Tomorrow morning, at 8:20 a.m. (or so), I begin my regular Talkin’ Baseball segment on KJR AM 950’s Mitch in the Morning show. This will mark our fourth year doing the weekly segment and I’m proud to partner with KJR on it once again.
The thing I like about the segment — which distinguishes it from other stuff I do locally and nationally — is that we get to talk about the M’s in-depth. Usually for a half-hour or more.
And one of the things I’m sure we’ll talk about tomorrow is the intensity level the Mariners have shown so far this season. Jason Vargas refered to it the other day in a post-game interview and — aside from some defensive lapses yesterday — that intensity has stayed there.
You saw it tonight, in a 6-4 loss to the Texas Rangers, when Jack Wilson made what might be the defensive play of the year for his team in turning a solo double-play ranging far to his right for a grounder in the sixth.
That play helped limit the Rangers to a run and kept Seattle within three. Then, you saw Milton Bradley going all out to notch a double in the eighth inning and eventually score off former M’s pitcher Arthur Rhodes. If you saw the look on Bradley’s face when he jumped up after the close play at second and stared at the umpire, waiting for his call, you know he had some intensity in his game tonight.
And the Mariners need more of it. They need to keep the intensity level up. This isn’t football, but it’s going to have to be about as close as a baseball team can get to it if the M’s are going to stay competitive.
They competed tonight despite being horribly outgunned power-wise by a Rangers squad that has out-homered them 13-2 on the season so far and 2-0 tonight. The Mariners had hits, lots of singles and a few doubles. In the end, they out-hit the Rangers 10-7.
But extra base power makes up for a lot of other stuff. Texas had two homers, a two-run triple, an RBI double and another double that later resulted in a run.
The M’s lack this type of firepower. So, they simply can’t lose focus. They can’t make mistakes.
“Our guys didn’t give into the fight,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “They stayed in it the whole way and we gave ourselves opportunities.”
But they didn’t make the most of them.
“We need to do a better job of finishing innings off,” Wedge said. “I mean, we’re creating opportunities for ourselves, but we need to do a better job of finishing innings off and taking advantage of those opportunties. And that will come. It’ll come with more experience. It’ll come with those opportunities, but you get 10 or 11 hits, you like to score a few more runs that that.”
That’s nothing new for the M’s. It was the same story much of last year. Through four games this year, the M’s are 2-2 and have scored 16 runs — an average of four per contest.
Yeah, it’s slightly ahead of last year, but that’s still not going to get it done for most teams. So, if Wedge wants to achieve more this season, he’ll have to count of players keeping the intensity level high and finishing the job. Not all of these players were here last season. So, it’s not fair to view them all through the same prism. We’ll see.
The Wilson play was pure intensity. Pure gold from one of the best defensive infielders in the game today.
“That was one thing just to get to it, make the throw,” Mariners infield coach Robby Thompson said of the grounder Wilson chased down. “But to drag your foot across, that’s what you call a big league play.”
Make no mistake, folks. Brendan Ryan did not beat Wilson out for the shortstop job.
We’ve talked about this before on Geoff Baker Live! but Wilson still looked like the best shortstop the team had in spring training. He’s at second because his contract is up after 2011 and Ryan has been pegged to replace him. It will be easier to ease Wilson out from second base — rather than re-arrange the middle infield — once Dustin Ackley is ready. Yes, there are strategic considerations as well, like having a veteran on both sides of the infield, but realistically, Wilson was not the second best shortstop in camp. Maybe next year, he would have been. Or in three years. But not in spring training of 2011.
Wilson can still play.
He showed us that tonight. Wilson is looking quick, nimble and swinging the type of bat we hadn’t seen before in Seattle.
As long as he stays healthy — always the huge Wilson caveat — he looks like he’ll have a few years left in him for somebody. That play he made tonight is something you don’t teach. You have to be born to do it.
Wilson did it at a position he’s still learning, though, when I asked him about the similarities between that play and other times when he’d range deep in the hole to his right as a shortstop, he agreed it was much the same.
“Very similar,” he said, nodding. ‘It was very similar to going deep in the hole and going to second base, because you have to turn so much (on the throw). You just turn and wheel and hope it’s online.”
Wilson has handled the transformation like a pro. When asked about the play, he was polite, but displayed the “been there, done it before” attitude pros give. The younger guys on the team could learn something from that.
“I’m still kind of learning my way around,” he said with a chuckle. “When I was going for the ball, I still didn’t really know exactly what I was going to do. Which is still kind of wierd. Usually, when I’m going, I see the ball and I go ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do.’ ”
Yes, he’s been hurt often. There’s no erasing that from memory. But enjoy watching Wilson here while you still can.
After the game, Erik Bedard was pretty straightforward. He insisted he didn’t change a thing after throwing 51 pitches the first two innings, then just six in the third. Didn’t try to pitch to more contact.
In short, he says, he tried to be the same pitcher he’s always been. Nothing has changed, he insists, since he last pitched in July 2009.
“I try to be the same,” Bedard said. “I’m four years older than the last three surgeries so, I just do the best I can.”
And the Mariners will have to do the same. They kept it interesting tonight when it looked like they might get blown out a few times. And that could serve them well down the road, when they won’t always be facing teams as stacked as the Rangers.