Had a nice post-game chat with Chone Figgins in a clubhouse that’s showing obvious signs of frustration.
The Mariners hit a lot of balls hard tonight and some of them — stop me if you’ve heard this before — were right at people, or got caught on some fantastic defensive plays. Figgins looked like he’d tied the game in the ninth, only to have his line drive wind up in the glove of third baseman Mike Aviles.
It’s been the story of the season for the Mariners, who can’t seem to push runs across when it matters. Figgins has been slumping numbers-wise, his average at .170, but as I said on KJR AM 950 this past Tuesday, he’s actually been hitting some balls pretty hard. He had a single in the eighth inning, plus a long foul ball off Luke Hochevar early in the game that had home run distance.
And he hit the ball hard in the ninth. Right at somebody. That’s all he can do. And that’s all the M’s can really keep doing.
Well, wait. Scratch that. They can also start scoring runs before the eighth and ninth.
They’ve scored 37 percent of their runs in those two innings this season. If you throw in the seventh inning, they’ve scored 61 percent of their runs the final three frames and only 39 percent the first six.
That won’t do. And it’s not all hard-hit balls failing to drop in. Sometimes, as we saw in innings two-through-seven tonight, the offense looks invisible.
“I think we just bear down when it gets to late in the game,” Figgins said. “Our concentration gets a little harder. It would be great if we were like that all game long. Doing it this way makes it really hard.”
Figgins wasn’t making excuses. He rarely does. He’s usually pretty accountable and ready to discuss what’s going good and bad with the team. Tonight was no exception. He saw the good in those final two innings, with guys battling, taking walks and forcing the Royals to make good pitches.
And he’s seen the opposite. Where some frustration at balls not getting through might impact the concentration a little.
“It’s just so funny,” Figgins said. “Every team we’ve been facing, those teams have been hitting the ball hard and it always seems to find a hole. Then, when we hit the ball hard, it seems like it’s always right at somebody.”
But that’s no excuse, as Figgins knows all too well. He’s forced himself to ignore his own poor batting average and focus on merely hitting the ball hard and making his at-bats count.
“The minute you change something, it’s over,” he said. “That’s where things could really start to go wrong. If you know you’re up there and you’re hitting it hard, you just have to keep doing it and the numbers should adjust. You know they’ve been there before, so they should be there again.”
And he doesn’t just keep his advice to himself.
“I tell them all ‘I’ve seen it happen before’,” Figgins said of hard-hit balls not getting through and impacting numbers. “You’ve got to keep swinging, keep battling. For some reason, we do that late in the game.”
Just not early enough.
There is a lot of merit to what Figgins had to say. Look, we all know this team is not an offensive powerhouse. But as I showed you earlier with some of the line drive rates and batting average on balls in play by Michael Saunders, there is some degree of luck involved in hitting. And it’s not going the M’s way.
Figgins entered the game with a 20 percent line drive rate, which is almost the same as his 20.8 percent last season. But his batting average on balls in play is just .167 this year compared to .314 in 2010. That’s a big luck swing from good to bad right there.
And Mariners manager Eric Wedge, for all the good things he’s seen from his team of late, says his hitters have to avoid being frustrated by things they can’t change. Wedge worries that some of the frustration from not having balls drop in for them is causing hitters to lose focus — as Figgins suggested — in the earlier innings.
“There’s a lot of fight in these guys, there’s no denying that because we’ve seen it time and time again,” Wedge said. “Having said that, we’ve got to do a much better job throughout the course of a game with our at-bats.
“We’re in a stretch right now, that happens in baseball and it’s happened early on to us, where if we’re hitting it hard, more times than not it’s at somebody, or hard ground balls are at somebody, or we’re not finding too many holes. That’s just the way it works in the game. And you’ve got to fight through it. You can’t give in to it. You can’t put your head down. You;ve got to look it straight in the eye and keep plowing, keep grinding. That’s what you have to do.
“You can’t get caught up in yesterday. You can’t get caught up in what the hell happened here last year. You’ve got to focus on today and be prepared for tomorrow.”
So, Wedge and Figgins seem to have the cause of some of these early-game disappearing acts figured out. It’s just up to the players to do what Wedge says.
Easier said than done.
Miguel Olivo is now in an 0-for-25 slump and down to .146 at the plate after an awful ninth-inning strikeout in which he checked his swing at a ball in the dirt that should have resulted in a walk. Jack Cust vdrew a walk and got an RBI on a fielder’s choice, but is down to .163 at the plate.
Saunders had the RBI single on an opposite field blooper to lift his average from .178 to .207. Jack Wilson sat tonight after becoming mired in an 0-for-13 slump.
Milton Bradley went hitless tonight and is down to .240.
There are a whole lot of M’s who need to re-group.
They’ve got Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda on the mound the next two days. It would be a good place to start.