By Shannon Drayer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Mariners are enjoying their first day off after 16 straight games and will get right back to it Friday as they kick off the first of 20 straight with a game against the Rays. Tampa Bay will honor the late Don Zimmer – who spent the last 11 years as a senior advisor with the club – with a moment of silence Friday and a pregame ceremony Saturday.
On Friday the Mariners will be going for their season-high sixth win in a row. Just days ago the Mariners were looking to win a game to give them their first winning homestand. A loss that day and things might have looked very different, but 6-5 at home followed by three straight wins on the road despite a challenging travel schedule is perhaps a bigger step in the right direction than we have seen at any point this year. This feels like a winning streak. This feels like they can go out and win more often than not.
Bench players John Buck (left) and Stefen Romero (right) have gone a combined 8 for 14 with five RBIs and two home runs during the Mariners' five-game winning streak. (AP)
"Nothing's changed," he said after the Mariners' 2-0 win over the Braves in Atlanta on Wednesday. "I like my team. I like the way they go about their business. They are very gritty, they prepare very well. I'm very pleased with that. We've got our warts, we've got our challenges, but we do okay."
Not a bad assessment, but I don't agree with his statement that nothing has changed. Plenty has changed, and if you don't see it then you haven't been paying attention to the lineups and I know you have. I've seen plenty of negative responses to the posted lineups on a daily basis on Twitter and on the blog, yet all those lineups have done is win five straight games.
It's very different. The set lineup has gone out the window with a couple of guys who started the year playing every day replaced with members of the bench on a somewhat regular basis. While the lineup was easier to predict a few weeks ago, now you don't know what you will see as McClendon has been mixing and matching. Everyone has been used and the results so far have been good. There is a message being sent that may not be new but it certainly is being demonstrated right now:
If you want to play, you have to produce.
"Some people think we are tough or we are (expletive), we don't like players. For me, all that stuff goes right out the window," McClendon said. "There's only two people that get a win or a loss, the pitcher and the manager. I'd be a fool if I didn't put the best people out there who I think help me win games. Like or dislike has nothing to do with it. If you can help me win, I like you. That's the message I sent in spring training, that's the message I will continue to send. I'll love them, I'll protect them, I'll fight for them. But I love my family and I love my job and I want to keep it."
The days of letting guys settle in and waiting for bats to come around are over. Ditto with getting guys experience. McClendon has been demonstrating in the last week that if he has an option at a position he will go with the option he feels will give the team the best chance to win. This isn't about learning on the job or through experience anymore.
April and May are over and this team still has glaring needs on offense, but if McClendon sees a combination of players that he feels can do enough of the right thing to eke out a win, that's what he is going with now. If help is available on the bench – the best bench the Mariners have had in years – he's going to use it.
Yes, things are certainly different. And working for now.
M's ready for draft surprise
The MLB first-year player draft begins today with the Mariners choosing sixth and 74th. Don't ask who the Mariners are taking at No. 6 because they don't know yet. The selections before No. 6 will determine that, and scouting director Tom McNamara is ready for anything.
"Even at 6, there's always a surprise," he told me last week. "There will be a surprise pick before we pick. Someone that we think won't be there, someone will select a player that maybe we think is behind our pick. That's what happened last year with DJ Peterson. We just didn't think he would be there when we picked and it worked out that way and we took him."
One thing for certain, the Mariners are not targeting a position in any of the early picks. Under McNamara, the philosophy has always been to go with the best player available on the board at the time of their selection regardless of need.
The draft begins Thursday at 4 p.m. and runs through Saturday with the first 74 picks being selected on the first day.
Peterson on fire
Speaking of DJ Peterson, he has been tearing it up at High Desert and is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak and 12-game on-base streak. He was named California League Player of the Week last week, hitting .467/.515/.867 and going 14 for 30 in seven games with six doubles, two home runs seven RBIs, three walks and eight strikeouts.
• Pitching probables for the Rays series: Chris Young vs. Erik Bedard on Friday, Roenis Elias vs. Alex Cobb on Saturday, Felix Hernandez vs. Chris Archer on Sunday and TBA vs. David Price on Monday.
With what little is available, it would be easy to name Erasmo Ramirez the starter on Monday but that has not happened. I would be surprised if he makes that start.
• On a happier note, if you follow me on Twitter (and you should @shannondrayer) then you would have seen my tweet Monday stating that it looks like we will have the marquee pitching matchup Tuesday night. If the Yankees stay in rotation it will be Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Masahiro Tanaka at Safeco Field.