May 2011

Bring on the Yankees

Tremendous 5-1 road trip for the Mariners, wrapped up with today’s 3-0 victory over the Twins in Minneapolis. I know there’ll be those who say it was Minnesota and San Diego, two last-place teams that can’t score runs. Which make them perfect foils for the pitching-strong Mariners.

But c’mon. These are exactly the type of teams you need to make hay against if you’re any good at all. And the Mariners are looking like they can indeed be pretty good when they get pitching like they’ve had the past month. Going 5-1 on any road trip is strong stuff and the Mariners have done it twice now, having stormed through Detroit and Boston in late April with the same success.

Given that Ichiro, Chone Figgins and Justin Smoak didn’t hit much at all on this trip, the Mariners showed something in outscoring the Padres and Twins 27-13.

So now things start to really get interesting. The Yankees come to Safeco this weekend and the Mariners will trot out Michael Pineda, Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas. This feels like a “show-me series.” Certainly it’ll be the biggest start of Pineda’s brief career to this point. And if Seattle can win two of these games, there’ll be a definite feeling that this season really might have something going.

I’m still in Minneapolis tonight, heading home Thursday morning and ready to get home. It’s been a nice trip to two great ballparks in Petco and Target fields, but I’m already eager for Friday’s showdown with Pineda and the Bronx Bombers.

It’s show time in Seattle and that’s something Mariners fans haven’t felt for a while.

Here’s the ruling on the bizarre ninth-inning play

If you’re confused about what happened in the bottom of the ninth tonight when Mariners left fielder Carlos Peguero didn’t come up with a diving catch on a ball hit by Ryan Ludwick, you’re not alone. The Padres got all crazy on the basepaths with Jason Bartlett returning to first, then getting pushed toward second by Ludwick, with Bartlett initially being called out at second.

But once the umpires determined the two runners had made contact, Ludwick was out — which took the force out at second away. And since the Mariners never tagged Bartlett, he was safe at second.

Here’s the official explanation from crew chief Tim McClelland:

“On the second to last play of the game, Ryan Ludwick was out for passing the runner (rule 7.08h), after which the play was not dead and the force out at second base was off, resulting in Jason Bartlett being safe at second base since he was not tagged out.”

Had this been a one-run game, that play would have been huge. Instead, reliever Chris Ray wound up getting out of a situation created initially on a booted ground ball by shortstop Brendan Ryan.

So the Mariners made it a bit more interesting than necessary, but bottom line, Erik Bedard was sensational for eight innings and Peguero made a great catch at the wall and a just-as-great throw to get a double play in the seventh.

Good stuff for the Mariners, who have gotten themselves back on track — and somehow back into the AL West race, just 2 1/2 back of front-running Texas — with a chance to make up more ground now with Michael Pineda and Felix Hernandez on the mound the next two days at Petco Park.

Still soggy in Cleveland on Sunday morning

The tarp is covering the infield at Progressive Stadium in Cleveland this morning as we await word on whether today's game will be played. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)

Weather in Cleveland has been a problem for the Mariners before. The Mariners have had 11 games wiped out by Mother Nature in this city, more than twice as many as any other city in baseball. That number includes the four games snowed out at the start of ’07 and made up throughout that season.

We may be getting into a similar situation on a smaller scale on this trip as the rain is falling again Sunday morning, threatening to wip out action for a second consecutive day. The grounds crew is working on the dirt portion of the infield as we speak — a little more than two hours before 10:05 a.m. PT game time. But there isn’t a lot of optimism that we’re going to get baseball for a second-straight day.

If this one gets canceled, the two teams will need to make up both games, presumably during Seattle’s return trip on Aug. 22-24. That means either two doubleheaders in that three-day set, or one doubleheader plus a game on the scheduled off day Aug. 25.

But if the teams play on Aug. 25, that will be 27 straight days without an off day for the Mariners from mid-August to mid-September, not an ideal situation.

Then again, there isn’t going to be an ideal situation. So no doubt they’ll try to get this one in, one way or the other. The forecasts call for rain all day, unfortunately. So we shall see …

Brandon in a League of his own misery right now

Brandon League tries to collect his thoughts on the mound during Friday's ninth-inning meltdown that led to his fourth straight loss, this one in the ninth inning in Cleveland on Friday. (Getty Images/Jared Wickerham)

I realize many fans won’t care about this after Brandon League suffered his fourth straight loss Friday in Cleveland, the latest gut-punch coming on a game-winning two-run homer by Travis Hafner with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a game Seattle led 4-2 when League entered.

But I learned something about League afterward, something that deserves mention along with all the criticism he’s deservedly getting for this awful stretch of relief work. For the fourth straight time, after his fourth straight loss, League sucked it up and stood at his locker and talked to the media about what happened.

That just doesn’t happen with a lot of guys. It takes accountability and responsibility and all those things that are a lot easier to preach when the good times are rolling. If League had said he didn’t want to talk this time, I would have understood. He’s going through a “really, really rough patch” as he noted and it can’t be easy shouldering these setbacks.

If League continues his lights-out start to the season and slams the door on these four games, the Mariners are 20-19 right now. He knows that. Everybody knows it. But League wasn’t the only issue tonight. If rookie Carlos Peguero gets a better jump on the double over his head by Asdrubral Cabrera and makes that catch, we’re talking about how League rebounded and got the job done this time.

But there’s no doubt that Cabrera’s double, as well as the previous one by Michael Brantley and, yes, Hafner’s homer, were all well-hit balls. League isn’t fooling anyone with his normally nasty sinker right now. Manager Eric Wedge says he’s leaving it up a little, enough to make him vulnerable. And, yeah, Wedge is weighing his closer options.

Tough times, with six straight losses undoing all the positives from the outstanding previous 5-1 road trip through Detroit and Boston.

Wedge is dying inside with these defeats, but he maintained a stiff upper lip — hidden under the ‘stache, of course — on Friday. He reminded that teams learn from tough times, as do individuals. He knows the situation with youngsters like Peguero, who also committed a baserunning blunder in the top of the ninth when he lost track of the outs and took off running on a one-out fly ball to right by Michael Saunders that suddenly turned into a double play.

“He just made a mistake, and obviously thought it was two outs, which can’t happen,” Wedge said. “Those are things that should just happen once and not happen again.”

Peguero, instead of celebrating his first Major League home run, appeared near tears as he, too, faced reporters and was accountable.

Whether that means much to fans bemoaning yet another tough loss, I don’t know. But it tells me something. It tells me these Mariners have some inner strength. And sometimes that kind of thing can pay off in the long run.

And that’s a message that is coming from the top down.

“You have to handle it,” said Wedge. “You have to be strong. I’ve said it so many times: You have to be strong on the bad days, and humble on the good days. It doesn’t hurt any less. It’s tough. But these guys are going to be stronger for it, they’ll be better for it. We’ll get through this stretch and we’ll continue to work to be a better club.”

It’s time to move forward … without Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Monday after hitting just .209 since being acquired last year. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

There’s no big secret as to why Milton Bradley no longer is with the Mariners today. Bradley simply wasn’t playing well enough to justify dealing with the other problems that come along with one of the game’s more difficult personalities.

I’m not going to claim to have any great insights on the man. I did take the above photo the day he arrived at Mariners training camp this spring. He immediately growled at me to stop taking his picture, which is just the way things were with Bradley. Along with other writers and photographers, I took photos of most all the Mariners in all kinds of situations on the practice field and Bradley was the only one who said a word to me all spring about it.

As things progressed, he made it clear he didn’t much want to deal with reporters this season and that was fine. I’d talked with him enough the previous year to understand him to be an intelligent, well-spoken man when he wanted to share his thoughts and I’m not sure where his increased anger stemmed from this year, but that’s just the way it was.

A lot of people walked on egg shells around Bradley. There weren’t a lot of outlandish problems with him this season and largely he was given a wide berth by those who understood he was dealing with issues that go beyond baseball. 

But when onfield problems began creeping up — two ejections in a week’s span and a one-game suspension by MLB — topped by lack of production offensively and ongoing defensive struggles, well, at some point if you’re the Mariners you just look at the options and figure it’s time to cut bait.

Bradley’s errant throw in Sunday’s game cost the Mariners two runs — and a likely victory — in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the White Sox. His lack of mobility or desire, depending on your viewpoint, drew loud boos throughout the weekend in the field for a franchise struggling to regain its fanbase. And worst of all, for a guy being asked to shoulder a large load as a veteran No. 3 hitter in Eric Wedge’s lineup, he simply wasn’t producing enough there to offset the rest of the problems.

When Jack Zduriencik traded for Bradley, he did so with the hope that he was at least acquiring a professional hitter in exchange for another bad contract in pitcher Carlos Silva. If Bradley provided his normal high on-base percentage players and a little pop, his character issues might be overlooked.

But the guy who had on-base percentage of .414 in ’07, .436 in ’08 and .378 in ’09 never materialized in Seattle. His OBP with the Mariners over two seasons stood at .298. His batting average was .209. He totaled 10 home runs.

Coupled with his defensive deficiencies and personal demons, there’s no surprise here. Wedge was desperate enough for a veteran No. 3 hitter that he gave Bradley a legitimate shot despite their prior history. It just wasn’t working well enough to be worth the troubles that come along with the package and Monday brought the inevitable.

So we move forward. I know I’m interested to see how Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero fare in left field. The Mariners have been searching for a left fielder for years and somebody, some day, is going to grab that job and make it theirs. Both Wilson and Peguero offer power potential the team is crying out for, though I have concerns about Peguero’s high strikeout potential on a team that already struggles in that department.

But there is hope with youth. And desire. And the willingness to buy into the team Wedge wants. It’s good to see this move coming now. The Mariners are 16-19, they’ve put themselves at least into contention in the AL West. But they aren’t going to just ride things out and see the same problems over and over.

So Monday’s moves bring a new look to left field. And we’ll go from here.

I’m skipping the Baltimore series and joining the team in Cleveland on this road trip, but it’ll be interesting to hear how Wedge plans to use Wilson. Zduriencik mentioned a right-left platoon situation with Wilson and Peguero in left field for the time being. But five of the next starting pitchers the Mariners face are right-handed, so that doesn’t open much playing time for Wilson.

Jeff Seidel will be filling in for me on Mariners.com from Baltimore, so keep an eye on the website for updates on that and everything else and I’ll head to Cleveland in a couple days to pick things back up as Wedge returns to his old stomping grounds, this time without Milton Bradley.

Milton Bradley’s time is done with Mariners

Manager Eric Wedge restrains Milton Bradley after the outfielder was ejected from last Friday's game at Safeco Field. (Associated Press/Elaine Thompson)

 Outfielder Milton Bradley, who hit .209 in two seasons with the Mariners, was designated for assignment by the club on Monday as general manager Jack Zduriencik made a pair of roster moves that look to provide a youthful infusion of offense to a club that continues struggling to score runs.

Carlos Peguero was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to take Bradley’s roster spot. Peguero, 24, spent a week with the Mariners earlier this season while Justin Smoak was on the bereavement list and is a 6-foot-5, 247-pound outfielder with considerable power potential.

Earlier Monday, the Mariners designated veteran outfielder Ryan Langerhans for assignment and recalled outfielder Mike Wilson from Tacoma.

Both Peguero and Wilson will be with the team Tuesday when it opens a three-game series at Baltimore. The Mariners have won eight of their past 12 games to improve to 16-19, but scored just 18 runs in their last eight games.

Bradley’s time with Seattle, much like the rest of his Major League career, was tumultuous. He was ejected from two games in the past 10 days and sat out another on a one-game suspension. The 32-year-old has declined to speak with reporters most of this season and wore earplugs during many of his games, apparently to keep out the taunts of fans both at home and on the road.

A year ago, he left Safeco Field in the middle of a game after being taken out by then-manager Don Wakamatsu, then was placed on MLB’s restricted list while undergoing counseling. He rejoined the team, but spent the last two months on the disabled list with a knee injury.

New manager Eric Wedge put Bradley in the middle of his lineup in the No. 3 hole and started him in left field in 26 of the team’s first 35 games. But after a good start at the plate, the 32-year-old hit just .159 (7 for 44) with three RBIs and no home runs over the last three weeks to drop his season average to .218.

Additionally, Bradley struggled defensively in left field and his errant throw on a play at the plate Sunday wound up leading to two runs scoring when catcher Miguel Olivo dropped the ball and then failed to make the tag in a 3-2 loss to the White Sox.

Bradley had 10 home runs and 42 RBIs in 345 at-bats over two seasons in Seattle after being acquired by trade with the Cubs for pitcher Carlos Silva. He is still owed the remainder of a $12 million contract for this season.

The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or outright the contracts of both Bradley and Langerhans.

While Wilson will be making his Major League debut with the Mariners, Peguero got his feet wet briefly from April 19-24 while hitting .183 (2 for 11) with five strikeouts during his time filling Smoak’s roster spot.

The Dominican Republic native has hit .282 with four home runs and 13 RBIs with an .801 OPS in 103 at-bats with Tacoma this season.

Wilson, 27, has been Tacoma’s hottest hitter with a .381 average and four home runs and 14 RBIs and a 1.111 OPS in 63 at-bats after missing several weeks to start the year with a rib injury.

The Mariners are still awaiting the return of veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who remains on the 15-day disabled list as he returns from stomach issues that shut him down midway through Spring Training. Gutierrez is on a rehab assignment with the Rainiers, but didn’t play Sunday after coming down sick with an unrelated flu-like illness, according to Wedge.

Mariners bring Mike Wilson up, Langerhans DFA’d

Looking to add some right-handed punch to their roster, the Mariners selected outfielder Mike Wilson from Triple-A Tacoma on Monday and designated veteran Ryan Langerhans for assignment.

Wilson, 27, will make his first appearance in a Major League uniform Tuesday when the Mariners open a three-game series in Baltimore. He was hitting .381 with four home runs and 14 RBIs for the Rainiers and has been in the Mariners Minor League system since 2001 when he was a second-round Draft pick.

Wilson gives manager Eric Wedge a right-handed option off the bench and could help out in left field or at designated hitter. The Mariners have won eight of their past 12 games, but continue struggling at the plate and have scored just 18 runs over their past eight games.

The 6-foot-2, 245-pound Wilson, who turned down a football scholarship to Oklahoma when he signed with the Mariners, hit 17 home runs in Tacoma and eight for Double-A West Tenn last season.

Langerhans, 31, is a nine-year Major League veteran who has been with the Mariners the past three seasons.  He was hitting .173 in 52 at-bats for Seattle with three home runs and six RBIs in 52 at-bats.

The Mariners will have 10 days to trade, release or outright the contract of Langerhans.

A little microcosm of the Mariners season

I’ve been out of the loop a couple days, thanks to a computer virus that hit my laptop just as I was departing Boston last weekend, then a day off yesterday. But hey, you’ve got to stick with these things, right?

Watching Erik Bedard last night reminded me of the entire Mariners season. An ugly first inning had everyone assuming the worst, even when he escaped with just a 1-0 deficit. But Bedard righted himself and got back in the groove, just as the Mariners have done as a whole this season.

Now they head into tonight’s game against Texas having won six of their last seven and sitting just two back in the AL West, a statement nobody expected two weeks ago. But going 10-5 will do that for you, especially this early in the season.

It’s worth noting that last year at this exact time, the club was headed the exact opposite direction. They hit their 30th game on an eight-game losing streak — at home, no less — and were sitting 11-19 and going south.

The current Mariners are 14-16 and climbing, which is a far different feeling. Whether it continues, who knows. But it certainly feels possible this year, which is more than most of us would have said in mid-April.

Now here comes Michael Pineda tonight, fresh off an AL Rookie of the Year honor. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles Texas, the one team that beat him this year in his Major League debut in Arlington.

Milton Bradley is back in the lineup after his day off Saturday and then one-game suspension on Tuesday.

Here’s the full Mariners lineup:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Miguel Olivo C
Justin Smoak 1B
Jack Cust DH
Jack Wilson 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Michael Pineda P

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 105 other followers