By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – The Mariners take on the Cubs Thursday in Mesa but one big Mariner will be staying back in Peoria. Felix Hernandez made the veteran move and jumped at the chance that was offered to stay back and face minor leaguers rather than travel. Another Mariner jumped at a chance to play in a minor-league game for different reasons Wednesday.
When I tweeted (@shannondrayer, follow please) Wednesday that Corey Hart was getting extra at-bats in a minor-league game by leading off every inning, a number of you tweeted back surprise and disbelief that a player would do so. It is actually not too far out of the ordinary. Edgar Martinez did it every spring. Some guys feel they need a certain number of at-bats to get ready for the season, more than they can get in regular games.
Hart said in the first week of spring training that he typically needed about 100 at-bats to get comfortable at the plate. That was in a normal spring, not a spring where he was coming back from missing a year. Add to that missed at-bats because the manager is bringing him along slow after the knee surgeries and time missed with back stiffness and Hart was losing at-bats left and right. Wednesday he decided to go where he could get some back.
"It's a different atmosphere," he said of going down to the lower fields to play in a Double-A game. "You can go down there and just relax and try to work on things. Just try to get comfortable, try to see pitches and work on the swing."
Hart got nine at-bats in and homered in his first. While he has made a small swing adjustment in the past week, this was more about taking the swings than tinkering with them.
"For me it is just trying to get my timing, just get as many at-bats as I can and get as comfortable as I can," he said. "It was a good, long day. We'll come back today and see how beneficial it was."
The proof will be in the three or four at-bats he gets against the Cubs. If he doesn't feel he has his timing then it will be back to the lower fields for more work.
"If I need to go back down there I will," he said. "I like it to get at-bats. If I need to get more at-bats before the end of the spring I will just go down there and knock out some more."
Abraham Almonte, 8
Kyle Seager, 5
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, 3
Corey Hart, DH
Logan Morrison, RF
Dustin Ackley, 7
Nick Franklin, 6
John Buck, 2
Lineup notes: Manager Lloyd McClendon is sticking with the every-other-day rotation of Brad Miller and Nick Franklin at shortstop. More on that below. We have a rare appearance of Logan Morrison in the outfield. I don't think we will see a lot of that in the regular season and to be honest with you, I would much rather see a good amount of Stefen Romero out there in the final 10 days. One thing they have done with Morrison in the last few games is move him from DH to first base when Justin Smoak comes out, so he has been getting some work in the field.
King of Spring
Miller is currently leading all of baseball in slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging and is top three in on-base percentage, average, triples and runs scored. Despite this and what looks to be improved defense, McClendon is not ready to name him the opening day shortstop over Franklin, who has also played well.
"I think they have both played well to this point," he said. "I will reserve my thoughts on that for a little while longer but they have both done a nice job. I have been pleased. As far as separation, I don't think they have really separated themselves. I evaluate things a little different than how you guys evaluate them. I don't particularly evaluate on given performance on any day. I see good things from both of them."
He no doubt does, but Miller has clearly separated himself numbers-wise. One thing we have learned about McClendon this spring, however, is he knows hitting. There is no separating the manager from the former hitting coach. He no doubt sees things most don't or can't without his experience. I think this allows him to see what he says helps in a situation where you are dealing with young players, players who haven't been told a whole lot of "no" in their careers, and players that others are trying to establish a value for.
Felix then ...?
McClendon refused to tip his hand as to who will follow Felix Hernandez in the rotation. It is a safe bet to say that James Paxton will be in there but then the competition comes down to Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, Randy Wolf, Scott Baker and Roenis Elias. Ramirez and Beavan are on the 40-man roster, which may or may not come into play. Beavan's chances, however, took a hit with Wednesday's performance with probably the most disturbing aspect being the fact that he never could find it (get the ball down) in the six innings and 93 pitches he threw. Had this been a regular-season game he most likely would have been lifted far sooner and a good amount of bullpen would had to been used.
Could handedness come into play? McClendon admitted that a second lefty starter in the rotation would be a good thing to have in the American League West. He has a couple available.