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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

Topic: franklin gutierrez

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June 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM

Why the Mariners are taking so long with Dustin Ackley

Dustin Ackley is honing his outfield skills at Class AAA Tacoma and will be key to the next phase of the Mariners attempting to salvage their 2013 season. Photo Credit: AP

Dustin Ackley is honing his outfield skills at Class AAA Tacoma and will be key to the next phase of the Mariners attempting to salvage their 2013 season. Photo Credit: AP

Dustin Ackley keeps on hitting down in Class AAA Tacoma. The Mariners keep not hitting at the major league level — scrounging up three runs over 10 innings for a win last night, though it took two home runs and an extra frame to reach that meager total.

So, why no Ackley?

Well, the Mariners keep saying they want to make sure his hitting is “real” but by the time they figure that out, this season could be pretty much over for all intents and purposes. With jobs now on the line in the front office and coaching ranks, there’s probably a limit to just how large a sample size the M’s higher-ups can really afford to have with Ackley since none of these numbers and samples will offer any type of guarantee when it comes to his hitting in the majors.

So, no, that hitting being “real” isn’t the big reason he’s still down there. But his ability to play center field consistently is one of the reasons and looking at the team now, it’s probably the biggest reason he hasn’t been called up yet. Mariners manager Eric Wedge finally seemed to admit as much yesterday when I asked him about it pregame.

“I want him to have a little bit more time in the outfield in general,” Wedge said. “Whether it be left field or center field. Either way for me I think it works good. The reps in center field would just be a concern right now. I want to make sure he can do that.”

And that makes a little more sense given the context of where this team now sits. Because the Mariners aren’t liable to gain a whole lot more certainly with Ackley at the plate simply by waiting another few days or even a week to bring him back up.

But several more days of reps in center could make a difference. Especially given what the team needs to do next.

The Mariners need Ackley to be able to play center because they need a backup at the position to spell Franklin Gutierrez at least a couple of days per week. And realistically, once Gutierrez comes off the 60-day DL — he’s eligible as of Saturday and I’d expect the team to move rather quick — there still has to be a backup plan, for a variety of reasons.

First, nobody really knows how long Gutierrez will stay healthy. The Mariners have tried to insist before that they knew and had reasonable expectations for his good heath. They were wrong — for whatever reason, be it bad luck, injury-prone tendancies, slow recovery, whatever. They just don’t know for certain and haven’t guessed right yet.

So, if he goes down, there has to be a backup plan.

Right now, center field is manned by Michael Saunders and Endy Chavez. It’s doubtful both will still be here once Gutierrez and Ackley arrive.

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0 Comments | More in outfield | Topics: Dustin Ackley, endy chavez, franklin gutierrez

March 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Leadoff by committee for Mariners? Seems tough to avoid it

Yesterday afternoon, I went on 710 ESPN Seattle on the Bob & Groz show and they stumped me right off the bat by asking who was going to hit leadoff for the Mariners. Who indeed? Sure, I’ve got the same list many of you have. But who would be the go-to guy? Tough to find an answer to that one. It’s one of the reasons I thought the Mariners might go harder after Michael Bourn.

Simply put, they don’t have a leadoff guy right now. They had Ichiro for years, but did not replace him when he left. Dustin Ackley was not the guy to go into this season with, primarily because of how badly he performed last season. The last thing you want to do with a guy who has yet to establish much of anything in the majors is saddle him with a batting order role that actually requires some responsibility — as I belive the first four or five spots in an order actually do.

After that, you can throw in whatever’s left.

But to bat a guy leadoff? Well, you’d better know he can handle it.

For the Mariners this year, they just don’t have a prototypical leadoff guy. I’d setlle for them just going with a guy who can get on base.

Based on recent history, they don’t really have that either.

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0 Comments | More in leadoff | Topics: Dustin Ackley, franklin gutierrez, Jason Bay

February 26, 2013 at 3:06 PM

Mariners win fourth in a row with late Smoak bomb

The Mariners came through late in this one for a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers, courtesy of a two-run Justin Smoak homer off Brewers pitcher John Axford in the eighth inning.

Carlos Peguero had just doubled home the tying marker when Smoak stepped in and launched Axford’s 2-0 pitch deep beyond the right field wall. That put the Mariners up 6-4 and they held on from there for their fourth consecutive Cactus League victory. The latest homer for Smoak is his second this spring and second batting from the left side.

Justin Smoak (left) and Mariners congratulate each other on the field after today’s 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

He had an earlier single today lined cleanly into right field. Also a line drive the other way  to left field that Ryan Braun made a good play on for an out. As we’ve mentioned before, if he really has figured out this whole batting from the left side thing, a lot of the worries the team has about him will go away.

“I feel like it’s slowing the ball down a little bit,” Smoak said of his new approach and more compact swing from the left side, similar to what he’d done earlier in his pro career. “Early on (in spring training) you normally feel like everything’s a little quick and you’re trying to get your rhythm and timing down, but for me I’ve actually been seeing it a lot better than I thought it would be.”

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0 Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: franklin gutierrez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Justin Smoak

February 26, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Hisashi Iwakuma makes spring debut for Mariners

Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma delivers a pitch to Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers in first inning of today’s game. Braun grounded out.

1:58 p.m.: The Mariners still trail 4-3 as we head to the seventh inning. We saw another solid outing by non-roster bullpen guy Kameron Loe today as he tossed two innings against his former Brewers club of the past three seasons. Loe allowed one earned run on two hits, struck out a pair and didn’t walk anybody.

One of you emailed me asking whether I could get video of the “sausage race” they run down on the field midway through the sixth inning. As requested, here it is below.

1:42 p.m.: The Mariners gave up runs in the thirdand fourth innings and trail 4-3 as we head to the sixth. Just got done talking to Hisashi Iwakuma about today’s outing, which stood in sharp contrast to what happened a year ago when his Cactus League debut was marred by a lack of command and general all-around hittability. Iwakuma agreed much has changed in the ensuing 12 months.

“Last year, I was more nervous and hesitant,” Iwakuma said, through interpreter Antony Suzuki. “This year, I’m more relaxed and comfortable with one year under my belt so it’s alot easier getting back into the game.”

Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma addresses members of the Japanese media after his outing today.

It’s not just on the mental side Iwakuma felt better. He said there’s a world of difference physically between now and his spring debut a year ago.

“I feel a lot stronger than I was last year,” he said. “And I’mvery comfortable with my strength.”

I asked him whether he’d changed his training regimen at all.

“I started (training) a lot earlier than I had in the past,” he said. “Not just my arm but my core as well. And that’s what helped me.”

That core training has him seeing a difference in his pitches. He threw a lot of two-seam (sinking) fastballs and splitters today, generating three consecutive ground balls. He got into a nice battle with Ryan Braun, who fouled several 2-2 offerings into the dirt before grounding out.

“Yes, I do feel the difference, especially when I throw my fastball,” Iwakuma said. “The pitches are low and in the strike zone. I feel they’re a lot sharper than they were before.”

And, of course, he’s simply a lot more used to life in the big leagues now.

“The first year and second year are always different,” he said. “You feel a lot more comfortable, like I said. Also, you don’t know what will happen, how your routine will play. You don’t know from left to right. As opposed to this year, when you know what to expect and you know when to be ready for the game, so that makes it a lot easier.”

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0 Comments | More in Cactus League | Topics: franklin gutierrez, Hisashi Iwakuma

January 30, 2013 at 9:49 AM

Why the Mariners must add a dependable starting pitcher

Chris Capuano of the Dodgers is one of a handful of pitchers out there capable of delivering the quality innings totals the Mariners desperately need. Photo Credit: AP

We’ve spoken about the offensive upgrades made by the Mariners and how the “wild card” to it all is how much of an impact moving the Safeco Field fences in will have on the team.

But all of that could be offset by a decline in the pitching staff if the Mariners don’t do something significant to upgrade their starting rotation. Moving in the fences will help the offense, in theory, yes. But using the same logic, it could also hurt the pitching staff even if you put the same five-man rotation out there as we saw for most of last year.

Now, of course, the Mariners won’t have the same starting five as last year. In order to acquire Kendrys Morales, the Mariners had to trade away Jason Vargas. And they also saw free agent Kevin Millwood leave.

You didn’t have to be a huge fan of either Vargas or Millwood. But between the two of them, they threw 378 1/3 innings last season and kept their teams in the game for the most part. Both pitchers relied heavily on their defense and — especially with Vargas — a pitcher-friendly home park , but they still were able to keep the score close after six or seven innings.

And you can’t just let that walk out the door without replacing it.

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0 Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: Chris Capuano, franklin gutierrez, joe saunders

December 13, 2012 at 3:58 PM

Who? Who? Who? Who’s left for Mariners now that Josh Hamilton is off the table?

Michael Bourn was an all-star caliber center fielder in Houston for years before moving on to Atlanta last season. Photo Credit: AP

Every year, we get into a “Who? Who? Who?” debate on this blog about whether there were ever really any bats out there that the last-place Mariners could possibly have acquired to help them. Just to run down the list from this winter one more time, in reference to free agents and trade targets already off the board that could have helped make Seattle better: Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, B.J. Upton, Angel Pagan, Kevin Youkilis, Shin-Soo Choo, Torii Hunter, Ryan Ludwick, Shane Victorino, Melky Cabrera.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch, but feel free to default to that list next summer when the “Who? Who? Who?” owls make their annual pilgrimage to the comments section, set up nests and start unleashing their droppings.

In the spirit of keeping the list current and raising the spirits of fans who assume all hope was lost today when Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels, there still exist some offensive avenues for the team to explore that do not include Hamilton.

For me, the most intriguing one doesn’t even involve Nick Swisher. Most people and their laptop technicians now expect Swisher to jump to the Texas Rangers to fill the outfield void left by Hamilton’s big bat. Thing is, Swisher is not Hamilton and probably never will be. Sure, you can make a case that some of their statistics are similar, including their on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) and their WAR (wins above replacement level). But the similarities end there when it comes to the type of presence and impact each can have on a lineup.

With Hamilton, you know the game can change with one swing of his bat — no matter what ballpark he is playing in — because his raw power places him amongst the elite of the game. With Swisher, the high OPS is attributable more to his walk rate and on-base ability, where Hamilton tends to be a free swinger and send the ball a long, long way when he does connect.

And when it comes to the impact on any given lineup, the thought of Hamilton sitting smack dab in the middle of it has the ability to terrify opposing pitchers, even when they are several batters away from facing him. You’re going to think twice and then three times before putting anybody on base ahead of Hamilton — even if “ahead” means three or four spots up in the batting order. With Swisher, not as much. That’s a major difference between the two and why Hamilton is considered more of an “impact” bat and will get the bigger money from teams willing to spend on such intangibles.

It’s why you see guys like GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge saying they’d have chosen Miguel Cabrera over Mike Trout for MVP despite Trout having similar numbers and a higher WAR. It’s for the lineup impact. You can’t measure it. But the folks running real baseball teams and throwing pitches in actual MLB games know what it’s all about. And it’s possibily the biggest reason why so many pitchers have taken so many liberties with the Mariners over the last several seasons — the non-existence of anything in the heart of the order that would make pitchers really afraid of putting guys on base.

Swisher isn’t one of those types of bats, even though his better walk rate and defense keeps his WAR up there on a similar level to Hamilton.

Now, that doesn’t mean Swisher would not constitute a major upgrade for Seattle. The Mariners need good bats and Swisher has one. He can also play right field and first base, which are two areas of need for the Mariners.

But the fact remains, he is not Hamilton. His bat will not impact Seattle’s offense the way Hamilton’s would have. It will make the offense better, but not in the game-changing way that Hamilton’s might have. And for me, that factor alone means that the Mariners losing out on Hamilton does not automatically default them towards Swisher as a fallback plan.

It is not “Swisher or Bust” as one commenter suggested to me earlier.

For me, knowing that any chance of a pure power, middle-of-the-order guy has now vanished, I’d be more inclined to take a look at Michael Bourn as the team’s primary option going forward. To be honest, the Bourn option has always intrigued me because of the so very different approach to bettering the team that it provides.

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0 Comments | More in Free agents | Topics: franklin gutierrez, josh hamilton, Michael Bourn