May 2013

Morse rejoins club, says he’s a day or two away

After staying behind in Seattle to treat a strained right quadriceps muscle while the Mariners played a pair of games in San Diego, right fielder Michael Morse rejoined the club on Friday at Target Field in time for a three-game set with the Twins.

Morse isn’t ready to play just yet, however, and was not in the lineup for Friday’s series opener.

“It’s better,” he said. “I can hit. I can do everything. The one thing I feel is running. It’s just sore, a little tight. It’s not a pulled feeling anymore. If it was up to me, I’d give it one or two more days and I’ll be fine.”

Morse, who leads the team with 11 home runs, injured the leg while trying to score from first on a double by Michael Saunders in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s 6-1 loss to the Padres at Safeco Field.

“To me it’s such a fluke thing,” said the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder. “I felt so good. I’ve taken really good care of my legs and I felt great in the outfield. I felt really good running, especially right there I felt great. I just tried to push it a little too much. I compare it to like driving a car and red-lining a car. You just don’t do that. I tried to run a little faster and I’m not fast, so I don’t know what I was doing.”

Morse, 31, spent Wednesday and Thursday getting treatment at Safeco Field and watching his teammates split a pair in San Diego.

“I was actually in the clubhouse and it was weird because no one else was in there and I was just doing rehab stuff,” he said. “Every time we started getting on a roll, I didn’t move. That first game was frustrating, but [Thursday] was a nice game to watch.”

Morse hit off a tee while in Seattle and said everything felt fine swinging the bat. Now he just needs to be able to run full speed to return to the lineup. He’s hitting .254 with 21 RBIs in 45 games.

First baseman Justin Smoak also remained sidelined Friday with a sore oblique muscle. Smoak said he’s still not able to swing full-out left-handed, thus is not in the lineup against right-hander Mike Pelfry.

Wedge talks about his sabermetric comment

After the Mariners sent Dustin Ackley down to Triple-A Tacoma on Monday, manager Eric Wedge drew considerable heat for a comment about the struggling second baseman’s mindset at the plate being affected by the growing focus on sabermetrics.

“It’s the new generation,” Wedge said that day as part of several lengthy answers to questions on Ackley’s struggles. “It’s all this sabermetrics stuff, for lack of a better term, you know what I mean? People who haven’t played since they were 9 years old think they have it figured out. It gets in these kids’ heads.”

Wedge was asked about the comment Wednesday and said he uses sabermetics and statistical analysis all the time, but feels hitters need to maintain an aggressive mindset at the plate and not get overly caught up in working deep into counts in an attempt to bolster their on-base percentages.

“Hey, I use the numbers as much as anybody,” Wedge said. “I used the numbers in Cleveland. And Cleveland was one of the first teams to really dive into it with Mark Shapiro leading the way. So I’ve always been a big fan of using the numbers.

“But you are talking about one comment and they weren’t there for the entire conversation. We were talking about the mental side of it. We were talking about Ackley. That’s not the reason Ackley was having issues at home plate. What I’m talking about is this recent generation of players that has come up in the sabermetrics world. It’s something that’s out there and people know how important it is.

“What you can’t do is play this game with fear. You have to go out there and play and when you get your first good pitch to take a whack at, you have to take a whack at it. People stress so much getting deeper in counts and drawing walks, it’s almost a backward way of looking at it.”

Wedge feels the issue took on a life of its own because he poked the sabermetric bear.

“When I bust somebody’s chops or make a joke at it, you can take it in a light-hearted way or you can take it personally,” he said. “Quite frankly, I don’t care either way. But the fact of the matter is, sabermetrics is a part of the game of baseball. It has been for a while. It’s my job to see it from all ways.

“What people have to see is these are human beings. They are not widgets. It’s not XYZ corporation – something out of a book. These are human beings. And that’s the thing you have to factor in the most. They have emotions. They have families. You have ups and downs and everything that goes a long with it. Things you can’t read on a piece of paper.

“But it’s most definitely part of it. I use it each and every day. It’s not the end all. It’s not just black and white. It’s got to be a nice blend between the human factor and the numbers. You have to be able to go out there and motivate these guys and treat them as human beings as well. So for those who I offended, I’m sorry about that. One thing you have to have in this game is broad shoulders and a thick skin. That’s something that is part of it, too.”

Wedge said he’d never heard Ackley talk about sabermetrics or that approach, but believes most players are exposed to the thought that it’s critical to work counts and draw walks as opposed to going up ready to hit first and that makes some players too passive.

“The internet and everything else, the information that’s out there, they’re human beings, too,” he said. “If you’re on it, they’re on it, too, I’m sure. You hear all the baseball experts say you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. Again, there’s a way to go about doing it where you can have the best of both worlds. You’ve got to be ready to hit. You can be both ready to hit be disciplined at the same time. That’s the mental approach.

“I’m all about getting on base, but I’m about hitting, too. People have to understand: You can’t go up there looking for a walk and expect to be a big-leaguer very long. Nobody’s stayed up here by just walking. You’ve got to hit, too. You can get deep in the count all you want, but eventually you have to hit. It’s just not a black and white thing like some people think. I can’t explain it any better than that.”

Liddi recalled from Tacoma; Maurer sent down

Liddi

Infielder Alex Liddi has been recalled from Triple-A Tacoma and is with the Mariners in San Diego on Wednesday, though his arrival has not yet been officially announced by the team.

To make room on the 25-man roster, rookie pitcher Brandon Maurer will be optioned to Tacoma. Maurer, 22, has been in the rotation all season, but went 2-7 with a 6.93 ERA in 10 starts.

The Mariners will need another starter to take his place by Sunday in Minnesota. They could use reliever Hector Noesi to fill that role as he’s already on the roster, or right-hander Jeremy Bonderman could be promoted from Tacoma.

Bonderman was pulled from his Tuesday start for the Rainiers after allowing one run on five hits in four innings. The 30-year-old veteran is 2-4 with a 4.52 ERA in 11 starts with Tacoma and has an opt-out date on his Minor League contract approaching at the end of the month.

Liddi, 24, was batting .267 with nine home runs and 37 RBIs in 50 games for Tacoma. He provides some roster relief at first base, third base or in the outfield for a Mariners club that is temporarily without first baseman Justin Smoak and outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse due to minor injuries.

Neither Smoak nor Morse is on the disabled list, but Morse remained behind in Seattle due to a strained quadriceps, while Smoak is scheduled to take batting practice Wednesday for the first time since feeling tightness in his right oblique muscle last Saturday.

Liddi played 53 games for Seattle in 2011-12, batting .224 with six home runs and 16 RBIs in 53 games. The native of Sanremo, Italy, is the first Italian born and raised player to play in the Majors.

Franklin up, Ackley down as roster churn continues

AckleySalute1

Things continue to get interesting on the Mariners roster world as young infielder Nick Franklin was selected from Triple-A today and second baseman Dustin Ackley was optioned to Tacoma.

The Mariners also recalled right-hander Hector Noesi and optioned lefty reliever Lucas Luetge back to Tacoma.

Noesi’s move provides some long relief as well as a starting option in case Aaron Harang falters again in today’s 1:05 p.m. game with the Padres at Safeco Field, or if Brandon Maurer struggles again Tuesday against the Padres.

The Franklin move is bigger, however, as it signifies a change in approach with Ackley. As the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, Ackley is a youngster considered at the heart of the rebuilding process.

But he had a rough year last season when he hit just .226 with 12 homers and 50 RBIs and he’s looked even more lost this year as he’s batted .205 with one homer and eight RBIs in 45 games.

Ackley is a far better player than that, so something is clearly wrong. Whether it’s physical or mental remains to be seen, but some time in Tacoma can’t hurt at this point. In my mind, this is a guy who should hit .280 with speed and some pop, but he’s shown none of that this year.

As for Franklin, we’ll see. He’s a 22-year-old with a lot of confidence and is himself a late first-round pick in ’09 out of high school in Florida. He’s had some bumps along the way, but has progressed up the Minor League ladder the last few years and was hitting .324 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 39 games in Triple-A this year.

The Mariners now have both Franklin and Carlos Triunfel on the Major League roster, along with veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan. How Eric Wedge divvies up the playing time with that trio in the middle infield remains to be seen, but Ryan has been hitting pretty well lately and obviously is the superior shortstop.

I’d guess Franklin will get a lot of time at second base, with Triunfel backing him up and also splitting time at shortstop.

At 21-29, the Mariners are making changes two months into the season. I wouldn’t call it a youth movement, since Jesus Montero and Ackley — two of their top young players — have been sent down. But they’re clearly not going to sit pat and they’re willing to give Franklin and Triunfel a look now, as well as Jesus Sucre at catcher.

It seems only a matter of time before Mike Zunino gets a shot there. Sucre has handled himself well in his two starts so far, but Zunino is much more of an offensive threat in the long term and obviously the club is moving forward on many fronts. So we’ll wait and see on that one as well.

Wedge shakes up lineup in face of five-game skid

BayBatManager Eric Wedge moved some pieces around in his lineup Wednesday in an effort to get a new look against Angels southpaw C.J. Wilson and change things up in the face of a five-game losing streak that hit bottom with Tuesday’s 12-0 loss to the Halos.

Left fielder Jason Bay moved into the leadoff spot for just the second time in his career, the first coming April 26 against the Angels when he went 1-for-4 in a 6-3 loss at Safeco Field.

Michael Saunders, who has hit just .125 (4-for-32) while leading off on the road trip, dropped into the No. 2 spot. And with Kyle Seager getting his first day off after starting 29 games in a row, Michael Morse was hitting third for the first time this year after spending 31 games batting cleanup and then the past eight games hitting fifth.

“Just shaking it up against the left-hander and giving the guys a different look,” Wedge said. “Every now and again I think you need to do that. And we’re giving Kyle a much-needed day off. I’m trying to domino that with an off day tomorrow, too.”

Wedge said Saunders has been trying to do too much at the plate recently and needs to get back to the approach that had him hitting .286 coming into this road trip. That number has fallen to .235.

“I don’t think it’s fatigue,” Wedge said. “I think he’s expanded the zone a little from time to time. When he stays within his zone, he does damage. I think he’s just expanded his zone, trying to do a little too much. We’re at our best when these guys are willing and able to set the bat down and take a walk and let the next guy get a shot at it. When they try to do too much or get a little greedy up there, that’s when you get in trouble.”

As for Morse in the three-hole?

“He’s had some success against Wilson and I wanted to give our guys a different look and give them a different look, too,” Wedge said. “Rework the dynamics with him and [Morales] and see how it plays out. We’ll get him up there in the first inning and see what happens.”

Here’s the full lineups for today’s 4:05 p.m. series finale:

LineupsMay22

Smoak sending up positive signals at plate

SmoakJustinSwingWhile he didn’t hit his second home run of the season until the ninth inning of Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Indians, Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak has quietly been putting together a strong three-week stretch that has lifted his batting average to .254.

Going into Sunday’s game, Smoak had reached base safely in 12 straight starts and is hitting .328 (20-for-61) over the past 19 games with a .992 OPS.

The 26-year-old from South Carolina has been seeing the ball better this season, waiting for his pitches, and is tied for seventh in the American League with 24 walks. The only thing missing for Smoak has been power and he figures that will follow if he continues swinging well and being selective.

“I’ve been squaring balls up,” Smoak said. “I’ve hit a couple doubles. The homers will come. In the past I’ve got too pull happy trying to be a homer guy. It’s not good for me, as we’ve seen in the past. I’m just trying to get good at-bats, hit the ball where it’s pitched. It’s a long season. Good things will happen.”

Manager Eric Wedge said Smoak is following a natural progression that will pay off for him in the long run this year.

“I feel like Smoak and [Dustin] Ackley have been getting their hits, but now with Justin he’s starting to create a little more damage. He had the double the other way and the home run. That’s what he’s capable of doing. But he’s been getting on base, he’s had long at-bats. Those have all been good things to see.

“You have to hit first and then if there is power in there, it’ll come in time. But you can’t shortcut the process and try to get there without having the other because you’ll come up empty. He’s done a good job with that.”

Smoak and the Mariners are facing tough Indians right-hander Justin Masterson today. Masterson is 6-2 with a 3.14 ERA, but Smoak has had success against him in the past (4-for-7 with a double and two walks).

Here’s today’s lineups for the 10:05 a.m. PT game in Cleveland:

LineupsMay19

Gutierrez will get time in right field in Tacoma

GutiCageFranklin Gutierrez played designated hitter on Friday for the second straight time in his injury rehab stint for Tacoma, but the Mariners want him to get work in right field during his time in Triple-A in order to provide more options for when he returns from a strained hamstring.

Gutierrez is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list as soon as he’s ready now, but manager Eric Wedge said he’s not going to just keep doing the same thing with the injury-plagued outfielder and one of the changes will be getting him ready for more than just his normal center-field duties.

“We want him to play some right field as well as center, for a couple reasons,” Wedge said. “One, I think it’s easier to stay healthy if you’re playing left or right field versus center field. Two, Michael Saunders has been great in center field. And three, if he’s not 100 percent, then we’re better off with him in right field.

“Now if he’s the Guti of old, 100 percent, then of course you want him in center field. But he just hasn’t proven he can do that. So we’re going to give him some time down there to work things out. We DH’d him last night just because of the weather conditions, but we want him to play both.”

Saunders has played very well in center and Wedge is very comfortable keeping him there. But he’d be glad to have a fully healthy Gutierrez there if that is possible.

Wedge said Saunders is the better center fielder right now “if Guti’s not 100 percent. But if Guti’s 100 percent, I don’t think there’s anybody better.”

Getting Gutierrez healthy has long been the issue, however. He’s now on his fifth disabled list stint in the past three seasons. He’s played just 148 games in those three seasons while missing 218. So Wedge wants to see something different during this rehab stint before he returns.

The Mariners have 20 days to make that decision.

“I’m going to work off him,” Wedge said of a possible return date. “But like I told him, I need him not to just be able to play up here, but be able to play every day, steal a base and do some things. Otherwise we’re just going to end up back where we are right now. I want to give it some time.”

The tough part for the Mariners is when they bring Gutierrez back, they’ll need to make a roster decision. They can’t carry six outfielders, so someone will have to go at that time and Endy Chavez seems the likely man out unless there’s an injury in the meantime.

But sending Chavez down would mean exposing him to waivers and someone could claim him, given he’s played pretty well. But the Mariners will face that decision when it comes. For now, they just push ahead with Saunders in center and Gutierrez in Tacoma.

Saunders has started 15 straight games since returning from a sprained shoulder and has struggled on the current road trip, going 2-for-19 in the first four games. So Wedge gave him Saturday off and had Chavez in center, with Saunders expected back Sunday.

Michael Morse was also back on Saturday, recovered from an eye irritation caused by a contact lens problem before Friday’s game.

Here’s the full lineups:

LIneupMay18

Morse sidelined by eye irritation

CLEVELAND – Outfielder Michael Morse, who has been carrying a hot bat the last week, was scratched from the Mariners lineup about an hour before Friday’s series opener with the Indians due to irritation in his eye.

Morse will be available off the bench for the 4:05 p.m. PT contest, but Endy Chavez took his place in right field to start the game.

Morse hit his 10th home run of the season in Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Yankees. Since moving to the fifth spot in the lineup on May 12, he’s hit .600 (9-for-15) with four straight multi-hit games.

The big outfielder was tied for fifth in the American League with his 10 home runs going into Friday’s games and was hitting .261 with 17 RBIs in 35 games.

Here’s the updated lineup:

LineupMay16

Noesi gets start tonight in place of Harang

Aaron Harang had one team he’d yet to pitch against in his Major League career — the New York Yankees — and that will remain true tonight as the 12-year veteran has been scratched from Thursday’s start with lower back stiffness.

Hector Noesi, the former Yankee, will get the start in his place in the 4:05 p.m. PT game.

Noesi has pitched pretty well in relief for the Mariners, but has a history of trouble as a starter since being acquired in the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade in 2012.

Noesi was 2-12 with a 6.24 ER in 18 starts last season. He’s put up a 3.86 ERA in three reiever appearances this year since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on April 18.

The Harang news comes at a tough time since he’d just started to get into a groove after being acquired by trade on April 12. Harang is 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA, but had put up back-to-back quality starts against the Orioles and Pirates and felt he had straightened out some mechanical issues that were plaguing him earlier.

Noesi hasn’t pitched in 11 days, so it’ll be interesting to see how long he can go.

The Mariners scored 12 runs against the Yankees on Wednesday, so a little more of that might help. But Andy Pettitte’s on the hill tonight, so that’ll be no easy task.

Noesi does have some success at Yankee Stadium, where he’s 1-2 with a 3.29 ERA in  15 games, including two starts.

Here’s tonight’s lineups:

May16lineup

Harang to face Yankees for first time tonight

Aaron Harang has pitched in 304 games in his 12-year Major League career, but the one team he’s yet to face is the Yankees. Until now.

 Harang gets the ball Thursday night for the final game of the Mariners three-game series in New York as he makes his sixth start since being acquired by trade from the Rockies on April 11.

 “I didn’t really even think about it until yesterday,” Harang said. “I knew I hadn’t pitched here in Yankee Stadium. I’ve faced them in Spring Training before, but that’s always a little different. I’ve watched most of these guys before or maybe faced them on different teams over in the National League and stuff. I’m not going to change anything. I’ll go out and try to give us a chance to win.”

Harang is 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA, but has pitched better his last two outings with back-to-back quality starts against the Orioles and Pirates. He’s had four extra days since his last outing on May 7, however, thanks to a quirky schedule that saw three off days in the span of eight days. The Mariners kept top starters Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in order and pushed back the rest of their rotation.

 “That’s one of the minor adjustments you have to make,” Harang said. “Especially when you’ve got your one and two guys, you don’t want to give them a ton of extra days off. The 4-5 off day we had in a two week period was something weird, but you’ve got to keep your guys that are rolling hot you’ve got to stick with them and everybody else works around them. And that’s fine with us. It’s part of the game and part of knowing our role and what we need to do.”

Harang said he continued working on some minor adjustments in his delivery that have helped his last two starts.

 “I feel good with how things are going. I feel we’ve kind of hit the nail on the head with something and now it’s just a matter of repeating that and keeping it going. I think that’s the biggest thing, just getting the repetitions to help me repeat that motion.”

Coming off last nights’ 12-2 win, the Mariners would love to carry their momentum into a series victory over the Yankees. It won’t be easy though, with Andy Pettitte on the mound for New York in the 4:05 p.m. game.

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