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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

April 12, 2012 at 7:26 PM

Some observations now that the Mariners have played a week’s worth of games

We’re finally on our way home after this first Mariners road trip of the season, which spanned eight games over two weeks in two countries and three cities on two continents. Not to mention some additional Cactus League games thrown in the mix involving a side trip back to Arizona.
The Mariners are now 4-4 as they head home to start the home portion of their schedule tomorrow night. We’ll have Geoff Baker Live! with myself and Larry Stone tomorrow at 6 p.m. PT from outside of Safeco Field.
Here are some observations gleaned off these two opening series, which were really three series since the Oakland part was split into games in Japan and California. Confused? When’s the last time any pitcher faced an opponent three times with the season barely a week old? We’ll get a taste of that tomorrow when Felix Hernandez takes on the A’s. Yes, we have to see the A’s — again.
No, seriously, it’s the law. The Mariners have to play the A’s every single week.
Anyhow, that’s one observation. I’m sick of the A’s. Sick of Bartolo Colon. Sick of Coco Crisp and Jemile Weeks (well, OK, maybe not him) and sick of Cliff Pennington and seeing the same Oakland and San Francisco beat writers every other day going on three weeks. Like eating at McDonald’s every day. After a while, you crave variety.
So, some actual baseball observations:
Kyle Seager is looking like the real deal. I mean, he isn’t just getting a bunch of hits, he’s getting them off all types of pitchers, in various situations — many of them higher pressure deals like last night’s ninth inning or today’s seventh. Played second base without missing a beat. And that makes me think the Mariners, a year or so from now, will have to start giving serious thought to moving Dustin Ackley someplace. I mean, second base is supposedly Seager’s best position. The outfield could be a destination for Ackley, either in left or center, depending on what happens with some other guys ths year. That’s why I say the M’s will wait at least a year before deciding on that. They have to figure out what they have in the outfield first and whether any of the guys currently playing it will even still be here come 2014.

How do you feel about the Mariners entering their home opener?

Moving along, Dustin Ackley looks like a guy who isn’t 100 percent healthy. He had that flu-like illness right after Japan and there have been hints his legs are a little banged up. Anyway, I’ve already seen Ackley do some very un-Ackley-like things early on, like not moving the runner over, striking out in situations that require contact, this, that and the other. Good thing the season is only eight games old. But a sub.-.300 OBP is very unusual for him, especially when he’s only faced a left-handed pitcher once so far and actually managed a hit in that situation. Lefties gave Ackley trouble down the stretch last season, but this year, it’s been all righties giving him problems. Like I said, something looks a little off. But it’s early.
Jesus Montero caught last night’s game and did not embarass himself, so I’m curious to see how he’ll look moving forward. Mariners manager Eric Wedge sounds incredulous about how anyone could doubt Montero’s catching ability. Blames it on “social media” which I assume means the rumors and innuendo about players that can spread quickly over the internet. There is a degree of truth to that, but I’d also suggest the team’s own actions show they aren’t completely sold on Montero as a catcher. If they were, it seems incredible that GM Jack Zduriencik would have passed on Montero in favor of first baseman Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee deal of July 2010, given the value of everyday catchers who can actually hit for power as opposed to first basemen expected to do it. Not like the secondary components of that Lee trade have been difference-makers. Remember, Zduriencik doesn’t rely on websites or Twitter for his info. He employs actual live people whose expertise it is to scout players in-person and relay their thoughts — usually not via social media. Also, if the team really does believe Montero is the catcher of the future, it could start, you know, actually having him catch more than once every two weeks. You didn’t see Matt Wieters serving as a DH 85 percent of the time in Baltimore when he first broke in, did you? Anyhow, this is a case where actions will speak louder than words. Also, they might want to do something about Montero’s free hand getting in the way of baseballs. But he did look pretty good his first time out. Let’s see how he handles calling his own games and doing it six days out of seven before we annoint him the next Johnny Bench. But at least he’s starting to hit. The Mariners really do need that.
Some more observations.
Kevin Millwood knows what the heck he’s doing out there. I mean, for a 37-year-old who was about to call it quits last year to pitch six innings in Texas after a 35-pitch opening frame? No, it really isn’t all about velocity. But hey, the words “37-year-old” and big-league pitcher pretty much tells you he knows the craft.
Michael Saunders remains a work in progress. Hey, I’m a huge fan of The Condor as both a person and a ballplayer. But he has to beef up on the consistency part. It’s coming but not quite there yet. I need to see more than eight games before I’m completely sold that this transformation in stance and swing is something he can do full-time without reverting back to old habits. I like what I see so far, but need more time.
Chone Figgins is a different player. That I am convinced of, not just because of his hot start. But because of the approach he’s taken since spring training opened. When Figgins swung at the first pitch against Yu Darvish in the first inning the other night, I could not believe it. It ran so contrary to everything he does best, which is see pitches and work counts. I know what he was thinking — that Darvish’s first pitch might be the best one he’d get. But with a guy at 41 pitches in the first inning, I figured, if anyone could work the needed eight-pitch at-bat to knock Darvish out of that game, it would be Figgins. Nope. That’s the one time this season he’s disappointed me. But the rest of it? This is all the team needs from a leadoff hitter. And it’s coming after he went 3-for-16 in Texas. His OBP is .343 right now and that’s right about where I hoped it might be this year — mid-.300s. Remember, Ichiro posted .310 last season, so Figgins is already well ahead of that. As I told Mitch Levy on Talkin’ Baseball the other day on Sports Radio 950 KJR, Figgins doesn’t have to repeat his .395 OBP from 2009 with the Angels to have a positive impact on the M’s. Finishing with an OBP roughly 40 points higher than the team got from the leadoff spot last year will help this offense big.
Another observation? The bullpen looks as shaky as it did in spring training. And remember, these are the guys who beat out the ones who performed the worst this spring. Brandon League is the best of the bunch, followed by Tom Wilhelmsen, but even he has had his rocky moments. After that, it’s been a crapshoot as to what the team is going to get when anyone comes in. I realize it’s early but I’d expect Shawn Kelley and/or Chance Ruffin and Charlie Furbush to get some looks sooner rather than later.
Anyhow, I could go on and on. Those are just some random things that I’m keeping my eye on. Of course, I will not be completely right. Nor will I be completely wrong. One thing I’d caution about is to avoid jumping on the Miguel Olivo/Brendan Ryan Lynch Mob Express this early on.
Happens too often in Seattle when guys are in the final years of their contracts and struggle this early. Everyone starts to grease the skids to shove them out of town. Look, I know that both guys need to step it up in coming weeks and they each had some starts in that direction with doubles today. It is way too early to be demanding that guys be benched after one week. I am well aware of career numbers and such, but all I’d say to that is, remember last season, how the Mariners looked completely incompetent until around April 24 or so when they headed to Detroit for a three-game series they swept against a pretty good Tigers team?
We saw some pretty good baseball for two months after that. Let’s all just take a deep breath, pencil down some of our observations and wait to see what happens in the weeks ahead. There will be plenty of time to start riding guys and skewering them come the month of May.
For right now, the M’s are like that football coach said: what we thought they were. They took three of four from a bad Oakland team and lost three of four to a good Texas team. Style points don’t count, though the M’s played the Rangers tough. If they can turn that tough play into actual wins versus the mid-rung teams, they’ll have a positive season and make it easier on their marketing department to sell tickets next winter.
See you all at the home opener.

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Jesus Montero


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