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June 20, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Mariners go with makeshift lineup due to injury, fatigue

Interesting lineup put forth by the Mariners today, with Dustin Ackley going to first base as Justin Smoak’s knee had swollen up overnight from that ball he’d fouled off it. That means Munenori Kawasaki goes to second base.
John Jaso is behind the plate today, with Jesus Montero showing last night that having him catch more than two days in a row is still not an option. Mariners manager Eric Wedge addressed pregame what was obvious to anyone watching last night: Montero was completely worn out at the plate and behind it.
“It was just more behind the plate,” Wedge said. “He was just feeling it. He was a little heavy back there.”
Montero did strike out four times. But indeed, he looked real slow reacting to a couple of the plethora of wild pitches that went bouncing away from him — especially with Lucas Luetge on the mound in a critical sixth inning situation.
“Just reactions,” Wedge said. “Just watching him back there. Hes done a great job and he’s doing a great job but he’s still ramping up.
“It was a long night,” he added. “It’s just such a demanding position.”
Luetge managed to overcome the wild pitches and escape further damage with two on and none out. In hindsight, that inning likely decided the game, because had the D-Backs gone up two or three rather than just one run, it’s doubtful the M’s come back to win.
Again, this is part of the reason that we won’t know for a while whether Montero — who has looked improved in individual games here and there — can ever become an everyday catcher. We won’t know until we see what he does when he catches five days in a row instead of just two.
It bears repeating: this is why he wasn’t getting the bulk of catching assignments in April when his skill level was nowhere near where it’s at now. Try to sit back and imagine what he’d have looked like on his fourth straight day behind the plate. The Mariners might be sitting 20 games under .500 instead of just 10. And he’d be a mental and physical wreck. So, again, this is another reason why Miguel Olivo had been catching every day. And why he’ll probably still get the bulk of catching assignments of the team’s trio. Not today, with Jaso back there so that he doesn’t forget how to catch completely.
But with NL rules being played this week, there isn’t room to get two catchers in the lineup every day. Yesterday, I’d asked Wedge pregame whether he’d take a chance and catch Montero today for a third day.
Wedge told me then that he’d do it with Montero at some point this season, but that the youngster wasn’t yet ready. Last night’s game showed the manager knew what he was talking about.
This morning, I asked Wedge how Montero will graduate from a two-in-a-row catcher to a five-in-a-row guy like Olivo.
“It’s conditioning,” Wedge said. “But there’s nothing like baseball conditioning.”

In other words, the physical side of Montero’s game will take his body adjusting to the rigors of crouching every day and explosively reacting to every twist and turn the game throws his way. Wedge feels there’s nothing wrong with Montero’s overall conditioning. Having seen him up close, I can attest that he appears to be in fine physical shape (though a running coach might help him pick up a smidgen of needed basepath speed).
“You can be in the best shape of your life but it’s still different than going out there and playing,” Wedge said. “That’s why you have spring training. These guys always come there in great shape, but there’s nothing like baseball shape.”
But again, until he develops the muscle memory needed to catch at the major league level, he’ll still continue to get fatigued. Some older catchers I’ve gotten to know — like broadcaster Buck Martinez, a former 17-year MLB catcher — still walk in a certain bowlegged way because of all the muscle memory built into their bodies from years of crouching behind the plate.
And of course, it’s far different in the majors than in the minors. All of the mental stuff required from an MLB catcher takes an emotional toll after a while and anyone out there who’s ever dealt with mental stress knows it saps physical strength as well.
“The mental side of it, which is somewhat emotional because you’re so vested in a team’s win or a loss,’ Wedge said. “Because you’re so connected to that pitcher and you have such a great responsibility back there.”
Anyhow, there you have it. Montero needs a break.
Good to see Casper Wells in there playing left field. As we wrote yesterday, it won’t be tough for the Mariners to get Wells in there three or four days per week. One way was by resting Franklin Gutierrez and getting Wells in left field as Michael Saunders takes over in center. That’s happened today.
Another way will be resting Saunders at least once a week and putting Wells in left.
But again, the other way — one the team should be interested in — is by resting Ichiro once or twice per week and putting Wells in right field. I’m glas Wells is facing a right-hander today because as we pointed out in today’s early morning blog post, Wells has actually hit righties better than lefties in his brief MLB career.
Yet, for some reason, there’s a percepton out there that he’s only a player you can use against lefty pitching. I’m not sure the team has this perception and neither is Wells. In the case of the team, Wells thinks it’s mainly because the other players he’s competing against don’t always hit lefties as well as he does (though Saunders is overcoming that this season). So, that’s why Wells faces them more while the other guys — who can hit righties as well as Wells can — get to face those pitchers more.
But the only way we’ll ever know whether Wells can play every day is by playing him. Not by sending him to AAA because of a roster clogged with guys you aren’t using. And not by blocking him with an aging hitter you refuse to sit more than once amonth.
Time for changes. Sometimes, as we saw last night, a little change and a little rest can work out for everybody involved.
The lineups:
RF Ichiro
C John Jaso
LF Casper Wells
3B Kyle Seager
CF Michael Saunders
1B Dustin Ackley
SS Brendan Ryan
2B Munenori Kawasaki
LHP Jason Vargas
CF Chris Young
2B Aaron Hill
RF Justin Upton
LF Jason Kubel
1B Paul Goldschmidt
C Miguel Montero
3B Ryan Roberts
SS John McDonald
RHP Trevor Cahill

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan, Jesus Montero


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