ADDITIONAL NOTE: The Mariners have made a series of roster moves, optioning infielders Vinny Catricala and Carlos Triunfel and LHP Bobby Lafromboise and RHP Yoervis Medina to Class AAA. Today’s home run hero, Julio Morban, and outfielder Francisco Martinez were optioned to AA. RHP Andrew Carraway was re-assigned to minor league camp.
Wladimir Balentien was a one-man wrecking crew against Jon Garland tonight, driving in five runs the first two innings with a homer and a single. The Mariners trail this 6-1 in the fifth inning and Garland lasted three innings instead of the four the team hoped he’d throw. While he struck out seven batters, many of them were hacking away at pitches that weren’t of the best quality and probaby would not have been swung at by actual big leaguers. Once you get past the first four guys in the Dutch batting order, the quality drops off considerably.
Unfortunately for Garland, Balentien was hitting third.
7:42 p.m.: The Mariners got a run back in their half of the inning as Jason Bay drew a leadoff walk — yes, he’s leading off again — took second on a passed ball and then scored on a single to right by Dustin Ackley.
7:29 p.m.: Not the outing so far tht Jon Garland was hoping for as the guy we talked about pre-game, Wladimir Balentien, drilled him for a three-run homer to left center to give the Netherlands a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Much has changed for Balentien since he left the majors for Japan, where he has become a bona fide star the past two years in a league that may not be quite as good as the majors, but is still a pro circuit and a notch above Class AAA. If the WBC has taught us anything, it should be that pros are pros and the difference between the elite and the journeymen is often razor thin. As we’ve seen with these games, even a squad of mainly minor leaguers from Italy can hold its own against the U.S.
Jurickson Profar got the inning going with a bounding single through the right side. A passed ball by Kelly Shoppach moved both runners up and then — after a checked-swing strikeout call — Balentien came up and crushed Garland’s 1-0 offering. Things could have been even worse as a pair of singles followed and then, after another strikeout on Kalian Sams, Shoppach allowed a second passed ball that moved both runners up. But Garland’s third strikeout of the inning, on Dashenko Ricardo. finally ended the jam.
6:41 p.m.: This isn’t your typical spring training fare. The Mariners tonight are in Peoria taking on The Netherlands and their highly-popular WBC team, in what will be a tune-up game for the Dutch prior to competing in the semi-final round of the tournament next week in San Francisco.
You’ll recognize some of the Dutch players, like Jurickson Profar and also onetime Mariners outfielder Wladimir Balentien. As I wrote last year during our trip to Japan, Balentien — a native of Curacao — has become quite the home run star overseas. He swatted another 31 homers for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and in December was awarded a three-year, $7 million contract extension.
Quite the climb for a guy the Mariners traded to the Reds back in 2009 when his days in baseball appeared numbered. Balentien says he’s a more disciplined hitter now than he was back then. I asked him whether he ever feels his MLB career might have gone differently had he known then what he does now.
“Probably,’’ he said. “Probably, I’d be in a different situation. I was young. I was not able to put everything together quick. But thank God I have another opportunity and I’ve taken advantage of it.’’
And when his contract runs out after 2015? No, he hasn’t ruled out a return shot at the majors. He’s still only 28.
“I never quit on that,’’ he said. “I’ve always thought I could still play in the major leagues. And not just play. Be a good player. I still have that as one of my goals someday.’’
If you read today’s paper, you’ll have seen our story on Netherlands outfielder Kalian Sams, a 26-year-old who played for Seattle’s AA Jackso affiliate last season. As a rare position player born and raised in The Netherlands — not in the Dutch Carribbean like many national team stars — Sams has made it his personal mission to pick up from where the late Greg Halman left off. Halman, of course, became the first Dutch born and raised position player in the majors and was a role model for youngsters in his country before his November 2011 death.
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