If you missed Geoff Baker Live! pre-game, we got right into the Felix Hernandez discussion and I suggested that some poor defense behind him might explain his sluggish start this season. You saw how he did tonight with good defense behind him, right? A viewer asked whether the poor offensive showing by Seattle is taking a toll on the defense. I don’t think so. Here’s what I think the biggest culprit has been so far.
Someone asked whether hitting coach Chris Chambliss might be in trouble if the team continues to struggle offensively. Another asked why rebuilding teams don’t act like “buyers” at the trade deadline to try to fortify their roster. Here’s the answer why they don’t. I was also asked whether the M’s might take a look at third baseman Brandon Wood. I highly doubt it. A viewer asked me to list my top three to four areas of concern the M’s need to address. So, I did just that.
Now, on to the post…
Prior to the game, Mariners manager Eric Wedge had made some comments about his veteran players showing leadership. I asked whether he could expand on it a bit and — without getting into names — he mentioned guys who did what was asked of them to help the team out while also trying to calm players down after this rough start.
Adam Kennedy is clearly one of the guys Wedge was talking about. Kennedy has done just about everything that could possibly be expected of him, from batting clean-up without looking foolish, to taking a regular turn at first base and the middle of the order with Justin Smoak gone on bereavement leave.
Kennedy had started only six games at first base in his career prior to today.
You’d never know it by the performance he put on.
There was that hard shot towards the bag by Cliff Pennington in the sixth inning. That ball took a tough hop right before it got to Kennedy, who used his body to keep the ball in front of him. If that ball gets by, it’s a double. But it didn’t and Kennedy then made a very long, underhanded flip right on target to a covering Felix Hernandez.
In the seventh, Kennedy stretched like a 12-year-old gymnast to pick a Brendan Ryan throw out of the dirt. Ryan had ranged deep in the hole to his right and had to make a very strong throw to get the runner.
That was after Chone Figgins snagged a screaming liner and threw to first that same inning to cap a double-play.
Then, in the ninth, Kennedy again raced behind the bag in foul territory and made a tough, over-the-shoulder catch with the tying run at second.
And that, friends, is how you play defense when you’ve got the reigning Cy Young Award winner on the mound throwing as good as he has all season. None of the junk we witnessed on the field last Saturday, when the M’s failed to back Hernandez up, lost 7-0 thanks to a bunch of unearned runs, then got reamed out by the manager.
“You look at how we stretched Felix out,” Wedge said. “If those (defensive) plays aren’t made, then we aren’t able to do that.”
Indeed, they would not. Oh yeah, Kennedy also hit the home run that won the game. Good night for a backup infielder playing out of position.
“I’m just trying to survive,” Kennedy said. “When you’re playing out of position like that, you just try to make the plays you can.”
Kennedy admitted he doesn’t always know what he’s doing out there. On the stretch play and the over-the-shoulder catch — which he likened to a football catch — he just did what he figured he was supposed to do.
“Pretty much all of it,” he said when asked how much of what he did is pure instinct. “The stretching, the picking, I’m not sure if it’s exactly right. But you try to survive.”
Good advice for the rest of his teammates.
Ryan said he enjoys going in the hole to his right the way he did.
“I like that play, getting rid of the ball and getting on top of it like that,” Ryan said. “I work on that pregame and stuff. All those sinkerballers I’ve played behind the last few years, it’s been something I’ve gotten comfortable with. It’s a little tougher when it’s above the belt, because you can’t quite break your hips (on the pivot), but we’re not even here talking about it if A.K. (Kennedy) doesn’t make those picks.”
He was asked, semi-seriously, whether Kennedy or Smoak had the best stretch.
“Wow,” Ryan replied. “I don’t know. I think they’d both throw themselves under the bus if they were here. I don’t think they both consider themselves very limber. And i don’t think they’d be offended by me saying that.”
Oh yeah, that Hernandez guy looked pretty good.
But he was never the problem. All this talk about “What’s wrong with Felix?” can be settled with a few words.
His offense isn’t scoring for him. And his defense isn’t catching the ball.
Well, wasn’t catching the ball until tonight. The offense still can’t score. But catch the ball and don’t make him stand out there all night? Heck, then even one run can sometimes be enough.