May 2012

Saunders hitting No. 2 for first time, with Liddi in as well Wednesday

Eric Wedge has another new look for Wednesday’s lineup at Cleveland, with Michael Saunders batting second for the first time in his career. And the skipper also lived up to Tuesday’s promise and has rookie Alex Liddi in the lineup at third base, even against right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez.

Wedge has been searching for solutions for that No. 2 role and would ideally like a right-handed hitter there to break up the lefty combo of Dustin Ackley and Ichiro Suzuki in the 1 and 3 spots. But with Brendan Ryan struggling, that option has been shelved for now and he’s gone with a trio of lefties atop the order several times now against right-handed pitchers.

That will be the case again in tonight’s 4:05 p.m. PT game at Progressive Field, though Saunders is definitely a new idea there. The young center fielder has never started a game hitting higher than fifth in the lineup. In fact, he’s batted either 7th, 8th or 9th in the order in 187 of his 200 career starts, with the other 13 coming in the 5 and 6 holes.

Saunders got off to a strong start this season, but has dropped off a bit recently and is hitting .226 for the season. Wedge, however, has been praising his approach at the plate the last few days and will give him a boost in the lineup today to see how that works against Jimenez (3-3, 5.18 ERA).

The Mariners counter with Felix Hernandez, which is always a good thing. The Mariners could sorely use a win here, given they’ve lost 10 of their last 11 road games and are sitting at 16-22 halfway through this 10-game road trip.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

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

Felix Hernandez RHP

The Indians have four ex-Mariners in their lineup today, with Shin-Soo Choo in right field, Asdrubral Cabrera at shortstop, Casey Kotchman at first base and the recently-recalled Jose Lopez at third base.

A few clouds on the horizon … and we’re not to Cleveland yet

It’s overcast with some semi-threatening clouds overhead at Fenway Park as of four hours before tonight’s game, so hoping we don’t run into weather trouble in this quick two-game swing into Boston.

This is the Mariners only visit to Beantown this year, so will be trouble if there is any rainouts. But the forecasts are calling only for showers, so we’ll keep the fingers crossed. Tonight’s game is at 7:05 p.m. here in Boston, or 4:05 p.m. PT.

Then it’s right back on Tuesday for a 4:05 p.m. ET getaway game (1:05 p.m. PT), before heading to Cleveland for another two-game series. And, of course, weather is NEVER an issue for the Mariners in Cleveland. Ha!

As for tonight, Eric Wedge is sticking with nearly the same batting order that beat Andy Pettitte yesterday in New York, which isn’t surprising since they’re facing another lefty today in Jon Lester.

The only change is Dustin Ackley at designated hitter, which gets Kyle Seager back in the lineup at second base. And yesterday’s DH, Mike Carp, is sitting.

Here’s the starting nine vs. Lester, the pride of Tacoma’s Bellarmine Prep:

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

Jason Vargas LHP

Wedge hints that Ichiro’s No. 3 role could change

Mariners manager Eric Wedge noted Sunday that the veteran position players he’d been counting on have not been producing this season and the weight is shifting even more to young players to carry the offensive load. He also spoke for the first time about possibly moving Ichiro out of the No. 3 spot in the order.

With Chone Figgins and Brendan Ryan both struggling and Franklin Gutierrez and Miguel Olivo on the disabled list, Wedge is left with little choice but to build on a young core of players.

The one veteran in the middle of the lineup is Ichiro, but Wedge notes “he’s not a prototypical three-hole hitter” and hinted for the first time Sunday that Ichiro’s role could change when and if some of the younger players show they’re ready to handle that challenge.

“We don’t have any veteran guys doing anything right now,” Wedge said. “It’s as simple as that. So I can’t say it any plainer. We’ve got 6-7 guys we’re starting today that are 25 or younger. The young guys are going to have to do it, because the veteran guys aren’t getting it done. There’s just no way of getting around it. 

“You look at all the other Major League teams and they’ve got at least one guy, if not two or three, that they can count on as veteran guys who are experienced big-league hitters. So our young guys are going to have to step up and do it. I have no problem saying that. And I believe they can. But it’s just harder without having that guy, or a couple guys ideally at this level.”

As for Ichiro? The 38-year-old is hitting .288 and ranks third on the team with 13 RBIs. His .388 slugging percentage is up from last year’s .335, but not anywhere near what is expected from a No. 3 batter in a typical lineup.

“He’s not a guy that’s going to be doing a lot of damage,” Wedge said. “He’s going to get his hits and hopefully he gets his hits at the right time. Where he ultimately ends up, we’ll see. But right now, that’s where he is and we have to work to get these young hitters going who profile better for different areas of our lineup. But they’ve got to get themselves going and be more consistent.”

Wedge left the door open to move both leadoff hitter Dustin Ackley and Ichiro at some point this season. 

“I don’t know where either one of them will end up,” he said. “It depends on what the supporting cast does because I feel like all of them have a lot more upside. They’re just so young. Whether Ackley ends up 1-2-3, whether Ichiro ends up 1-2-3 or somewhere else, we’ll see. It just depends on what we see production wise.

“Ichiro is by no means your prototypical three-hole hitter, but that’s where we need him right now. And when it comes to the point in time where we feel we need him somewhere else, that’s when we’ll do that.”

Brendan Ryan back in business in Yankees finale

Brendan Ryan is back in the lineup on this Mother’s Day morning in New York. Not surprising, really, given that Munenori Kawasaki really isn’t a better offensive option and Ryan is an outstanding defender. Not to mention, the Yankees have lefty Andy Pettitte on the mound today, which means Eric Wedge is lining up his right-handed hitters.

That’s why Casper Wells is playing left field today and Alex Liddi is at third base, with Kyle Seager getting the day off.

This should be an interesting day with Pettitte’s return for the Yankees. Between he and Mariners starter Kevin Millwood, that’s 403 career wins on the mound today (240 for Pettitte, 163 for Millwood). Of course, none of Millwood’s victories have come with the Mariners, something he’d love to change today.

Keep an eye on the working relationship between Millwood and rookie catcher Jesus Montero today. They were definitely not on the same page during Millwood’s last start, with the veteran pitcher looking irritated at times as Montero had to kept coming out to the mound to double check on what Millwood was wanting to do with pitch selection.

Millwood took the blame afterward for not communicating well enough pregame on a change of his normal plan, but it’s pretty clear with a youngster like Montero has a lot to learn still. I don’t overread that situation however, as Millwood has worked with Montero numerous times without issue this season, starting back in Cactus League games, and the two actually played together last year in the Minor Leagues for a time as well.

The Mariners really could use a win today as they’re working on an eight-game road losing streak, which isn’t a good thing with eight road games still upcoming on this trip.

Here’s today’s lineup against Pettitte:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Casper Wells LF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jose Montero C
Justin Smoak 1B
Alex Liddi 3B
Mike Carp DH
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Kevin Millwood RHP

 

Kawasaki starting at shortstop Saturday vs. Yankees

Right back at it in New York, where it’s a beautiful blue-sky morning in preparation for today’s 1:05 p.m. PT game for the Mariners and Yankees.

Manager Eric Wedge is going with Munenori Kawasaki at shortstop today in place of the struggling Brendan Ryan, while John Jaso is at catcher and Jesus Montero playing DH.

Not surprising he’s keeping both Jaso and Montero in the lineup, though does raise that interesting situation of what happens if Jaso gets hurt since the Mariners then lose their DH. Kawasaki has done a little bullpen work as the “emergency catcher” should it ever get to that until Miguel Olivo comes off the DL, which likely is still a couple weeks away.

Wedge really loaded the lineup with lefties today against right-hander Phil Hughes (2-4, 6.67 ERA), with Montero the only right-hander.

Hector Noesi gets the start for Seattle, which should be interesting as he faces his former teammates for the first time.

I asked Noesi yesterday how he’d feel taking the mound at Yankee Stadium and he just smiled and said, ‘I’ll find out tomorrow.” Tomorrow is now here and I’m sure he’ll be pumped up. Whether he can follow up on last week’s strong start against the Twins remains to be seen, but the Mariners certainly would love to see that guy back on the mound.

Here’s the Mariners lineup today.

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

Hector Noesi RHP

 

 

Lineup back to normal as Mariners take on Yankees

Perfect afternoon in New York today and the Mariners took some early batting practice at Yankee Stadium and then pitchers and a few position players are undertaking their frequent pregame routine of playing catch with a football just to get loose and get some running in.

Mariners skipper Eric Wedge is going back to his new normal lineup for today’s 4:05 p.m. PT game, which means Dustin Ackley back at the leadoff spot. John Jaso, who hit there Wednesday when Ackley was off, is playing DH today and hitting sixth.

Here’s the full Mariners lineup that will face right-hander Hiroki Kuroda (2-4, 3.75).

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

Felix Hernandez P

As I noted in my previous blog post earlier this morning, Felix has quite a track record in New York, particularly the new Yankee Stadium. And Montero is making his return to the Bronx, so should be an interesting day in the Zoo today.

Felix and the kid kick off a hot-topic road trip

Jesus Montero returns to the Bronx tonight and figures to be the center of attention as Yankees fans ponder the offseason trade that landed them Michael Pineda. (Greg Johns photo)

It’s always an interesting trip when the Mariners head back east to face the Yankees and Red Sox and the upcoming five days appear to have as many storylines and dramas as ever.

Tonight’s series opener in Yankee Stadium presents “The return of Jesus Montero” to New York, where there is much handwringing and backlash over the offseason trade of Montero for Michael Pineda, who is lost for the season following labrum surgery.

Additionally, well-regarded Minor League prospect Jose Campos — the other young pitcher sent to the Yankees in that deal — is now on the disabled list with a sore elbow after getting off to a torrid start in Class A.

So Montero, who Yankees fans had been awaiting for several years as the brightest bat in their Minor League system, will return to the Bronx to much intrigue. And indeed, he is already hitting in the middle of Seattle’s order while taking on an increasing role as the starting catcher in Miguel Olivo’s absence.

Not to be overlooked, Felix Hernandez starts tonight and that is always significant in this series. Many have been obsessed with The King somehow eventually winding up in New York, but he remains Seattle’s shining star. And that star seems often brightest when he’s facing the Yankees.

In 11 starts against the Bombers, Hernandez is 6-4 with a 3.29 ERA. In New York, he’s 4-1 with a 1.96 ERA in five starts. And in the new Yankee Stadium, he’s 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA in three starts. So, yeah, there’s that.

So Felix figures to be center stage tonight. And if Montero hits well in this three-game series, the New York media figures to have a field day with that. Then add in that Hector Noesi, the other player sent to Seattle in that deal, pitches on Saturday afternoon with a chance to make another impression — good or bad — in what has been a roller coaster beginning to his own Mariners tenure. Noesi has been outstanding in two starts — against the A’s and Twins — and it would be comforting to see a strong follow-up against one of the league’s better-hitting clubs.

Then comes Sunday, when all eyes will be on Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, making his Major League return after an aborted retirement. Pettite, 39, brings 240 career wins onto the Yankee Stadium stage. And with Blake Beavan doubtful to be ready after taking a line drive off his elbow in his last start, Seattle likely will move Kevin Millwood up a day (he’d still be on four day’s rest thanks to Thursday’s off day).

Millwood, 37, has 163 career wins of his own — though he’s still looking for his first as a Mariner. That would mean a combined 403 victories on the mound in one New York afternoon, which is pretty good company.

The Mariners then head to Boston, where the weather looks threatening on Monday and Tuesday. But the real storm centers around the Red Sox, who have struggled out of the gates with a 12-19 record that has them last in the AL East. And all the angst now is pointed toward Josh Beckett, who missed a start last week because of a sore ab muscle, then was seen golfing the next day.

When Beckett got shelled Thursday night in his next start and then defiantly told reporters what he did on his off day was his own business, the fingers really began pointing, especially in context of last season’s beer-and-chicken clubhouse stories.

So, of course, Beckett’s next start? That would be Tuesday against the Mariners in Fenway.

 

 

A little inspiration before I head off to the Big Apple

I’m off today, a welcome break before flying to New York on Thursday for the start of a road trip that will take the Mariners from Yankee Stadium to Fenway to Cleveland and finally Coors Field in a 10-day span. My MLB.com associate reporter Josh Liebeskind is covering tonight’s series finale against the Tigers, so all the normal news and notes on Mariners.com.

But while I’m off packing the suitcase and taking care of some things, just wanted to post this video. It’s not baseball related, so feel free to ignore. But if you’ve got three minutes and a warm heart, check out this music video put together by the staff on the hemoncology floor at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. I guarantee, it’ll make you smile and cry at the same time, and maybe appreciate what we all have just a little more.

Talk to you all from New York in a day or two …

No glove for Span from Brendan Ryan

Brendan Ryan made a great bare-handed stop on a high-hop ground ball in the hole at shortstop on the Twins’ Denard Span on Sunday, choosing not to use his glove on a ball that normally calls for the leather.

Ryan explained the play afterward, noting the speedy leadoff hitter has burned him before and he wasn’t going to let it happen again.

“I’ve played against him at every single level and I know how well he can run.,” Ryan said. “I remember last year he ripped a one-hopper that I made a diving play on. And I got rid of the ball as quick as I could and he beat it by a step. So my first thought was get rid of it and if I catch it cleanly, we’ve got a chance.”

Turns out, this play wasn’t that close as you can see in the video above.

“I don’t know if it made me look very good, him being out by a couple steps. Probably makes it look a little unnecessary. But that’s about par for the course,” Ryan said.

Third baseman Kyle Seager followed suit two innings later in the seventh with an impressive — and totally necessary — one-handed play on a slow roller Alexi Casilla.

“I watched Brendan and that’s how I knew what to do on that one,” Seager said with a smile. “it worked well for him, so I figured I’d give it a shot. That’s a play we talk about when you get that slow roller, especially when you see a guy that can run like he can. It’s just a do-or-die play.”

Seager was joking about copying Ryan’s style, but he said he does learn from playing next to the outgoing shortstop.

“It’s not dull, that’s for sure,” said Seager. “But he unbelievable defensively. You watch his actions and the way he just makes the game look easier than it is is pretty special.”

Wedge says roles will change if players don’t produce

After watching his Mariners strike out 14 times on Wednesday while losing their fifth straight game despite a two-home run night from Kyle Seager, Eric Wedge sounded like a skipper whose patience was wearing thin.

Wedge has put a lot of faith in some veterans who aren’t producing offensively, with Chone Figgins and Brendan Ryan topping that list. Don’t be surprised if both start losing playing time if they don’t start turning things around quickly.

Figgins’ batting average is down to .198 after going 11-for-74 (.148) over the last 20 games. He’s struck out a team-high 27 times in 91 at-bats, not what you’re looking for in a leadoff hitter.

Ryan is in his own funk, falling to .125 while extending his hitless streak to 26 at-bats on Wednesday.

Mike Carp is ready to return and will get his first start back in Thursday’s season finale, presumably at DH or first base. Munenori Kawasaki hasn’t hit much in the regular season either, but he figures to be the primary option at shortstop unless Wedge decides to give Seager a shot there. But Seager didn’t look that comfortable at shortstop when filling in there at the end of last year, so that might be a last resort.

Wedge said Figgins would start Thursday because of past success against Rays right-hander Jeff Niemann (7-for-14), but that rope is running short.

“It’s not carte blanche here,” Wedge said. “Figgins has numbers off this guy tomorrow so we’ll give him another chance to see if he can get himself going, but it doesn’t last forever. I am patient. It’s a long season and we’re 25 games in and have 130-some odd to play. But ultimately it’s about producing.

“If they’re not getting it done, then we’ll have to change their roles. But the strikeouts are just ridiculous to me right now. These guys are better than that. Whether it be zoning up early or throughout the course of the count or sticking your nose in their with two strikes, this is not going to continue to happen, because we’re not going to let it happen.

“If we have to change the personnel, then so be it. If we have to change the roles, then so be it. But ultimately they’ve got to show me a reason to keep on playing.”

Wedge dropped the slumping Smoak to seventh in the batting order Wednesday. He hit the ball hard twice, but wound up with another frustrating 0-for-3. Smoak at least seems to be making hard contact and just having some tough luck at times, though obviously his .184 is of large concern as well.

But Figgins has failed to back up the early promise shown in his return to the leadoff role, which could soon become Dustin Ackley’s on a regular basis. And Ryan appears lost at the plate, having not gotten a hit since the perfect game by Philip Humber.

“His BP was much better today and I feel like he’s handling himself better from a maturity standpoint,” said Wedge. “But he’s not giving himself much of a chance up there right now with his approach.”

So, yeah, this is a Mariners club looking for answers again in a lot of places offensively. Carp’s return could help, if he can get back to what he was doing last year. Ackley is a better hitter than he’s shown.

Seager is having a breakout season, Jesus Montero looks like a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat, Alex Liddi is making the most of his opportunities, Michael Saunders has shown increased power and an improved approach and Ichiro is up to .312.

So there are positives to be found. But Wedge knows this lineup isn’t good enough to give away at-bats all the time. No lineup can withstand three sub-.200 hitters over any length of time or double-digit strikes on a regular basis. So if that doesn’t change, there will be changes.

And it sounds like the clock is ticking.

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