September 2013

Wedge says contract not the reason he’s leaving


A day after announcing he wouldn’t be returning to the Mariners next season, manager Eric Wedge had one clear message for the media in his pregame chat prior to facing the A’s on Saturday afternoon.

Initial reports spoke largely to the fact Wedge had not been offered a long-term contract and wasn’t willing to take a one-year extension to stay in Seattle, but the third-year skipper said there was far more to it.

The primary issue, he said, was a different vision from team CEO Howard Lincoln, president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik.

“Let me be clear here,” Wedge said. “The contract is not the reason I’m not coming back here. If they offered me a five-year contract, I’m not coming back here. So let’s be clear with that. Where they see the club – they being Howard, Chuck and Jack – and where I see the club and my vision of the future is just different. That’s as plain as I can make it.”

Wedge declined to get into specific differences, saying they ran the “gamut.” But he referred several times to the youthful rebuilding process the club underwent again this year. Three rookie position players  – shortstop Brad Miller, second baseman Nick Franklin and catcher Mike Zunino – were brought up in midseason and the pitching staff leaned heavily on youth as well.

His vision?

“It’s just about sticking with the kids that you believe in, adding to it and being patient,” he said. “Sticking with the program. And having consistency. You have to have consistency with personnel. Every time you turn over, you start over again to a certain extent.”

Wedge noted this year’s roster is heavy on older veteran players and very young players, but lacking the inbetween group that usually is the core of most good clubs and mid-career veterans on longer-term deals who are vested in the team’s future.

“Kendrys [Morales] was good, Raul [Ibanez] was good. One-year deals,” Wedge said. “[Michael] Morse and [Franklin] Gutierrez didn’t work out. Then you had [Jesus] Montero and [Brendan] Ryan didn’t work out. [Dustin] Ackley we had to adjust and have him go back down and figure it out and go to the outfield and that’s worked out well for him.

“Starting pitching will be a big part of these guys moving forward. But where we were in Spring Training and where we were very shortly after that were two different things. We went right back to rebuild mode and started bringing up all these kids. You just can’t get around it. I still feel like before I got sick, they were just starting to get their mojo going a little there. But that was it.”

What do the Mariners need to take that next step?

“It’s a combination of the kids continuing to get better and ultimately getting it, getting over that hump and becoming the big leaguers you want them to be.” Wedge said. “But you also have to get some guys in here. You have to get somebody you can count on in the middle of your lineup, another one you can count on in the middle of your rotation and a guy in the bullpen, too. Easier said than done, with the free-agent market and everybody is trying to make trades. But that’s up to them.”

The Mariners are 70-90 going into Saturday’s game and 212-272 in his three years since taking over a team that went 61-101 in 2010. Wedge said upon arrival he was in it for the long haul and understood what it was going to take to turn things around.

Asked if he was the fall guy now for the losing record, Wedge said that’ s part of the job of Major League manager.

“That comes with the territory,” he said. “But I know what’s happened here and that’s enough for me. I had a vision coming in here. I came here for certain reasons and I’m leaving here for certain reasons.”

Wedge informs Mariners he won’t be back next year


Saying it was “painfully obvious” that he wasn’t going to be able to move forward with the Mariners, manager Eric Wedge informed the club Friday he will not be returning next season.

Wedge declined a one-year contract extension last offseason and said no subsequent offer had been put on the table, but general manager Jack Zduriencik said the club wanted Wedge to return and he was prepared to inform him of that during a scheduled post-season meeting Monday.

Instead, Wedge called Zduriencik on Thursday’s off day to request they talk, then informed the GM he wouldn’t be returning on Friday morning.

“Eric’s job was not in danger,” Zduriencik said. “This was his decision. I was looking forward to having Eric back.”

Wedge, 45, will finish out the final three games of his three-year contract this weekend. He has a 212-271 record in Seattle and a career mark of 773-844 after spending seven years with the Indians from 2003-09.

“It’s tough, it’s disappointing, it’s frustrating, it’s upsetting,” Wedge said prior to Friday’s game with the A’s at Safeco Field. “Sometimes people just don’t see things the same way and things just don’t work out. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, I wanted it to work, but it’s just not going to.”

Wedge said the one-year extension he received at the end of last season wasn’t a good situation with a rebuilding club.

“I told them I wasn’t prepared to do that at that time,” he said. “I didn’t feel like that was a proper endorsement for a young, rebuilding team moving forward. I didn’t feel like that sends the right message to the players, first and foremost, and then ultimately the fans, too. So, that endorsement just wasn’t there for me.”

Wedge met Zduriencik on Thursday after telling reporters a day earlier that he felt he was “hanging out there” in his current situation.

“I talked to [CEO Howard Lincoln] a while back and let him know my thoughts,” Wedge said. “Yesterday I met with Jack. It just got to point it was painfully obviously to me I just wasn’t going to be able to move forward with this organization. We see things differently. We talked about it, but it just got to the point I couldn’t continue to move forward.”

Zduriencik said if there was a difference of opinion it was limited to the length of contract being offered and that he felt the two were good friends and worked well together on baseball decisions.

“Through the course of the year we had many discussions about his contract scenario,” Zduriencik said. “I think like all of these things, you’re offered a contract, you do your job, you do it ‘til the very end, and those that control the contract basically have faith and trust that things are going to work out and you move forward with it. Eric’s desire was different than what we would’ve ended up at.”

Zduriencik himself is believed to be under a one-year extension, but he declined to address that Friday and said the managerial job should be attractive to candidates, given the youth movement already underway on a franchise that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2001.

“Every club we’ve played, the comments from the general managers or the managers, they like what’s going on here, they see the young talent, they know our Minor League system,” Zduriencik said. “So I think somebody out there’s going to look at this and say this is a pretty good spot to be. As much as I feel bad that Eric’s not going to be here, I also look forward to the next person coming in and taking us to the next level.”

Wedge said he felt his vision started to separate from Zduriencik’s last offseason and carried over into the year. What does he think the club needs to do to turn things around?

“I just think that, you talk about building, you’ve got to have a long-term view of it,” he said. “You’ve got to be patient and stick with the program. Even on the worst days you’ve got to stick with the program, even when everybody else is saying it’s not working you’ve got to stick with the program, even when it’s not on your timeline you’ve got to stick with the program.

“Hopefully they’ll be able to do that here. I wish nothing but the best for the Seattle Mariners and everybody involved with the Seattle Mariners and all the fans in Seattle.

“They deserve a winner and we’ve got some kids out here that are going to be big-time ballplayers for the Seattle Mariners. I hope everybody believes me when I say that. These kids, and what I feel like they’re going to do has never wavered.”

Wedge missed 27 games after suffering a minor stroke earlier this season, but he says he feels better than ever and that his best days as a manager still are ahead. Those days will not be with Seattle, however.

Zduriencik said Wedge’s staff, all of whom are still under contract another year, will be evaluated at season’s end as well.

“It’s up in the air,” he said. “I think that just common sense would tell you that as we pursue another manager and as people show interest in this job, certainly we’re going to be wide open. I like a lot of the pieces on the staff, I think they’ve done a nice job, but I also think you’ve got to keep yourself wide open to the next manager that’s coming in.”

Rain shouldn’t affect postgame fireworks show

Milwaukee Brewers v Seattle MarinersTonight is Fan Appreciation Night at Safeco Field, but it remains to be seen how appreciative Mother Nature plans to be as rain is in the forecast for most of Friday in Seattle. But the Mariners are making it known that the post-game fireworks display will go on, unless there is an unexpectedly heavy downpour and/or sustained winds of 25-35 mph when it’s time to light things up.

Even if the roof is closed for the 7:10 p.m. game against the A’s, as I’m guessing it will be at this point, two of the three panels will be rolled open after the game in order to allow for the fireworks show to take place as planned.

Roof Panel 1, which covers all seats along the third-base line, will remain closed in that scenario. Since the other two panels will open, fans seated in other areas of the park should prepare to get wet if they stay for the postgame show, or they can relocate to different areas of the park before the fireworks begin.

The fireworks will start about 20 minutes after the final out. During the set-up period, a new Ford C-MAX will be given away to one fan as the grand finale of the night’s Fan Appreciation prizes.

Safeco never hosted fireworks shows until this year, but the Mariners worked out an agreement with the City of Seattle to do more pyrotechnics this season and this will be the third show. The first two were about 15 minutes each and set to music and video on the new Safeco scoreboard and were very well done. So if you are attending tonight, it’ll be worth the wait — and weather — if you have a chance to stick around.

Felix Hernandez is making his final start, so King’s Court will be in session as well. So Felix, Fan Appreciation Night and fireworks. Should make for a fun Friday night.

Wedge talks about his tenuous job situation


With Mariners management having told general manager Jack Zduriencik he’ll be back for 2014, the question now is whether Eric Wedge and his staff will be retained for next season.

And that’s a question the third-year manager is well aware of as he heads into the final days of a three-year contract with only word that he’s to meet with management after the season ends.

“It’s tough. I feel like I’m hanging out there, that’s the reality of it,” Wedge said Wednesday. “But I’m coming here and doing my job. You know how passionate I am about this team, and these players in particular, and this organization. The unfortunate part about how it’s being handled is the effect it has on the players. That’s why we’re all here, is for the players.

“I’m a strong man, and I’m going to be fine either way,” said Wedge. “But I’d like to see this thing through. We’ve done a lot of developing with a lot of young players over three years. I’d like to be here to lead them and turn the corner. “

Wedge’s contract expires at the end of this year and the Mariners have taken a step back in terms of win-loss record in his third season. After inheriting a team that went 61-101 in 2010, the Mariners finished 67-95 in Wedge’s first season and 75-87 last year. They’re 69-89 now with four games remaining.

Wedge recognizes it’s a bottom-line business and he had higher expectations for this year as well, but feels there are other circumstances at play. The club suffered several critical injuries in the opening weeks and didn’t get the hoped-for contribution from right fielder Michael Morse as well as the critical up-the-middle core of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, shortstop Brendan Ryan, second baseman Dustin Ackley and catcher Jesus Montero.

Additionally, the back-end of the starting rotation didn’t produce and the bullpen wore down considerably in the second half, all of which led to a considerable youth movement that saw the arrival of numerous rookies, including four – shortstop Brad Miller, second baseman Nick Franklin, catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Abraham Almonte – who have been starting on a regular basis in the final months and a pitching staff that leaned heavily on first-year players as well.

He understands the youth movement and doesn’t see change at the top now benefitting that rebuilding process.

“Hey, I’ve done this before,” he said of his experience of eventually taking a young Cleveland franchise to the American League Championship Series. “I know how to do it. The worst thing they could do is blow it up and start over. You’ve got to stick something at some point in time.”

Wedge said he doesn’t think the timeline is any different than what he was presented when he took the job, but that the continued reliance on young players has to be factored in.

“It’s just the way it’s worked out,” he said. “Because you’ve got a lot of good young players coming, and it’s either that or you have to go out and get somebody. We took the alternative of bringing our younger players up. So if you do that, you’re not going to win as many games. But you’re going to be better-suited for the future. It has to be a long-term plan.

“I didn’t get here 12 years ago, I didn’t get here six years ago. I got here less than three years ago. So this is what we’re doing, this is what we’re committed to. You have to have strength. You’ve got to have conviction with what you do. But if somebody else is sitting in this seat tomorrow, they’re going to be in a decent situation moving forward, really.”

Wedge, 45, missed 27 games in late July and August after a stroke hospitalized him briefly. The team was 59-67 when he returned, but has gone 10-22 since. He feels his health situation was a definite disruption to things when it occurred right in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, but shouldn’t be a factor going forward next year.

“That would be unfair,” he said. “It’s been very clear to me from all the doctors I’m going to be 100 percent. I’m going to have to get into the offseason and then I’ll be fine. They said 3-6 months. But hell, I’m going to be better than I ever have been because evidently my brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen each and every night and I was working all day to catch up from it.

“I’m looking to be fueled and fired the rest of the way. I feel great. I feel like I’m 33 years old again. My best managing days are ahead of me whether it’s here or somewhere else. I want to be here. I moved my family out here. I’m committed to the community. I’m all in.

“I haven’t done anything wrong except for come out here and coach up these kids and teach them how to play at the big-league level,” Wedge said. “That’s what I do. I don’t bitch about anything. I’m here to help these kids become good solid big-league players and hopefully solid citizens in Seattle. So if that is not enough for them, then so be it.”

Felix: ‘I want to pitch. That’s why they have me here.’


Felix Hernandez will make his first start in 20 days on Sunday afternoon against the Angels in Anaheim as the Mariners ace returns from a strained left oblique muscle that occurred Sept. 2 at Kansas City. Hernandez threw two bullpen sessions earlier this week in Detroit to test the injury and regain his timing.

 “I felt strong. Overall, I felt normal,” Hernandez said Saturday. “I just have to stay normal and not be too jumpy, try not to rush to the plate. It’s going to be tough, but I can make adjustments.”

 The durable right-hander isn’t used to missing time. He’s pitched made at least 30 starts ever year for the last seven seasons. He’s never thrown less than 190 innings since breaking into the rotation full time in 2006 at age 20 and has hit 200 or more innings the last five years.

 He’s at 29 starts and 194 1/3 innings this year, with the potential of one more start after Sunday.

 Why push it now for a team that is 20 games under .500 going into Saturday’s game with the Angels.

 “Because I want to pitch. That’s why they have me here,” he said. “I need to pitch. And you know I’m a competitor. I just want to get out on the mound.”

 Hernandez has been a bundle of pent-up energy the last two weeks in the clubhouse.

 “It’s really hard,” he said of being inactive. “I’ve been bored. I don’t know what to do. It’s different.”

 Manager Eric Wedge said he’ll be careful with the franchise pitcher, who has struggled with the Angels in the past (8-13, 3.95 ERA in 34 career starts).

 “We’ll watch and see how easy or hard he has to work,” Wedge said. “He feels strong and feels good. He should be fine, but we’ll monitor from inning to inning and communicate with him.”

 Is there a pitch limit in place?

 “No,” said Wedge. “We have something in mind, but we’re still going to work off of him.”

 Rookie Mike Zunino will catch Hernandez, just the fifth time those two have been paired this year. Wedge said it’s important Zunino get time with the staff ace.

 “I think he’s handled him well, but it is a challenge to catch Felix because he is so good,” Wedge said. “His ball moves all over the place. But those are two guys that are going to have to establish a relationship with each out there and I’m sure they will.”

Seager day off after 106 straight starts


Kyle Seager has been the most-consistent part of the Mariners lineup all season, but the young third baseman finally got a day off Friday in the series opener against the Angels after starting 106 straight games.

Seager’s string was the longest run by a third baseman in club history and the second-longest active streak in the American League behind the 203 of  Baltimore’s Manny Machado.

Rookie Carlos Triunfel will take his place at third, with rookie second baseman Nick Franklin shifting over to get his first Major League start at shortstop. Dustin Ackley, who had been playing center field, moved back to second base to fill out an infield that is shorthanded due to a hamstring strain that has sidelined starting shortstop Brad Miller since Saturday

Seager was 2-for-40 at the plate over an 11-game stretch until going 2-for-4  in Thursday’s 5-4 loss to the Tigers, but he insisted he’s felt fine physically.

“It’s something that as I’ve gotten into the routine of everything, it honestly does feel fine,” he said. “I don’t feel physically tired, or crazy tired anyway. It’s something where I got into a nice routine and feel fine.”

He said his recent hitting struggles have been mechanical, not physical.

“Yesterday was good,” he said. “The last little bit I’ve kind of been searching for where it was. The swings weren’t bad, but a couple things were just a tick off and causing the ball to go in the air or fly balls to left that just meant there was a little something wrong with my swing. I think I figured a couple little things out and yesterday it felt better. It was nice to hit a couple balls hard and it’s always nice to see a couple drop.”

Seager didn’t sound thrilled to not be in the lineup Friday, but said Wedge told him “to get a breather and finish off the season strong.”

The 25-year-old played a team-high 155 games last year and will rack up 159 games this season if he plays the remaining eight games. And you’ll hear no complaints from Seager about being overused.

“That’s what everybody wants to do,” he said. “Everybody wants to play every day. You’re going through all this stuff, you want to be somebody they have confidence in to put you out there every day. You want them to be able to pencil you in every day. As a player, that’s what you want.”

Felix throws without problem, will start Sunday

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez threw a bullpen session without problems on Thursday at Comerica Park and will return to the rotation Sunday against the Angels in Anaheim.

Hernandez hasn’t pitched since Sept. 3 when he strained the oblique muscle in his left side in the seventh inning of a game in Kansas City.

“Felix was back to being Felix today,” pitching coach Carl Willis said after Hernandez threw 58 pitches off the bullpen mound. “He was strong, threw all of his pitches for strikes and had great command. The plan is for him to go Sunday in Anaheim.”

Hernandez initially threw a bullpen Monday in Detroit in the hope of starting Wednesday against the Tigers, but the decision was made then that he needed one more workout Thursday to regain his timing.

“You can book it, Sunday,” Hernandez said after completing his session.

Erasmo Ramirez will start Friday’s series opener against the Angels and Joe Saunders has been slated for Saturday’s game.

By starting Sunday, Hernandez would be in position to make one more start at home in the season’s final home series against the A’s the following weekend.

Ibanez says he’d like to play another year


Raul Ibanez has hit a team-leading 27 home runs for the Mariners this year at age 41 and said Tuesday he wants the chance to keep playing again next season.

Ibanez’s production has dropped off in the second half this year after hitting 24 homers before the All-Star break. But the veteran outfielder is still batting .251 with 62 RBIs in 115 games this season and remains one of the team’s best clutch hitters.

“Yeah, I want to play another year,” Ibanez said prior to Tuesday’s game with the Tigers. “It’s not something I really dwell upon. It’s not something I mull over and lose sleep over because I’m in the moment right now. But yeah, if you asked me right now, I definitely want to play another year.”

Ibanez is on a one-year, $2.75 million contract with Seattle and will be a free agent at year’s end.

Ibanez, one of the hardest workers on the team, said health hasn’t been an issue for him.

“Physically I feel I can play for, I don’t want to sound wrong, but kind of til I want to physically,” he said. “Mentally it’s a grind and that part becomes harder as you get older. Staying locked in for six months in a row becomes harder. But I feel I can play this game physically for awhile, I guess. That doesn’t mean I will, but I feel like I can.”

Whenever he does call it quits, he doesn’t want or expect a retirement tour like former Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera has received this year.

“I don’t think I’d get the reception Mariano has,” he said with a laugh. “He deserves it. No, I’d just kind of want to leave the way I came in, kind of quietly.”

Ibanez has 298 career home runs and is two shy of Ted Williams’ record of 29 for a player age 41 or older in a single season.

“Of course it would be a cool thing,” he said. “But it’s not something you can think about. You just have to go out and put at-bats together. If you think about home runs, it just doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t happen. I’m going to try to fill up the ballpark with singles and see what happens.”

Felix’s next start delayed until weekend

DETROIT – Felix Hernandez felt fine physically while throwing a bullpen session on Monday prior to Seattle’s game at Comerica Park, but won’t pitch in a game until at least this weekend in Anaheim.

There was some hope of getting their ace back by Wednesday to face the Tigers, but pitching coach Carl Willis said Hernandez needs another bullpen session on Thursday after not throwing off a mound since straining the oblique muscle in his left side on Sept. 2 in Kansas City.

“Because he hadn’t been on the mound is such a long time, he felt a little erratic,” Willis said. “As far as going out and competing, one more bullpen will allow him to tighten things up a little bit. On the physical side, he didn’t have any issues today.”

Willis wants Hernandez to be fully ready when he does return and set Saturday or Sunday in Anaheim as the likely date, if all goes well Thursday.

“He’s just played some catch and it’s kind of an intermittent thing because he’s tried to let this thing feel better, which it is,” said Willis. “But he hadn’t been able to do anything on the mound, coming down the slope as opposed to throwing on flat ground. It’s a little different release point, so it’s about repeating that mechanic again.”

Hernandez could still potentially pitch in two more games this season, against the Angels and then the A’s in Seattle’s final homestand the following weekend

Manager Eric Wedge said Hernandez deserves the chance to finish out the season if he feels 100 percent, even with the Mariners 17 games under .500 going into the Tigers’ series.

“There’s a lot of respect you have to give him, wanting to finish off the Major League season,” said Wedge. “It’s a fragile thing, but it’s a mighty thing. It means a great deal to finish what you started. He wants to do it for his club, he wants to do it for the game and he wants to do it for himself. And I appreciate all that. He’s earned that respect.”

With Hernandez still out, Hisashi Iwakuma will start Wednesday’s game against Tigers ace Justin Verlander, with rookie James Paxton finishing the series up on Thursday against former Mariner Doug Fister. Erasmo Ramirez will pitch Friday’s series opener in Anaheim.

Miller says injured hamstring improving

MillerBradBrad Miller was out of the lineup for a second straight game on Monday, but the Mariners rookie shortstop said a sore left hamstring is feeling better and he hopes to return to action in a few days.

Miller, 23, was scheduled to play catch and take some swings before Monday’s series opener with the Tigers after staying off his leg completely on Sunday. The youngster was removed from Saturday’s game against the Cardinals in the fifth inning after feeling his leg tighten up while running out a sacrifice bunt.

“It felt like a big cramp when I was running down to first,” Miller said. “Obviously I felt it pretty good. I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to keep playing. It’s still sore obviously, but it’s feeling better each day. So hopefully as soon as I can, I’ll get back out there quick.”

Miller said his leg felt fine prior to the bunt attempt and he doesn’t ever remember having any hamstring issues before.

“It’s just something that got a little tight on me,” he said. “But it’s nothing too crazy. They said the strength is there, so hopefully it was just a big cramp and now it’s just sore.”

With Miller sidelined, fellow rookie Carlos Triunfel got his second straight start at shortstop on Monday.

Here are Monday’s lineups for the series opener with the Tigers: