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June 28, 2011 at 11:32 PM

Mariners face catching dilemma after tough loss

pinedabraves.jpg
Michael Pineda was not at his best on Tuesday. (Photo by Associated Press)
A lot happened in this game as the Mariners blew a 3-0 lead to lose 5-4 to the Braves. But the first order of business for the Mariners was figuring out what to do with their catching situation before Wednesday’s 12:40 afternoon start.
First of all, Miguel Olivo cramped up in the fourth inning and had to leave the game.
“I’m hoping that it’s nothing too serious,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We got him out of there because we didn’t want him to do something that would put him out for an extended period of time.”


Enter Chris Gimenez, who was barely in the game for an inning before he strained his oblique muscle, apparently while striking out in the fifth. He had no choice but to stay in anyway, and wouldn’t you know it, Gimenez came to the plate in a crucial situation in the seventh: Two on, two outs and the M’s trailing 5-4 and Scott Proctor on the mound. Many people (myself included) were wondering why he squared to bunt early in the count, and then let a down-the-middle strike three go by on a full-count pitch. Turns out he couldn’t even swing. Later in the game, Gimenez received a strong throw from Ichiro to tag out Justin Heyward, a play that was not easy for him to make in his condition.
“Chris really sucked it up,” Wedge said. “He strained his oblique literally the next inning (after replacing Olivo). He couldn’t even swing the bat. He either had two shots to bunt for a hit or just take it like a man or take a walk. He really sucked it up just to catch and block. He really sucked it up on that throw from Ichiro.”
Complicating matters is the fact that Josh Bard, the logical choice to fill in if a catcher has to go on the disabled list, is currently sidelined by a toe injury in Tacoma. Jose Yepez, who is 30 and has been kicking around the minors for 11 years without getting to The Show, is now doing the catching in Tacoma. Neither Bard or Yepez is on the 40-man roster, so if a move is made, a roster spot will have to be cleared. My purely speculative hunch is that if anyone lands on the DL, it’s going to be Gimenez.
Before I call it a night, I wanted to address the foiled double steal attempt in the seventh that proved to be a crucial play, with trail runner Adam Kennedy getting thrown out by Brian McCann. The count was 3-0 on Justin Smoak when the runners took off. They were running on their own, with Ichiro as the instigator and Kennedy following his lead.
(Kennedy took this game hard. He stranded six runners, flying out with the bases loaded in the second, striking out with runners on second and third in the fourth, and striking out with a runner on second in the ninth. “I pretty much single-handedly lost that one,” Kennedy said. “That wasn’t good. A lot of guys had good games, battled. Gimmy (Gimenez) played hurt the whole game back there. Pitchers did their job today. I just didn’t do mine.”
As for the steal, Kennedy said he was reading Ichiro and got a good jump.
“I was ready for Ich to go the whole time,” he said. “I wasn’t late. It didn’t catch me off-guard or anything. He just threw me out.”
Ichiro called it “an obvious play. We had a good hitter at the plate. One hit could bring in two runs with a runner on second and third.”
It was obvious enough that McCann read it perfectly.
“I had a feeling that Ichiro was going to try and steal third, and we had the right play on throwing down to second and looking at Kennedy,” McCann said. “I knew he was going to go just the way he was set up.”
Smoak eventually walked, but Dustin Ackley’s subsequent single to center brought in just one run instead of potentially two, leaving the Mariners still trailing 5-4 before Gimenez’s helpless strike out.
“Ichiro had it (the stolen base) no problem,” Wedge said. “Adam had a pretty good lead. He felt like he could get it. He was working off Ichiro. They threw behind him and got him. It was an aggressive play on their part. Adam is a good baserunner but they got him.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in these guys as base runners. They’re working off each other and that’s something that happens. McCann made a great throw.”
I’m not sure why Ichiro felt the need to go on a 3-0 pitch when a walk would have accomplished the same goal without the risk. It’s one of a few plays the Mariners will look back on in frustration, including an error by Smoak that led to an unearned run off Michael Pineda in the sixth.

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