Several of you have wondered what must be going through the mind of Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss. So, when I spotted him standing in a corner of the clubhouse today with no one around, I went up and asked him: “Hey, Chris, what’s going through your mind right now?”
Actually, no. It wasn’t quite like that. We began talking about how Mike Carp hit a home run off a lefty reliever last night. Carp told us after the game he’d been working on hitting lefties down in Class AAA the past two weeks, so I asked Chambliss what the big change was.
Nothing, he told me. Well, OK, a little something.
“The best way to prepare to face lefties is to actually face them in a game,” he told me. “And before, he wasn’t really getting a chance to play. Now he is.”
There you go. Chambliss went over the basic philosophies of a lefty hitting a lefty, the most important being the understanding that pitches will be “more naturally running away from you.”
“You have to make a conscious effort to understand that balls are going to run away from you as opposed to running into you,” he said.
Sounds so simple. Of course, it isn’t. As he said, the pitchers up here in the majors are really good and can make good hitters look bad. Never mind young ones. Chambliss made it to the majors after only one year in the minors in 1971 — winning Rookie of the Year honors that season with Cleveland — but he was the exception to the rule.
“Back then, guys used to spend four or five years in the minors,” he said. “Now, they’re bringing them up quicker.”
Carp is one of the more normal ones. He’s already put in eight partial minor league seasons. He’s no Dustin Ackley or Kyle Seager. Then again, Carp didn’t get his first crack at the majors until Year No. 5.
The point being, Chambliss knows he has to be patient. Doesn’t make his job any easier, instructing one of the worst-producing offenses ever, but he says he can’t let the losing affect him adversely.
“We’re all frustrated,” he said. “We don’t like to lose. I’ll tell you that. We don’t come here to lose. We’re looking at each day, trying to help these guys get better on an individual basis and a team basis. That’s all we can do.”
And how does that get done?
“Their talent has to match the talent that’s against them,” Chambliss said. “And that’s where that mental toughness part comes in. That Wedgie (manager Eric Wedge) keeps talking about. Wedgie’s right when he talks about toughness. That’s mental. That’s what he’s talking about. Your mental state of mind.
“So that you’re not intimidated by who you’re playing. You’re not intimidated by the pitcher you’re facing. Right now, we’re in Fenway Park playing one of the best teams in baseball. Our guys can’t be intimidated by that. They have to go out there thinking they can win. Thinking they can be successful. That’s what Wedgie’s talking about when he says we have to be tougher. We do have to be tougher.”
Chambliss knows firsthand what he’s talking about, having played for New York Yankees championship teams in the late-1970s. He hit a famous, walkoff homer to win the 1976 ALCS versus the Kansas City Royals. Chambliss also played on the Bucky Dent team from 1978 that came right here into Fenway Park and knocked off the Red Sox on a late home run to win the AL East in a playoff.
Those were some tough Yankees teams that weren’t intimidated by anybody. Chambliss also played for Joe Torre’s division-winning Braves squad in 1982. He also played for some very bad Braves squad and a terrible Cleveland Indians team when he first broke into the majors, so he knows both ends of the spectrum.
“I can tell you that the pitching we saw earlier on from all of our starters, that’s the best I’ve ever seen at one time,” Chambliss said. “I mean, ever. To have five guys going like that was special.”
Chambliss also said this Mariners team is better than some of the 100-loss squads he played for — even though this team could lose 100 if it continues its pace of the last six weeks.
“We have the capability of still doing some things nobody expects to see us do the rrest of the way,” he said. “If we can pull out of what we’re going through and get this thing stabilized, we still have a lot of time to put some things together and finish off the season on a more positive note.”
Then, he added: “I can already tell you, in the first half, we did some things nobody out there — not one person — expected to see us do. Right?”
So, no, he’s not going home crying himself to sleep every night. Unlike what some have suggested, that he knew what he was getting into when he took the job, Chambliss said he wasn’t prepared for this.
“You don’t ever expect to struggle,” he said. We expect to get on the field and have success.”
And that’s how he sustains himself every single day despite the results. Chambliss comes to the park expecting success.
He’s mentally tough.
Erik Bedard threw a pair of 20-pitch innings in a simulated game today, felt good doing it and now will see how things go tomorrow. If he feels well, Eric Wedge will likely start him next weekend against the Rays at Safeco Field.
If Bedard doesn’t feel 100 percent, he would throw an additional simulated game and then likely not pitch until after the July 31 trade deadline.
Shawn Kelley also threw a couple of 15-pitch innings between the ones tossed by Bedard. Kelley also felt strong and looked so good he might get sent out on a minor league rehabilitation assignment without having to pitch another simulated affair.
“Going in, I thought all along that I’d have to do that,” Kelley said. “That I’d go with the team to New York and throw another sim game. But they kind of gave me the impression today that it might not have to happen.”
Wedge said that, like Bedard, how quickly Kelley can go out on assignment will depend on how he feels tomorrow.
Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis closely monitored both pitchers as they threw.
“In Bedard’s case, we’re just looking at him and making sure the delivery’s the same,” Willis said. “If there is a fortunate side to all of this it’s that it was a knee (injury) and not an arm. So, he’s been able to maintain his arm strength. He’s been able to play catch. So, his stuff was great. The ball came out of his hand, all of his pitches did what they do during a game. So, with him, it’s delivery and not favoring the knee.
“With Kelley, it’s looking for that life, repeating that same arm slot. And commanding the ball, Amd today, he did those things.”