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June 22, 2011 at 9:00 PM

Figgins dilemma is mounting for Mariners

(Ichiro is tagged out in the sixth inning, squandering a huge scoring opportunity for the Mariners. Photo by Associated Press).
I know Chone Figgins’ continuing poor play is the burning issue in the blogosphere, and the frustration is clearly mounting for the Mariners, too.
Figgins had a brutal game, there’s no sugar-coating it. He made a first-inning error that led to one of two unearned runs. He elected not to go after the ball by Jerry Hairston in the fourth that wound up driving in the winning run, instead allowing shortstop Brendan Ryan to field it deep in the hole as Hairston beat it out for an infield single. Figgins had a good justification for the decision, which I’ll get to in a second, but it didn’t work out for the Mariners.
And Figgins was 0-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts to drop to .190. With two outs in the ninth, he looked at three straight pitches from closer Drew Storen for a game-ending strikeout that seemed to be a kind of final-straw moment among those Mariner fans who still had a straw left.
Let me quickly address why Figgins batted in the ninth, rather than pinch-hitting Adam Kennedy. Manager Eric Wedge said he was saving Kennedy to pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot, which was two batters away. If Figgins got on, it would have been Dustin Ackley up next, then Kennedy hitting for Chris Ray. All that was left on the bench at that point was Kennedy, Carlos Peguero and Chris Gimenez. Basically, the choice for Wedge was to let Figgins hit for himself and have Kennedy in reserve, or bat Kennedy for Figgins and have Peguero in reserve (or, I suppose, to bat Peguero for Figgins; Peguero is mired in a 2-for-25 slump with 10 strikeouts).

Here’s what Wedge said: “In that last inning, we’re thinking about winning the ballgame. That’s why we’re hoping one guy can get on. If the first two get on, we can bunt Figgins. If one guy gets on, we’ve got Ackley and Kennedy coming. We weren’t looking for the tie there, we were looking to try to win the ballgame. It didn’t work out, because all three of them got out, but you’ve got to go one way or the other there.”
And here’s what Wedge said about Figgins’ ongoing struggles: “We’re trying to give him opportunities to get himself going, but it’s a fine line, and we’re sure as hell walking it, I’d like to see him more aggressive. You’re not going to passively get out of a slump. You’ve got to fight your way through it and be more aggressive.
“But I know that’s easier said than done, too. He’s in a funk right now. When you’re in a funk, they are human beings, so I’m sure there are confidence issues that go along with that. He’s a good kid trying to get it done; he’s just having trouble moving in that direction.”
After the game, Figgins stood up and faced the media. About the Hairston ball, he said, “It (the pitch) was a curve ball, so my first reaction is take a step toward the line. Because more often than not, off-speed pitches, we hook them. Once I stepped toward the line, it was a battle to get back, and I didn’t want to reach for it and have it tip off my glove. I figured he (Ryan) maybe had a good chance to throw him out.”
Ryan admitted he was “a little confused” as the play unfolded. He wouldn’t come right out and say it, but he seemed to be intimating that he wasn’t sure if Figgins was going to go for the ball or not, and that threw him off.
“It’s one of those things, if you’re all by yourself out there, you know how you’d attack it. Then things happen. I did with it what I thought I could do with it,” Ryan said.
(One more quick point, addressing why Wedge elected to pitch to Hairston with two outs, a base open, and the pitcher on deck: “We took a chance there pitching to the guy ahead of the pitcher,” Wedge said. “If it was 1-0 (count), we would have walked him. If it had gone 2-1, we would have walked him. It was 0-1, it was 1-2. In the fourth inning, that type of situation, the way Erik was pitching, if we get that guy out – it’s a ground ball that could have just been an easy ground ball, it could have been maybe a play that was made there. Then we’ve got the pitcher leading off the next inning, and it pushes us one more inning through it. It didn’t work, it backfired on us because of what ended up happening. Ultimately, in the fourth inning, we’ve got to score a run to win the game anyway.”)
What can the Mariners do with Figgins? Wedge’s patience is not limitless. The season is nearly half over, and Figgins is still under .200, and he’s made nine errors. I’d suspect we’re going to see a lot more of Kennedy at third base, and Figgins is going to have to earn back playing time when he does get in. The Mariners are obviously in an extremely tough situation, because of a Figgins contract that has two more years and $17 million remaining. But they also have put themselves in position to make a run this year. Those two facts are at cross-purposes. To salvage something out of Figgins — either so they can trade him, or get production from him — he needs to play. But when he plays, right now the team’s chance of winning decreases.
I think all they can do is cut down on his playing time and yet keep hoping that at some point he finally breaks out.
Figgins, who spoke quietly and sincerely after the game, said he’s going to keep persevering.
“Nothing’s changed, like my work ethic and all that stuff doesn’t change,” he said. “I have to just keep battling through it. There’s a lot more greater thngs to come than worse.”

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins


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