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August 4, 2013 at 3:42 PM

Big day for the 40-somethings as Mariners take series

Henry Blanco (left) congratulates Danny Farquhar after he closed out a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Blanco's two-run homer in the seventh was the difference. Photo Credit: AP

Henry Blanco (left) congratulates Danny Farquhar after he closed out a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Blanco’s two-run homer in the seventh was the difference. Photo Credit: AP

Kind of tough not to appreciate what Raul Ibanez has done all season long, as well as what Henry Blanco has contributed the few times he gets on the field.

Both guys are 41. The fact they’re still playing is special, but today, they drove in all three Seattle runs in a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles. There’s this strange vibe I get in Seattle, especially in internet discussions, but occasionally when I host my radio show, about how older veterans contributing means nothing. That a team out of contention should be sitting veterans over the final two months in favor of going all-young.

That kind of stuff is silly. It’s short-sighted. And it won’t happen in real world baseball. At least, not with managers who hope to still have a job two months from now.

You don’t jettison guys making contributions to a team, be they 41, 31 or 21. You don’t make baseball decisions based on birth certificates. I know I’ve used the birth certificate line for a while now, but it bothers me when I see so many arguments being formulated based on logic that fails to extend beyond the date a player was born.

Want to know why the Mariners haven’t replaced Aaron Harang with James Paxton yet? Because they aren’t entirely sold that Paxton would be the better pitcher. You’ve seen how long it’s taken Erasmo Ramirez to adjust to being back in the majors. With Paxton on an innings limit, just like Taijuan Walker, he might run out of time to get acclimated here. And as bad as Harang got bashed around early the other day, we’ve seen him rebound and throw complete games just as quickly.

So, if you jettison Harang now and Paxton goes out and gets lit-up over three innings, the team is actually worse off than before, because at least Harang has shown you he can rebound. If Paxton is no good, you’re down a starter, one of your alleged “Big 3” is exposed and the team keeps losing. Not the best prospect if you’re running the Mariners and unsure about Paxton’s ability.

Now, let’s look at Ibanez. He’s struggled for two weeks at the plate, so naturally a few noses got out of whack on Twitter this morning when it was noted that the Mariners are sitting Dustin Ackley for now because he’s not good enough to be in the everyday lineup.

Michael Saunders and Michael Morse are both hitting and Ibanez has hit all year until the past two weeks. So, Robby Thompson decided to stick with Ibanez today after his hard hit off the wall last night and he came up with two doubles today.

That means Ackley likely won’t be playing all that much this week, either. It means he could go back to Class AAA, even though his play since being promoted up here has improved.

That’s just life. If Ackley isn’t the best option, he should not be bumping contributors to the bench. If he has to go to AAA to get playing time and continue his development there, so be it.

MLB is not supposed to be a finishing school. It’s about winning games, charging people money to see the best players in the world and beating out other guys with your performance if you want to get on the field.

That’s how most MLB teams view it. That’s how the Mariners view it, regardless of the fact they’re seven games under .500 and not going to the playoffs.

Because the best way for a manager or front office to “lose” a cluhouse is to start benching guys who are producing. Want to bench a sub-.200-hitting Brendan Ryan for Brad Miller? That’s fair game. Ryan had his chances to contribute.

But you don’t bench an .800 OPS guy like Ibanez who leads the team in homers and slugging, so you can experiment in the outfield with a second baseman who lost his job to AAA call-up Nick Franklin because of non-performance.

Doesn’t matter how high Ackley got drafted. Nor that he was once counted on as a future cornerstone.

His future — if he has one — won’t be figured out the next two months. It will take a lot longer than that and a lot more work in the off-season, then some consistency next year. The kind of work and consistency guys like Ibanez and Henry Blanco have demonstrated throughout their careers.

“For somebody to stick around that long, both of them at 41, they’ve both had really nice careers, great careers,’’ Thompson said. “So, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into the off-season and that’s what prepares them for the season.’’

And so, in the interim, you aren’t going to risk ticking off 24 other players in the room by sitting one of your best hitters to give free playing time to one of your worst ones because of the date on his birth certificate.

Best way for the Mariners to win next season? Have Ackley show up ready to play and if he’s in the Opening Day lineup like he was this year, then hope he contributes so that the team can win games when it still has a chance to do something in a season.

Right now, the team can play .600 ball the rest of the way and it won’t matter because the early failures of guys this team counted on in April and May dug too deep a hole. Too late to fix that now and giving away free playing time to guys who don’t deserve it won’t change that reality.

For now, the playing time goes to the guys who’ve earned it. If Saunders goes back to slumping, then pull him out and stick Ackley in, by all means. But if Saunders is hitting, he’s still the best center fielder out there right now.

Blanco? Anything he does is a bonus.

“For a little while there, I thought he could only hit them with the bases loaded,’’ Ibanez joked of Blanco’s two-run homer today, his first non-grand-slam.

Blanco stays in shape mainly by doing “Insanity” workouts – a series of explosive, full-body plyometric exercises that improve fast-twitch muscles and the cardiovascular system. Ibanez does similar plyometric workouts as the bulk of his off-season regimen and says it’s the reason guys like him and Blanco can still play.

“I think it’s hard work and a lot of physical training,’’ Ibanez said. “It’s maintaining a high level of activity and fitness. He works hard. He works his butt off. And it’s not something that you can just start doing. It’s something that’s cumulative. It has a cumulative effect.’’

And hopefully, what these players are doing will leave a cumulative impression on some of Seattle’s younger players. There is some talent there, but also ample room for improvement. Both in-season and in terms of off-season workouts and focus.

If the Mariners are lucky, what some of their veterans are doing will rub off on the younger guys. If the Mariners are foolish, they’ll start benching contributing veterans so the prospects crowd can get high on more birth certificates.

Don’t bet on the latter. For this team to win more consistently, the guys getting the playing time have to earn it. The more that happens on a large scale, the more wins will pile up, exclusive of age.




Comments | More in outfielders | Topics: henry blanco; raul ibanez; dustin ackley; michael saunders


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