today and could throw a bullpen session by Thursday. Erik Bedard is having an MRI today and we could know later on this evening what the result of that was.
The lineups:
LF Juan Pierre
3B Omar Vizquel
CF Alex Rios
1B Paul Konerko
DH Mark Kotsay
RF Andruw Jones
C A.J. Pierzynski
SS Alexei Ramirez
2B Gordon Beckham
RHP Daniel Hudson
RF Ichiro
2B Chone Figgins
DH Russell Branyan
3B Jose Lopez
CF Franklin Gutierrez
LF Milton Bradley
1B Justin Smoak
C Rob Johnson
SS Jack Wilson
RHP David Pauley

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