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July 22, 2012 at 9:51 AM

Casper Wells gets shot at leadoff spot as Mariners try to carve a lineup out of very little

Mariners manager Eric Wedge had a long, tired look on his face this morning. Yeah, it’s the end of a week-long road trip, but I have never seen a manager look so down, so lacking in energy, coming off a win and with a 4-2 record on a trip.
I mean, it was as if the Mariners had lost last night and were 2-4 on this trip instead of 4-2.
The reason for Wedge’s mood? Could be his lineup. He’s got a .202-hitting cleanup guy out there in Miguel Olivo, a .192-hitting first baseman in Justin Smoak, a .185-hitting third baseman in Chone Figgins and a .187-hitting shortstop in Brendan Ryan.
Oh yeah, and he’s sitting the struggling Dustin Ackley for a day against left-hander Matt Moore and going with Casper Wells in the leadoff spot.
Wedge would probably like to sit Ichiro for a day, but there’s a limit to what you can do without putting your head in a guillotine or something like that. Not only is Ichiro not hitting these days — he’s got a .535 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) in July, even with some better numbers out of the No. 2 spot — he’s suddenly playing the outfield like a 20-year-old rookie, having missed the cutoff man with a bad throw on the decisive play of Friday night’s game, then nearly costing Seattle a loss last night with a very poor decision to throw to third base when the speedy Desmond Jennings was clearly going to be safe.
“He shouldn’t have made the throw,” Wedge said of last night’s error. “There was no play there. So, it was just an instance of him trying to do too much. The day before, it was a strong throw, an aggressive throw, but he just overthrew Ackley. The first one is a fundamental error and the second one is a mental error.”
When I asked whether that was something Wedge felt had to be addressed with Ichiro, or whether you let a veteran player figure it out himself, Wedge said: “He’s got to know People make mistakes, he’s a smart player and he just needs to recognize it.”
As was the case before the All-Star Break, there are still some decisions that need to be made with this club because some bad things about it aren’t getting any better. In fact, those who bothered to watch last night’s game beyond reading the stats boxscores could easily see that the bad habits that plagued this team right before the break have returned with some vigor.
These aren’t Class AAA Kansas City Royals pitchers the M’s have faced the past two nights and the results have been embarassing to say the least. The Mariners have five runs over 24 innings of baseball. They have struck out 32 times total, an indication they are being overpowered by the Rays.
Then again, they haven’t exactly faced Cy Young and Bob Gibson here either.
Now, the Rays do have good starting pitching. But last night, the Rays lost starter Alex Cobb only two innings in and a tired Tampa Bay bullpen was still able to hold the M’s to zero runs over the final seven frames. Seattle struck out 15 times in a regulation nine-inning game against another team’s mound scraps for the most part.
Cesar Ramos is a 28-year-old fill-in long guy for the Rays with a career K/BB ratio that was below 2-to-1 and is already back in AAA after pitching last night. Yet, Ramos came in and held the Mariners to two hits over four scoreless innings while striking out six.
So, once again, that explains Wedge’s demeanor a bit today. He’s got serious problems with a team that still can barely hit major league pitching at times. So, anyone trying to write in with that tired “an out is an out” philosophy to justify what we’ve seen the last two nights needs to stop writing and start watching some baseball. Yeah, strikeouts are the same as groundouts, or lineouts, only they aren’t. Strike out 15 times in a 9-inning game against a bunch of scrubs and it’s a sign you’re being overmatched and overpowered.
And four years into a rebuilding plan, that shouldn’t be good enough. Like I’ve said, unless the bar is raised, mediocrity will continue to flourish for as long as it’s accepted on the Seattle sports scene.
And if you’re still all about numbers, check out those batting averages in today’s lineup and then get back to me.
The M’s have Wells at leadoff with a .335 on-base-percentage and that’s loads better than some of the junk we’ve seen up top this year.
“Wells has been putting up competitive at-bats, so we’ll see if that triggers something today,” Wedge said. “Obviously it’s been a tough couple of days offensively, so this gives us a bit of a different look.”
I asked Wedge about the progress — or lack of — by Smoak and Ackley since the All-Star-Break.

Smoak is hitting .108 with a .195 on-base-percentage and a .465 (OPS) since the break.
Ackley is hitting .162 with a .244 OBP and a .568 OPS.
Wedge was actually kind in his evaluation of both.
“Inconsistent,” he said of both. “But I think Smoak has shown some signs from the right side. He’s still having struggles from the left side. A bit better in BP.
“Ackley had it going there for a few days and he’s had a tough couple of days. I think it’s there, but they just haven’t been able to sustain it.”
Mike Carp must come off the DL after tomorrow. The Mariners are going to wait until the very end to completely evaluate him and make a decision about adding him to the major league club — where he will be used as a first baseman.
I asked Wedge whether Carp will get playing time at Smoak’s expense.
“I don’t want to speculate on that,” Wedge said. “I take it day-by-day. We’ll see how today goes and then take it from there.”
Wedge did mention that the team has “a lot of moving parts” with decisions looming on Franklin Gutierrez, Erasmo Ramirez, Stephen Pryor and others. The trade deadline is also coming up and that will have some roster implications as well.
The lineups:
LF Casper Wells
RF Ichiro
DH Jesus Montero
C Miguel Olivo
2B Kyle Seager
1B Justin Smoak
CF Michael Saunders
3B Chone Figgins
SS Brendan Ryan
RHP Blake Beavan
CF B.J. Upton
1B Carlos Pena
2B Ben Zobrist
RF Matt Joyce
DH Jeff Keppinger
3B Brooks Conrad
LF Desmond Jennings
C Jose Molina
SS Elliott Johnson
LHP Matt Moore

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


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