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October 2, 2012 at 11:33 PM

Hisashi Iwakuma’s words to live by: “Don’t pitch the cookies”

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Somebody asked Hisashi Iwakuma after tonight’s 6-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels what he had learned this season about facing big league hitters.
He thought about it briefly, then gave his answer through interpreter Daisuke Sekiba.
“Don’t pitch the cookies.”
Sounds like good advice. And fitting advice on a day the Mariners announced plans to move in the Safeco Field fences next season.
Judging by what we saw tonight, the pitchers at this ballpark next season had better avoid cookies like a contestant on Extreme Loser.
Let’s see…I counted two Casper Wells shots, another by Dustin Ackley and a Michael Saunders double for the Mariners, not to mention a Hank Conger blast for the Angels that all might have gone out with next year’s planned fences pull-in. So, instead of a 6-1 game tonight, it could have been something like 10-6. I’ll admit, I stopped counting deep fly balls at one point, so I’m sure I missed a few.
But next season sure could be interesting.
Kyle Seager didn’t need any fence moving to hit his 20th home run of the season. It helped that the ball went to right field. But let’s face it, who really thought this winter that Seager had 20-homer power?
Not me. That’s for sure.
Turns out, not him either.
“I’ve always considered myself a kind of stay-more-gap-to-gap type of guy,” Seager said, after becoming the first Mariners player since Russell Branyan and Jose Lopez in 2009 to hit 20 home runs. “I don’t really consider myself a home run hitter and I’m not really a slap-and-run type of guy. I’m not really a base-stealer type of guy. So, I’ve always tried to be a gap-to-gap type of hitter and try to hit doubles and stuff like that.”
So, what does he think about hitting 20 homers?
“You know, it’s exciting,” he said. “So, it’s something to build off for next year.”
Ok, I asked him, so can we put him down for 30 homers now that the fences are being moved in?
“No, no,” he said, laughing. “Don’t put me down for that.”
In all seriousness, I asked, how does he think the fences coming in will impact his game?
“I think the beauty of it is, you don’t really try,” he said. “When you’re trying to hit home runs, they don’t happen. So, with them moving the fences in, it’s definitely exciting for the position players. I don’t think our pitchers are going to be affected too much because they’re pretty good.
“There were quite a few balls tonight that were well-hit,” he added. “Wells might have had two homers and Saunders had that ball to dead center right off the wall, so that might have made a little bit of a difference.
“But I think it would affect us in a negative way if we started really thinking about it and trying to hit balls in the air and that type of deal. I think if everybody continues with what we’ve been doing as of late, we’ll be good.”

Do you agree with the Mariners’ decision to move in Safeco Field’s fences?

Anyhow, today was all about the fences and the coming move. It is encouraging to see so many Mariners hitting the ball quite deep tonight despite the cool, damp air and a stiff breeze that was blowing more in than out.
We spoke pre-game to Mariners assistant GM Jeff Kingston, who headed up a committee that studied how to move the fences.
“The two areas of the park that really stuck out to us as being outliers were left-center and center field,” Kingston said. “And more as a fly ball/home run type of batted ball. And really, the wind, the climate and the dimensions were all big factors to how balls play there.
“When we looked at the information relative to the other 29 parks, those were the two areas that really stood out,” he said. “Where we felt that we needed to make an adjustment.”
Kingston’s committee studied batted-ball data from the park’s entire history since it opened in 1999. He did say they left this year out, not wanting to have the small sample size impact a decision.
For every two feet you move the fences in, he added, it can have a big impact. One search they did found that Franklin Gutierrez would have had five extra home runs had the fence been two feet closer in.
So, this will be interesting to watch. Kingston said he expects home runs to go up, but that the ballpark should still be a little more pitcher-friendly than a hitter’s park.
“You could make the argument that doubles and triples will go down because there is less outfield and the outfielders will play closer to home plate and catch more balls,” he said. “Our analysis still shows that the run environment is going to go up.”
Pitchers could have a hard time if they throw some of Iwakuma’s proverbial “cookies”. Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas gave up 26 homers on the road, but only nine at Safeco Field.
Still, Vargas said he did not expect to have to make any big adjustments. He said you can’t really tailor your pitching to a specific ballpark in any event, so he’ll just go out there and take his chances.
He asked reporters to see a diagram of the realigned fences the Mariners were handing out to reporters. He traced his finger along the graphic of where the fence currently sits in left center, then pointed to an area a couple of inches beyond it.
“Mine usually go way back there, anyway.”
It’s a joking matter now, but we’ll just have to see how this plays.
What does it all mean? Well, when I spoke to GM Jack Zduriencik yesterday and asked about the fences, he didn’t want to comment — likely because he knew it would be announced today — but did strongly hint a decision had been made. We got on to talking about his needs for next year and he mentioned he’d like to get “a bat” if he could but that the free agent market was not looking too promising.
He also said teams would need to “get creative” to acquire hitters and I asume he means via trade.
While it’s true the market doesn’t look as promising as last year, there are hitters out there who could help this team. Two of them have the last name of Upton (one a free agent, the other a trade candidate) and another goes by Nick Swisher. That’s just for starters.
What I’m saying, since many of you have asked for my take, is that this decision is something I think had to happen because of the psychological toll taken by the fences on Mariners who play here 81 games per year. Zduriencik mentioned this at his press briefing today and it’s true: it’s not the same for guys stuck playing half a season here as it is for guys who come in to play three times per year with another team and know they’ll be on to another park soon.
For the Mariners, just knowing their offense will be suppressed 81 times per year has to be a mental hurdle. And it can impact their games in other ballparks as well. Not the same as having to endure just a few days of the cool air in this place.
So, I like that they’re trying. If the plan works, this offense could be jumpstarted and this rebuilding plan might even get a year shaved off it.
But part of me worries about the desperation factor to this move. Namely, are the Mariners making it because they don’t really plan to make any impact moves this winter and know that they don’t have enough firepower to produce a .500 club with what they’ve got playing the way the fences currently sit?
I sure hope that isn’t the case. This team needs more bats than it has.
Eric Wedge said before the game he thinks moving the fences in will help attract free agents here. Good, because it would be nice to see the Mariners finally sign some and now, there should be a selling point if the team really tries to go hard after somebody.
Because we’re at the point where just saying “We tried” isn’t really good enough. It wasn’t really good enough the last few years, but not now.
This team has won 74 games and is shooting for 75. That’s still a ways off from even .500 and not all that close to the 90+ needed for the second wild-card this season.
Hopefully, the Mariners are serious about wanting to attract more free agents and will go the extra mile if they do attract some. Hopefully, the timing of this announcement, one day before the season ends, wasn’t a gambit to draw the public’s attention away from what had been a prolonged losing stretch to end a season of 87 or 88 losses. A ploy to generate some winter hype without needing results.
I guess we’ll wait and see. Yes, the free agent market is not overly strong this year. But the Mariners didn’t take advantage of it when it was strong in recent winters. At some point, it’s not enough to try. At some point, as Wedge would say, you have to “Get on it” and get the job done.
Moving in the fences was a first step. In no way can it be the only step. Not unless they invented some 75-win trophy I wasn’t aware of.

Comments | Topics: Dustin Ackley, Hisashi Iwakuma


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