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June 13, 2013 at 10:15 AM

Mariners rolling dice with injuries, coming up snake-eyes and snakebit

Michael Morse would have been put on the 15-day disabled list two weeks ago if not for an injury to Justin Smoak. Instead, Morse has played just five games since and is batting .111. Photo Credit: AP

Michael Morse would have been put on the 15-day disabled list two weeks ago if not for an injury to Justin Smoak. Instead, Morse has played just five games since and is batting .111. Photo Credit: AP

Lost in all the turmoil of another Tom Wilhelmsen blown save last night was the real reason the Mariners dropped a game they could not afford to lose. The Mariners made a pre-game dice roll on the injury front and nearly got away with it, too.

They sat both Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse, hoping the night off combined with today’s off-day might allow them to finally heal from a pair of nagging injuries. The Houston Astros are something between Class AAA and MLB caliber and the Mariners for eight innings very nearly pulled off a 1-0 win after trotting out their own collection of what amounted to a less-than-MLB-standard offense.

But then, Wilhelmsen blew it…again.

So, now, this team heads off for a seven-game trip to Oakland and Anaheim. I’d written a couple of weeks ago that we’d know after this trip what this Mariners season was going to be. I’ll stick with that, because there is always hope the Mariners surprise. If they don’t surprise us, we can officially look ahead to next year. I know some of you did that a month ago and that’s fine, but I’m going to hold off a bit longer, knowing three recent Wilhelmsen blown saves and that 16-inning loss to Chicago have things looking a lot worse on the sub-.500 front than they should.

But anyway, the time for shoulda, coulda, woulda is long over. The Mariners need to get it done right now on this trip if they want to buy themselves another week or two.

And it isn’t looking all that promising. One of the reasons why is the way the team has mismanaged its injury situation.

There have been too many occasions this year where the Mariners had guys who should have gone on the 15-day disabled list but did not. And right here, right now, it is seriously coming back to snakebite this squad in the backside.

First, a quick qualifier. Injuries can be a guessing game, since seasoned players know you have to be able to handle and play through some nagging discomfort. That’s just the way professional sports go. Former Sports Illustrated writer and author Dan Jenkins once titled one of his sports humor novels You gotta play hurt and that sums up the state of mind of athletes and teams in the pro world.

So, it can be a guessing game with teams as to when injuries become serious enough to shelve a guy 15 days on the DL. But front offices and coaching staffs are paid to make educated guesses and get the big ones right. In this case, the Mariners have guessed wrong on numerous injury fronts this season and it’s pretty much costing them the 2013 campaign.

First, there was the whole Franklin Gutierrez debacle and how he was kept off the DL coming out of spring training, despite a pelvic issue impacting his legs so badly he could barely play consecutive Cactus League games. Then, he could barely play major league games on consecutive days and was finally put on the DL more than three weeks into the season when he severely injured his hamstring. That was roughly two months ago.

As I said, it’s easy to understand the rationale for being hopeful Gutierrez could shake off the pelvic stuff early. But in hindsight, the guesswork failed. At the very least, putting Gutierrez on the DL to start the season would have allowed the team to keep Casper Wells on the roster until it was absolutely certain another emergency center fielder would not be needed. As it turned out, Wells was designated for assignment and the team had to go to AAA for emergency center fielder Endy Chavez when Michael Saunders got hurt 10 days into the season and Gutierrez was deemed too fragile to be counted on daily.

This is not an argument for keeping Wells. Under normal circumstances, the team made the right call keeping Jason Bay over him. But had the Mariners guessed right on the Gutierrez injury front, they could have kept both and prevented some of the mess that’s gone on with the major league and 40-man roster this season. Instead, they guessed wrong.

They also guessed wrong on the Justin Smoak front.

Smoak injured his oblique muscle in a May 25 game. Initially, the team was going to wait a day or two and see whether things cleared up before making a DL call. Instead, that stretched into three days and then, after missing a fourth consecutive start, Smoak was brought on to pinch-hit late on May 29 and felt the injury seize up again.

That’s when he was put on the DL. But instead of losing Smoak for 15 days, he was effectively lost for 19. The extended layoff also means he has to go out on a minor league rehab stint. Plus, we don’t know whether his injury is now taking longer to heal because he aggravated it that one game as opposed to going on the DL right away. All we do know is, he’ll have effectively missed at least three weeks of time as opposed to possibly the minimum 15 days.

And that extra time has impacted other Mariners decisions.

Michael Morse hurt his quad muscle the day before Smoak aggravated his oblique injury. The Mariners initially listed Morse as day-to-day and hoped his leg would heal quickly enough to avoid a DL stint.

But when Smoak went on the DL, the Mariners found themselves in a bind. They had only Kendrys Morales as a legit, everyday first baseman and knew him playing the field daily would be a health risk. So, they kept Morse off the DL and crossed their fingers.

Morse has played just five games since, batting .111 with a .327 OPS.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge has already admitted Morse would be on the DL if Smoak was healthy.

But Morse is already on the equivalent of the DL since he can’t play the field and isn’t hitting when he does get into games.

So, another gamble gone bad.

And now, with no other first baseman around, Morales has finally seen his back seize up after extended time playing the field. The Mariners, understandably, don’t want to put Morales on the DL because they already lack bats in their daily lineup — as reflected on the recent homsetand.

The answer at first base for the Mariners has been to play Alex Liddi. Since Morales first went down mid-game last Saturday, Liddi is 1-for-11 (.091). The team so far has resisted calling up Dustin Ackley to man some games at first base and the reason, it appears, isn’t a question of him being “ready” to go. No, it now appears the team feels Ackley is a temporary answer to its outfield problems and is training him to play left field again so he can take some of the daily heat off veterans Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay — both being overplayed because of the Gutierrez mess.

So, no, the Mariners have not been on much of a roll when it comes to the injury guessing game. And right now, the decisions that have been made are combining to decimate the team. They hit just .228 with a .614 on-base-plus-slugging percentage on the 10-game homestand.

Let’s hope they guessed right on sitting Morse and Morales last night and that the game they sacrificed to the substandard Astros won’t have been in vain. Because this squad is running out of time to have even a .500 season despite getting to play the Astros 19 times.

And if indeed this season does play out in losing fashion and folks start picking away at why, the way these injury situations were managed will likely come back to bite once again — hard.



Comments | More in analysis | Topics: michael morse; franklin gutierrez; justin smoak; kendrys morales


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