The Mariners have wanted to get Alex Liddi in more games and today, with Mike Carp nursing a stiff shoulder, they have the Italian-born Liddi starting his first professional game as a left fielder.
Liddi actually slipped into left field for an inning last night in a late-game defensive shift, but didn’t get any fielding opportunities. He said he’s excited about the opportunity, but also eager to get his first chance or two out of the way.
“Of course, to read balls is a different perspective from the infield,” he said.
Liddi last played the outfield back home in Italy. But never as a pro.
“You’ve got to break him in at some point in time,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “No time like the present.”
Wedge said Liddi has looked good in drills but “there’s nothing like game speed and game reaction.”
The toughest thing he’ll face? Wedge said usually it’s going straight back or straight in on balls because of the quick decision-making required.
Kyle Seager is today’s cleanup hitter as Jesus Montero gets a much-needed day off after last night’s hitting and fielding adventures. The toll of catching more regularly appears to be catching up to Montero’s bat as well, now just 3-for-21 on the trip and hitless in the last eight at-bats.
The middle of the order is killing the Mariners, as we saw last night when Dustin Ackley and Michael Saunders kept getting on in the first two spots, but had nobody to drive them home. Ichiro got one run in on a groundout, but that’s not really what the Mariners were looking for when they had Ubaldo Jimenez on the ropes early. Instead, Jimenez somehow made it through six innings.
Of bigger concern with Montero is his catching when used too often. The team has decided to fly Miguel Olivo into Colorado so Wedge can see firsthand how he looks, then send him out to Class AAA for a rehabilitation assignment. Wedge has taken extra time allowing Olivo to come back this year, compared to last spring when he needed only a month to return from a much more serious groin strain.
Wedge admitted this morning that he rushed Olivo back too quickly last season and feels it impacted his on-field performance. In hindsight, he added, he should have given Olivo another two-to-four weeks. So, now, given a do-over, he’s taking his time because based off what he’s seen, he’ll need Olivo around for the long haul to “protect” Montero so he isn’t pushed too hard — as he looks to have been in Olivo’s absence.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the team is flying Olivo in to Colorado to have a one-on-one chat with Montero and maybe some others. The team has dropped five of six and isn’t scoring many runs. We’re at a dangerous point in the season where the M’s are now seven games under .500 and in danger of reverting back to the 95-to-100-loss mode of the past few seasons.
There is a decided lack of veteran leadership in that clubhouse right now among position players, with Chone Figgins relegated to backup duty and not really positioned to have all that much clout. Brendan Ryan is hitting .137 and has never really been the type to offer up a stabilizing presence in the traditional sense. Olivo, when he returns, will be the one everyday player who can help speak to others when needed and offer a calming influence. You can’t have pitchers do that with position guys and pitchers are really the only off-field veteran influence on this team.
But for now, this team is floundering, just fired and missed badly with its one Felix Hernandez bullet, and is in danger of another of those prolonged losing streaks. The pitching has faltered noticeably as well and you have to wonder whether the catching situation has something to do with that.
Wedge spoke today about some of Olivo’s intangibles of being able to get behind the plate five or six days in a row. Montero, as we’ve seen, isn’t at that stage of his career yet and the results — as the “sample size” grows — are starting to show up.
“I wanted to push him through Felix last night and you see what you see,” Wedge said. “And it’s OK. He’s processing a lot right now. And he’s not complaining about it. He’s a good listener. He still has a lot of work to do, but he knows it.
“To ultimately be the catcher that we want him to be and we feel like he’s capable of being, we’ve got to handle him carefully here. And he needs amental day as much as he needs a physical day.”
Wedge said it’s important for young players to know where they’re at, but still remain confident in their abilities. It’s a fine line, he said.
“So, if you’re horse(bleep) today, you’ve got to be able to look in the mirror and say ‘All right, I wasn’t very good because…but I’m still a pretty damned good ballplayer. And I’m going to be even better.’
“So, that’s the line you’ve got to walk. So, you’re not losing your shield. You still have that. But you’re honest with yourself, and that’s true. And it’s hard for everybody to understand that. Because when you’re up here, you’ve got to be 10 feet tall and bulletproof. You do. When you’re going to play with the best of the best and compete with the best of the best and beat the best of the best, that’s how you have to walk the walk.
“It’s a whole different world. Which why it’s so hard for people to understand. And the catcher’s got more responsibility than anybody, with the exception of course, of that pitcher. But I look at them as one.”
Wedge recalled asking that Victor Martinez be sent down to the minors his first year here in Cleveland with everybody expecting him to be the No. 1 guy all year.
“I didn’t care if he hit,” Wedge said. “He needed to learn how to catch.”
As for Montero: “We broke with this kid because we felt like he was far enough along, and we had the security blanket with Miggy (Olivo) who will get back, which will help us again, to do that.
“Because ultimately, we want him to be the best he can be as soon as he can and the best way to do that is not by playing him behind there every day.
“Without a doubt.”
Carp is healthy enough to DH and says he’ll be taking the shoulder stiffness day-by-day. He also offered up some news about those Greg Halman t-shirts he’s having made and which should be available in Mariners Team Stores come June.
It turns out, the Jackie Robinson Foundation declined to allow Carp to use the quote from Robinson that was initially put on the shirts. It took a month for Carp to hear back from the foundation, which contacted him just before the team left for Japan in mid-March.
Now, Caro is planning to meet with his distributor friend in Anaheim when the Mariners visit there in early June. Once they get the re-designed shirt to him, he can have new ones made and ship them up to the stores.
2B Dustin Ackley
CF Michael Saunders
3B Kyle Seager
1B Justin Smoak
LF Alex Liddi
C John Jaso
DH Mike Carp
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Hector Noesi
RF Shin-Soo Choo
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
DH Travis Hafner
C Carlos Santana
CF Michael Brantley
LF Johnny Damon
1B Casey Kotchman
3B Jose Lopez
RHP Zack McAllister