The inevitable Ichiro question came up this morning when Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu gave his morning press briefing. Ichiro struck out three times last night, only the third time he’s done that in his career.
Wakamatsu was asked whether he felt Ichiro was fatigued as the season heads towards its final third.
“I don’t see a lot, in his actions, that he’s tired,” Wakamatsu said. “I think the other thing is, you look at an offense that, maybe they’re pitching him a little bit tougher than normal. He’s the one .300 hitter in your lineup He’s a guy that doesn’t normally walk. I think they’re forcing him to swing at pitches maybe a little bit further out of the zone than normal.”
Because of the other guys in the lineup after Ichiro?
“I think with scouting reports, different clubs approach…you look at all that stuff,” he said. “But I see him fouling off a lot of pitches a lot more than I did last year. Not because he’s missing, but I think they’re not as good as pitches he was afforded last year. That’s just my opinion.”
So, in other words, I said to Wakamatsu, opposing teams are not afraid to put Ichiro on base?
“Yeah, I mean, I think if you have a real productive lineup, or somebody that they’re worried about, all of a sudden it’s a two-run home run or a three-run home run, I think that’s as much of a factor. But if you walk in that situatation, where you’re not intimidated maybe by the meat of the order then I think that’s the case, yeah, where they’re going to pitch him a little bit tougher.”
So, how much of a reality is the “intimidation factor” in baseball? How much can the presence of bigger bats throughout the order have an impact on other guys? After all, the Mariners have seen a number of players plummet below their career norms and expected projections so far.
“I do believe that teams do pitch guys accordingly according to their bubble gum card, yeah,” Wakamatsu said. “The biggest factor with this (Twins) offense is (Delmon) Young. To pick up or to to have the year he’s having, especially now that (Justin) Morneau is out. It doesn’t give you that big option to walk (Joe) Mauer in that situation. You’ve got a guy hitting .330 with 80-something RBIs, you’re picking your poison. So, the deeper you are in that middle, yeah it does affect you. I think the home run, obviously, is another factor. You look at matchups and you look at everything else, but power in that middle of the order is always a threat.”
And other than Russell Branyan, the M’s have none. Haven’t had any since the season began.
Wakamatsu isn’t the only guy saying these things about the Mariners. Recently, when the Mariners were getting swept by another AL squad, I walked into the opposing team’s dugout and began chatting with the bench coach, a former big league manager himself. The coach asked me why the M’s had picked up Branyan when they were 15 games out of the hunt.
I suggested it was so they could avoid losing 110 games.
The coach laughed and said to me, “There isn’t one guy in their lineup that really scares you. Our pitchers aren’t afraid of anybody they have, that’s why they keep going seven innings every night. They know that if they make a mistake, there’s no one on that team who can beat them.”
Now, the coach did not want me repeating this while his squad was still playing the M’s. Didn’t want to give them bulletin board stuff.
But this isn’t rocket science. And it’s hardly a secret in the baseball world. If pitchers aren’t afraid of a bunch of guys in the middle of the order, they’re not going to worry about putting anyone on base. Would you be?
Some numbers to throw at you. The Mariners just ended the month of July at 6-22, tying for the worst-ever month in franchise history.
During that month, they hit .219. Opponents hit .285.
The staff ERA was 4.54, which isn’t that bad, actually. Not 6-22 bad, anyway.
But when the offense averages 2.7 runs per game? That means a 4-2 or 5-3 loss most of the time.
This team could have an ERA of 3.00 and still lose most of its games.
Jose Lopez is still out of the lineup with a sore hamstring. Wakamatsu said the team is now targetting his return for sometime on the next homestand.
Wakamatsu said he plans to spend Monday’s off-day with his son, Luke, 13, who is already here with him in Minneapolis. A fishing trip will likely be involved.