May 2012

Wild night in Arlington … capped by this scene

One of the wilder nights in Mariners baseball history tonight, a 21-run outpouring against the Texas Rangers. And as I left Rangers Ballpark after writing it all up, the heavens opened, thunder blasted and lightning began flashing over the stadium.

No, this time it wasn’t coming from Justin Smoak’s bat. This was Mother Nature checking in, Texas style, on another muggy night in Arlington. But it seemed fitting, somehow, after all the thunder and lightning produced by Seattle’s young offense.

A pair of three-run bolts by Smoak. A three-run shot by Dustin Ackley. A two-run bomb by Jesus Montero, who came a triple short of the cycle and then joked afterward that he’s too slow to hit a three-bagger … though he did go for the cycle in Triple-A last year.

Everyone was having fun on this night and why not. You can read all about it on Mariners.com, including how Steve Delabar was sent down postgame (I guess he was one guy probably not having fun), with the expecation that hard-throwing Stephen Pryor will be joining the team in Chicago.

Yeah, the winds of change are in the air as well. This club will get even younger as the season goes. And as the young bucks get to play, there’ll be ups and downs and growing pains … and sometimes nights like tonight when it all comes together and there’s electricity in the air. Literally.

Ichiro gets rare day off Wednesday

Ichiro Suzuki is getting the rare day off today in Texas, with manager Eric Wedge resting his 38-year-old right fielder for the first time this season in Wednesday’s series finale with the Rangers.

Ichiro has played in 150 consecutive games, dating back to June 11 last year, when he snapped a 255-game streak by sitting out his only game of 2011.

Wedge is taking advantage of Thursday’s off day to give Ichiro a quick two-day break. He is the only Mariner who had played in each of the team’s first 51 games this year.

Kyle Seager moves into the No. 3 spot in the lineup, with Chone Figgins getting the start in right field.

The move isn’t a surprise to Ichiro, who told Japanese reporters Tuesday night that he wasn’t going to play Wednesday. Wedge informed him of that plan after Monday’s game.

Ichiro is leading the Mariners with a .271 batting average this season, but has just a .367 slugging percentage and 17 RBIs despite hitting in the No. 3 spot in the order. Wedge said Tuesday he’s open to moving Ichiro out of that lineup spot, but needs a ready replacement for the job.

Seager, batting .265 with a team-high 26 RBIs and .447 slugging percentage, will get at least a one-day audition today.

Here is today’s full lineup against Rangers lefty Derek Holland (4-3, 3.05 ERA):

Dustin Ackley 2B
Chone Figgins RF
Kyle Seager 3B
Jesus Montero DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Alex Liddi LF
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Blake Beavan RHP

Mariners back to more normal lineup

Manager Eric Wedge has gone back to more of his traditional lineup tonight against Rangers right-hander Scott Feldman, though Mike Carp remains sidelined as Alex Liddi is in left field.

That’s not a big shocker given Liddi hit the game-winning grand slam off Feldman last week and is 4-for-5 with a double and home run against the Rangers’ veteran.

Here’s the full lineup:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Alex Liddi RF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jesus Montero DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Justin Smoak 1B
John Jaso C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Jason Vargas LHP

Wedge playing percentages with today’s lineup

Interesting lineup today for the Mariners against the Rangers, with John Jaso leading off and Chone Figgins batting second and playing left field, while Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp have the day off.

Why? It appears manager Eric Wedge is playing the percentages, with Ackley 0-for-15 in his career against Rangers starter Matt Harrison and Carp 0-for-10.

Figgins is 4-for-14, while Alexi Liddi is 3-for-6. All of which is limited sample size and all that, but we’ll see what Wedge has to say when we talk with him before the game.

Ackley also sat out Friday’s game, so maybe something is up with him. We’ll see if Wedge sheds light. With Ackley out, this will be Jaso’s second time batting leadoff this year. He went 1-for-4 in his first shot with an RBI. The catcher hit leadoff for Tampa Bay in 51 games during his time there and has a career .262  batting average and .358 on-base percentage in that slot.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

John Jaso DH
Chone Figgins LF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jesus Montero C
Justin Smoak 1B
Kyle Seager 2B
Alex Liddi 3B
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Kevin Millwood RHP

Can Mariners heat up in steamy Texas?

Yeah, it’s gonna be a hot one tonight at the Ballpark in Arlington, where the temperature is expected to be in the mid-90s this afternoon and around 93 degrees still at first pitch, which is 7:05 p.m. here in Texas and 5:05 p.m. in Seattle.

This will be the 136th game in franchise history that began with a temperature of 90-plus degrees and their record is 51-84 in those games to date.

Not surprisingly, 51 of those hot-weather starts have been in Arlington and the Mariners are 18-33 in the previous 90-plus degree games in Texas.

If you’re wondering, the hottest weather Seattle has ever played in is 105 degrees, once in Arizona on June 27, 1998 and once in Arlington on Aug. 9, 2009, a day after playing in 104 degree heat in Texas as well.

Of course, the Mariners will have to deal with more than just the heat today. They’re carrying a four-game losing streak into Texas and now have the first-place Rangers to contend with as well. Kevin Millwood is on the mound for Seattle and he brings a 17-game scoreless inning streak that includes six innings of three-hit ball against the Rangers in the Mariners’ last victory, a 5-3 decision last Wednesday at Safeco.

Millwood will try to keep that going against his former Rangers teammates, so that should be interesting.

One other item of note: The Mariners are 21-11 on Memorial Day, the best winning percentage in baseball at .656 on the holiday. So there’s that, anyway!

Ackley sitting out on Ackley Bobblehead Night

Yep, it’s Dustin Ackley Bobblehead Night tonight at Safeco Field, but the young second baseman is not in the lineup posted by manager Eric Wedge.

I’m assuming Wedge isn’t too worried about matching lineups with promotions and is merely going about his plan of giving various players days off in the midst of this 20 games in 20 days stretch, but we’ll hear from the skipper himself later this afternoon.

For now, all we know is that Michael Saunders will make his first Major League start in the leadoff position. He hit there in the Minor Leagues, but never batted above sixth in a big-league game until recently when Wedge moved him up to No. 2.

Now he’s hitting first against Angels right-hander Ervin Santana, again whom he’s 3-for-15 with a home run and two walks in his career.

The move allows Alex Liddi to remain in the lineup for a fourth straight game as he’ll start at third base, with Kyle Seager sliding over to second in place of Ackley.

Ichiro, a .350 career hitter against Santana (28-for-80) remains in his now-customary No. 3 spot in the order, but Wedge dropped rookie catcher Jesus Montero down to seventh. He’s starting Montero behind the plate and John Jaso at DH, living up to yesterday’s notice that he intends to split time with those two and Miguel Olivo, now that Olivo is back and healthy.

Wedge doesn’t like to get specific on his playing-time intentions, but it seems apparent that Montero is going to catch more than he was before Olivo’s injury (when he started 19 of the team’s first 24 games behind the plate) and that Jaso has earned additional time as well.

Wedge also is giving shortstop Brendan Ryan the day off today, with Munenori Kawasaki getting the nod today.

Here’s the full lineup for the 7:10 p.m. game:

Michael Saunders CF
Alex Liddi  3B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Kyle Seager 2B
Justin Smoak 1B
John Jaso DH
Jesus Montero  C
Mike Carp LF
Munenori Kawasaki SS

Blake Beavan RHP

Olivo starting at catcher tonight; Liddi in LF again

Miguel Olivo is back with the Mariners today — and right back in the lineup — as Eric Wedge has the veteran penciled in as the starting catcher for tonight’s 7:10 p.m. series opener against the Angels at Safeco Field.

Yeah, I know Olivo has been a lightning rod for fan criticism this season, but this is a common-sense move given that Montero can’t catch every day and John Jaso has been sore for a couple days now after taking a foul ball off his right shoulder in the ninth inning of Monday’s game.

We’ll see what Wedge says later this afternoon when he chats with the media pregame, but it’s been clear for a week now that Olivo would return shortly and that Montero isn’t ready to catch every game. He started behind the plate Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, but will be at DH tonight.

Wedge is sticking with Alex Liddi in the No. 2 spot and playing left field for a second straight day, even against Angels right-hander Dan Haren. Clearly Wedge is serious about getting Liddi more time and it didn’t hurt when he doubled and then hit the crucial grand slam in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the Rangers.

But he did misplay a ball into a two-base error in his only fielding opportunity in left field in his second start there, so Wedge is showing some confidence in putting him right back out there tonight.

Mike Carp gets the start at first base as Justin Smoak gets the day off. We’ll see what Wedge says there, but it’s worth noting that Smoak is 1-for-13 with four strikeouts against Haren and hasn’t exactly been streaking this homestand (1-for-11) after heating up on the last road trip.

Jason Vargas is on the hill tonight for Seattle. He’s 3-3 with a 2.39 ERA against the Angels. Vargas generally fares well at Safeco, but hasn’t had much time there this year. He’s made seven of his 10 starts so far on the road. And while he’s been good away from home (5-3, 3.34), he’s been even better at Safeco (2-0, 1.27 ERA). So those are all good indicators for a Mariners team that has won five of its last six and now faces the Angels for the first time this season.

One other quick early note: Franklin Gutierrez is working out again pregame under the watchful eye of trainer Rick Griffin. Wedge has said he’ll remain with the team until flying to Arizona on Sunday to begin getting some time in extended Spring Training before hopefully starting a 20-day Minor League rehab stint.

Here’s the full lineup against Haren (1-5, 4.37):

Dustin Ackley 2B
Alex Liddi LF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Kyle Seager 3B
Jesus Montero DH
Mike Carp 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Jason Vargas LHP

It’s official: Olivo activated, Wells sent to Tacoma

As I speculated earlier today on the blog, veteran catcher Miguel Olivo has been activated off the 15-day disabled list this afternoon, with outfielder Casper Wells optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room in the 25-man roster.

Olivo had been on a rehabilitation assignment with Tacoma this week after recovering from a strained right groin muscle that he injured on March 30 at Tampa Bay.

Olivo hit .232 (3-for-13) during his three games with the Rainiers, including a 2-for-5 outing with a home run and two runs scored on Wednesday at Iowa.

With backup catcher John Jaso hampered the past two games by a sore shoulder, the Mariners were down to only rookie Jesus Montero at full health. Olivo was batting .210 with four home runs and seven RBIs at the time of his injury and had started 19 of the team’s first 24 games behind the plate.

Wells, 27, is hitting .213 (10-for-47) this season with one home run and six RBIs in 25 games. He’s started 12 games, all in left field, but the team now has Mike Carp back and healthy at that position and also has been using rookie Alex Liddi a little in left field as well.

Looks like Olivo rejoining Mariners today

No announcement yet from the Mariners, but Tacoma Rainiers announcer Mike Curto reports that Miguel Olivo wasn’t with the Triple-A team in Iowa for their game this morning. That comes as no big surprise, given Olivo was only expected to stay with Tacoma for a few games and Seattle backup John Jaso has been hampered the last two days by a sore shoulder.

Jaso got hit hard by a foul ball in the ninth inning of Monday’s game and was still iffy to play on Wednesday. Jesus Montero caught both Tuesday and Wednesday and could go again tonight in the series opener against the Angels, but no team wants to be in a situation with just one healthy catcher.

So I expect Olivo will be activated off the disabled list tonight by the Mariners. He went 2-for-5 with a home run on Wednesday for the Rainiers and his sprained groin muscle appears totally healthy.

The bigger intrigue now figures to come over how the Mariners open a 25-man roster spot back up for Olivo. Earlier in the season, Alex Liddi always looked like the borderline roster guy who could be optioned back to Tacoma when needed, but the big Italian clearly is playing himself into a bigger role.

Liddi’s grand slam in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over the Rangers certainly didn’t hurt his standing and manager Eric Wedge has begun moving him around to create more options — and roster value — as he played his second game in left field on Wednesday and also can play first and third.

If Liddi is safe, that means outfielder Casper Wells or utility man Chone Figgins are the logical candidates to be moved. Figgins carries complications, of course, because he’s still under contract for $17 million for this year and next and that remains a big hurdle.

Wells still has options, so he could be sent to Tacoma and given increased playing time in order to keep him fresh if needed. I still see Wells as a logical replacement for Ichiro in right field when that time comes, but that time certainly isn’t here yet.

With Liddi getting time in left field as a right-handed hitting option, Wells’ biggest value right now is as a defensive replacement in an outfield where Mike Carp and now Liddi certainly could use some late-inning relief in close ball games. Figgins can also play outfield and be used as a pinch runner.

So we’ll see where the Mariners go. Maybe there’s some surprise option, but I see those as the two most-likely moves. And my gut tells me it’ll be Wells getting sent down for now, since he can always be recalled at a moment’s notice as needed and it wouldn’t hurt him to get more at-bats if he’s not going to get regular playing time with the Mariners right now.

Clutch hitting continues to be Mariners’ albatross

It’s not hard to figure out why the Mariners are struggling through this tough road trip right now, with a 1-6 record as they head now to Denver to open Interleague play against the Rockies.

Yesterday’s bullpen meltdown aside, the main problem for Seattle is coming up with timely hits. The team is batting ..230, which ranks 13th out of the AL’s 14 teams. But the real issue is an abysmal .083 average (8-for-96) with runners in scoring position over their past 13 road games.

Not surprisingly, they’ve gone 1-12 in those games.

It’s a team-wide problem, with youth partially to blame. But even Ichiro Suzuki, a career .329 hitter with runners in scoring position, is hitting just .189 in that situation this season and has just 14 RBIs in 39 games while batting in the No. 3 position.

“He has to do a better job with runners in scoring position,” manager Eric Wedge said after Thursday’s loss when Ichiro went 0-for-6 and stranded five runners. “He’s hitting in the middle of the order because he’s a hitter. He’s the one true veteran we have in there and he has to do a better job with runners in scoring position.”

But Wedge knows this isn’t just an Ichiro problem and only mentioned him when asked specificially. In regard to the overall problem, this was his initial response:

“We’ve got to do better in the middle of our lineup. Saunders had a big hit for us and we’ve got four or five guys heading in the right direction, but we need to get four or five more headed that direction. You’ve got to learn how to hit first, before you can hit with runners in scoring position.

“Ultimately you want it to go hand-in-hand, but with the youth of this team, they’re going to have to understand the first thing you need to do is put up quality at-bats, then you need to control your heartbeat with runners in scoring positon. You have to understand situations, not try to do too much, but be aggressive. It’s a fine line and these guys are going to have to contnue to learn how to walk that line.”

They’ll take another shot at it tonight in Coors Fied.

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