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April 26, 2012 at 8:38 AM

Mariners manager Eric Wedge serves notice: Chone Figgins needs to start showing something

Mariners manager Eric Wedge had a tough lineup decision to make today because he wanted Alex Liddi to play again. His solution? Kyle Seager is a healthy scratch for a second straight game. This, despite there being a right-handed pitcher on the mound and Seager having notched two hits the last time he played.
I’ll admit, the move surprised me. Especially because Wedge had other options, which we detailed last night.
So, it was inevitable that when we met with Wedge in his office a short time ago, the questions about veterans and young guys would come up. I asked him about that balancing act and he admitted it isn’t easy. He also said his veteran players, most specifically Chone Figgins and, to a lesser extent, Miguel Olivo, need to get it going soon.
In the case of Figgins, Wedge said he is mystified by all the strikeouts he’s seeing from his veteran leadoff hitter.
“I don’t know where they’re coming from,” Wedge said. “I didn’t see that one coming. Because from what I saw this spring and even early on, he’s a guy who had the ability to foul off pitches when he needed to. And did a good job with two strikes, fighting through ABs. And for whatever reason right now, there’s a lot of swing and miss. And that’s something he has to rectify.”
And Figgins had better rectify it soon.
“We’re still giving Figgins an opportunity, but he has to do it — simple as that,” Wedge said. “I mean, if he does, we’ll keep him in there. If not, we’ll make a change.”
Wedge liked what he saw out of Dustin Ackley in the leadoff spot and made it sound as if Ackley is indeed Plan B should Figgins keep whiffing.
“I like him in the leadoff spot,” Wedge said. “That’s why we were messing around with it all spring, too. Maybe that’s where he ends up.”
On Olivo, he liked some of the at-bats he took last night, getting a hit and nearly hitting a home run that hooked just foul.
“He’s starting to get going a little bit and that’s a powerful bat,” Wedge said. “As bad as we were offensively last year, he still was our best home run and RBI guy, all things considered.
“But there is some power in that bat. There is some impact in that bat. And we don’t have a lot of that.”
But he added that: “The space for the veterans is not endless. I can tell you that much.”
Wedge was asked why it’s important for him to give time to veterans when the team is supposed to be in the middle of a rebuiding plan.
“Because you’ve got to have veteran presence,” Wedge said. “It’s enough on the kids already. We don’t have a 30 (HR) and 100 (RBI) guy , a veteran guy, in the middle of our lineup these kids can always count on him coming to the ballpark. These kids have to count on themselves.
“So, to not have any veteran presence in there and just fully throw in the kids? It will get in the way of their production. It will get in the way of their development, literally. It will take them longer to get there if we don’t have that. And I know that for a fact.”
Wedge said he’s learned that, both as a player, a manager and watching other teams and how they go about their seasons.
“We’re all human beings,” he said. “That’s just the human factor. That’s what I think a lot of people fail to understand — that these guys aren’t robots. These guys are human beings with hearts and brains and something else too. So, you’ve got to balance all that.”

Wedge said he can already see some of his younger players taking on too much by themselves to make up for the lack of hitting in the lineup. To have no veteran presence in there, he added, would simply be a disaster.
So far, though, he hasn’t gotten much of it, other than some recent hitting by Ichiro. That’s why Wedge keeps waiting for Figgins and Olivo to get it going. Wedge says it’s still early. As I wrote yesterday, he’s unlikely to make any dramatic moves until May.
You’ll remember that, last year, he didn’t really bench Jack Cust and Figgins until June. Back in 2008, former manager John McLaren and GM Bill Bavasi waited until early May before replacing struggling veterans.
So, I’d say some midway point between the two dates would be a good place to hedge your bets.
A few more weeks.
Wedge insists that just being young isn’t going to cut it with some of his other players, either. That the goal is still to win games, regardless of the underlying rebuild philosophy.
“We’re here to win,” Wedge said. “Yes, we are here to win. The mindset is to come to the ballpark, expect to win. The reason we expect to win is because I expect these guys to come here and expect to do well.
“As I told you in spring training, it’s about performance, it’s about production,” he added. “Now, they are going to be earning within that process. No doubt about it. But it is about them producing. And that’s the bottom line.
“I’m all about development, don’t get me wrong. Because I know that’s ultimately going to get us where we need to go. But part of our development right now — the biggest part of it — is coming to the ballpark and finding a way to win.”
With Figgins, Wedge seems to have found a potential leadoff replacement in Ackley. He also has numerous third base candidates emerging and will soon have a crowded left field when Mike Carp returns.
So, Figgins is becoming expendable.
With Olivo, it isn’t so clear cut.
Wedge still isn’t sure what he has in Jesus Montero as a catcher and how many games he’ll be willing to give him behind the plate.
He’s happy with what Montero has done to date, but as far as him becoming an everyday guy?
“He has a hell of a lot of work ahead of him to get to that point,” Wedge said “He isn’t ready for that.”
John Jaso is known to have terrible splits against left-handed pitchers and the team, again, isn’t sure he’s an everyday guy.
And if you jettison Figgins at some point, the team will need veteran presence beyond merely Ichiro. That’s why Wedge is likely to cut Olivo far more slack — especially since most observers don’t have a clue what goes into being a solid catcher on a daily basis once you look beyond hitting stance.
So, what does Wedge see in Olivo in how he handles pitchers?
“He’s aggressive,” Wedge said. “He’s strong. He has a strong presence back there He’s demanding, sometimes to a fault. But I think it’s understood — he’s here to win. That’s it. Regardless of how he does, that’s his greatest attribute. He’s here to win a ballgame.”
So, there you go. Some insights into what has been going on with the ballclub and the balancing act Wedge is trying to pull off in getting the older players going while finding playing time for his younger ones.
The lineup:
LF Chone Figgins
2B Dustin Ackley
RF Ichiro
1B Justin Smoak
DH Jesus Montero
3B Alex Liddi
CF Michael Saunders
C Miguel Olivo
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Hector Noesi
DH Andy Dirks
RF Brennan Boesch
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
LF Delmon Young
CF Don Kelly
SS Jhonny Peralta
2B Ryan Raburn
C Gerald Laird
RHP Rick Porcello

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


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