Tuesday, May 7, 2013 @ 9:44pm
Jack Zduriencik is on this road trip, which is no surprise seeing that he grew up just 50 miles from Pittsburgh in New Castle, Pa. I spoke with him Tuesday about coming home and he shared memories about going to the last game at Forbes Field (he actually got a "0" from the old scoreboard) and cheering for Bill Mazeroski as a kid.
That interview ran in Tuesday's pregame show. For Wednesday's show we talked about the team.
Zduriencik likes what he has seen from the club in the last three series and hopes that the early struggles have been put behind them.
"I think we just started off slow," Zduriencik said. "Put some injuries in there, guys we were really counting on, it didn't help. But these are all things that tie into the complete season."
Jack Zduriencik wants to see more consistency from the back end of the M's rotation, where Aaron Harang (pictured) and Brandon Maurer have had their early struggles. (AP)
"I would like to get more consistency out of the back end of the rotation," he answered when I asked what was most fixable. "I think as we see these guys continue to get consistent, and we're going to get reinforcements. When (Stephen) Pryor gets back that's going to help us quite a bit. We've got (Josh) Kinney down below, we've got Erasmo Ramirez, who's now throwing again.
"We have got a bunch of young kids who at some point in time will be in position to help us."
Injuries aside, how does he determine when any of those players would be of help at the big-league level?
"All they have to do is continue to progress," Zduriencik answered. "We need to get Danny (Hultzen) back on the mound, which is what he is about to do shortly. (Mike) Zunino, we have been impressed with what he has done despite his recent struggles. He's handled it very well. Nick Franklin has been terrific. These guys have to continue to play. Opportunities will be there – they always are, and when they are, they have to be ready. For the guys up here it is a challenge for them to continue to play good baseball."
And if they don't meet that challenge, we could see one of the young players. Unlike last year, the clock is ticking for those who have not shown the progress that is expected of them. That said, there is still a lot of learning going on at the major-league level for the Mariners, according to Zduriencik.
"In a perfect world you would like maybe for guys to spend a little more time in the minor leagues," he acknowledged. "The game has changed somewhat, every club has guys at the big-league level slightly sooner than you would like them to."
"(For them) it is just about understanding the day-in, day-out struggle of being a big leaguer. This is a very difficult game. Maturity, being comfortable as a big-league player, being able to look yourself in the mirror and know you belong, and figuring out pitchers. It's an ongoing process for a young player to develop into a big leaguer, and I think we have seen some good signs recently."
While the good signs are certainly welcome, they are not the end goal.
"No one is going to sit here and say we are over the hump," he said. "It's a challenge every single day. It's big-league baseball. The other clubs are going to be good. And the schedule early was tough but where we are at right now, we are progressing. The organization is in really good shape with what we have right around the corner, how young we are at the big-league level. I am looking for really good things as we move forward."
His contribution to those good things is putting the best team he can out on the field. It is an interesting balance as the players at the big-league level and in Tacoma are his players, all important to this organization's future success. What is best for the team today? What is best for the players? What is best for the future? All of these things would seem to play into any move, but according to Zduriencik, sometimes it is much simpler than that.
"Things happen," he said. "It's the old adage in baseball and it is so true. Things just have a tendency to work out. When you are trying to get better every day, whatever that is, we will do."
Tuesday, May 7, 2013 @ 12:54pm
By 710Sports.com staff
The Mariners will open their interleague schedule today against the Pirates in Pittsburgh, which means Seattle pitchers will hit for the first time this season.
In the video above, Shannon Drayer touches on that subject and why catcher Jesus Montero isn't in the lineup for the series opener.
First pitch for today's game against is 4:05. The game can be heard on 710 ESPN Seattle, and you can also follow along with our live gametracker.
Here is the Mariners' lineup:
Michael Saunders, CF
Jason Bay, LF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Michael Morse, RF
Justin Smoak, 1B
Dustin Ackley, 2B
Kelly Shoppach, C
Brendan Ryan, SS
Aaron Harang, SP
Sunday, May 5, 2013 @ 5:14pm
A frustrating game Sunday, but thankfully just one game. Safeco Joe was nowhere to be found and Eric Wedge gave him every opportunity to work through his struggles on the hill but to no avail. Joe Saunders surrendered seven runs in five innings and the Mariners dropped the final game to the Blue Jays, 10-2.
This team in this building was probably not a good matchup for Saunders. While this seems ridiculous to write, I feel I need to from what I have seen on Twitter and some of the emails I have received.
You cannot just pitch Saunders at home. He is your No. 3 in the rotation and he needs to get on track away from Safeco. He's not as good as he is at home and he's not as bad as he is on the road, and at some point this should pull closer to even. This is not a guy who is coming off a terrible year. Track record, what has been seen at home and what has been seen between starts are some of the reasons why Wedge will stick with him. He has to give him an opportunity to work through his struggles because the team needs him to be productive.
After allowing seven earned runs over five innings Sunday against Toronto, Joe Saunders is now 0-4 with a 12.54 ERA away from Safeco Field this season. (AP)
It is best for everyone if Saunders is able to figure this out and he is being given that opportunity.
Something that shouldn't be masked by what we saw from Saunders Sunday was the ugly day Jesus Montero had behind the plate, allowing four stolen bases and one passed ball.
One of his biggest shortcomings behind the plate was exposed and it was not pretty. The four stolen bases allowed brought his total this season to 15 in just 17 starts. Chris Iannetta comes in with a league-worst 19, but he has started 23 games. Steals per inning for the two are nearly identical. Montero has yet to throw out a runner this season.
Why were the Jays running? Perhaps a little of the blame can be put on Saunders' slow delivery, but the majority of it is probably due to scouting. Montero often drops to one knee when he receives the ball, which makes it much more difficult to get a quick throw off. Learning to stay on his feet was something he was told to work on when he went home for the offseason, but when he reported to spring training he was still dropping to the knee and there was some frustration about that. On Sunday it caught up with him.
Montero's development, as I have pointed out numerous times, should be a top priority. This is someone the organization needs to get value from or value for. The belief has been that he can best learn at this level. If you read me I think you know my feelings on that. Tough to learn if he is not playing and tough to play him if it appears he is not learning. While there have been flashes here and there we have yet to see consistency.
News and notes
• Brandon Maurer has been pushed back in the rotation as Wedge and Carl Willis took the opportunity to limit his innings some with the off days early this month. This is not a performance issue, rather a necessity as Maurer has never pitched more than 138 innings in a season. He will start the first game against Oakland at home.
• Pitchers hit the next two games in Pittsburgh and while Aaron Harang and the relievers have been taking batting practice for some time now, Felix Hernandez was not allowed to hit until Sunday morning. With the back stiffness he has experienced this season, Wedge didn't want to take any chances having him swing the bat any more than necessary.
• Franklin Gutierrez does not appear close to a return, although he is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 8. I asked Wedge about his progress earlier this weekend and was told he has yet to resume baseball activities and will be looked at when the team returns to Safeco for the three games against Oakland.
Saturday, May 4, 2013 @ 7:56pm
It happens every year. At some point of the season I realize that I am taking Felix Hernandez for granted. Eight innings, five hits, no runs, no walks, seven strikeouts, making hitters look silly. Ho hum, that's what Felix does.
It didn't even hit me until Saturday morning when I was doing my reading. Spotlight on ESPN.com: "King For Another Day." CBSsports.com with "Mariners' Felix Hernandez off to historically dominant start." This kind of notice this early in the season is not usual for Felix, or any Mariner for that matter. Thank goodness for that, or I might have gone another start without remembering to appreciate how good he is rather than take it for granted.
After limiting the Blue Jays to one earned run over 15 innings, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma rank third and fourth, respectively, in earned run average among American League starters. (AP)
Felix is off to a tremendous start.
Someone I am not taking for granted but someone who is being overlooked (or underlooked as Dustin Ackley put it in the pregame show) by the rest of the country is Hisashi Iwakuma. Another fine performance from him Saturday where he showed something I can't remember seeing from him any time before -- emotion on the hill.
A walk, a single and a ball lost in the sun by Ackley led to a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first. Two strikeouts later the Mariners were in the dugout up 1-0, but not before the normally-stoic-on-the-hill Iwakuma let out a little yell.
"Being able to come up with a good pitch in a tough situation was awesome," he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki after the game.
Iwakuma lowered his ERA to 1.61 with the win and has limited the opposition to one or fewer runs in five of his seven starts. Those are crazy numbers.
The combination of Felix and Iwakuma is one that has been as close to lights out as imaginable, with the two combining to hold Oakland to one earned run on April 1-2, Detroit to one earned run in 14 innings April 17-18, Houston to two earned runs in 11 innings April 22-23, Anaheim to one earned run in 14 innings April 27-28, and Toronto to one earned run in 15 innings on Friday and Saturday. Teams cannot be looking forward to facing the Mariners' 1-2 punch.
After Saturday's game I asked Iwakuma what it meant to him to follow Felix. Did he try to equal or better him? What impact did following the King have on him?
"Everything in general," he answered through Suzuki. "You see him pitch the day before I pitch and you try to imitate that. You see how he pitches his game. I don't have the same kind of stuff, but you try and analyze that and then take advantage of it and that's what I am trying to do. Just rolling with it."
And what a roll the duo is on.
Friday, May 3, 2013 @ 4:48pm
By 710Sports.com staff
The Mariners are 5-2 since manager Eric Wedge called a team meeting following the series finale against Houston.
In the video above, Shannon Drayer talks about the effects of that meeting and Friday's series opener against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
First pitch for today's game against is 4:07. The game can be heard on 710 ESPN Seattle, and you can also follow along with our live gametracker.
Here is the Mariners' lineup:
Michael Saunders, CF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Michael Morse, RF
Jason Bay, LF
Justin Smoak, 1B
Dustin Ackley, 2B
Jesus Montero, C
Brendan Ryan, SS
Felix Hernandez, SP
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 @ 4:36pm
By Shannon Drayer
Update: The Mariners have announced Iwakuma will stay on turn and start Saturday in Toronto. Joe Saunders will pitch on Sunday.
The Mariners did make a move after all. The most obvious one. Blake Beavan has been sent to Tacoma and Lucas Luetge recalled. The move will give Beavan the opportunity to work through his struggles and importantly, be ready should another starter be needed.
As for the pitching schedule moving forward, Eric Wedge said that the Hisashi Iwakuma portion of that is still a bit up in the air. He will pitch either Saturday or Sunday in Toronto. If Kuma is held back a day then Joe Saunders will pitch Saturday but as Wedge said today there is a chance he could stay on turn.
The lineup for tonight's game:
Tough lefty on the hill for Baltimore in Wei-Yin Chen and Wedge still going with Saunders and Seager at 1-2. Saunders has been hitting lefties but Seager has been struggling against them. Still, second for now is where I think you want to see him regardless of handedness of the pitcher. It is good to see some semblance of a regular lineup at the top.
If you read my last post you saw that Smoak has put up encouraging numbers the last eight games, hitting .357/.454/.571/1.025. He has, however, been struggling mightily against lefties, hitting .129/.206/.129!/.335. It will be a good sign if he can get anything going against lefties.
Speaking of extreme splits, Brandon Maurer has an ugly left/right split with southpaws hitting .358 against him. Wedge feels that this is a sequencing problem more than anything and said it will be a focus of his work this week.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013 @ 1:45am
By Shannon Drayer
Tuesday night's 7-2 loss was frustrating. Not because the youngster, Brandon Maurer, went out and came dangerously close to a repeat of his second big-league start in which he failed to get out of the first inning, but because I got that old and unwelcome feeling that a four-run deficit in the first inning was insurmountable. It shouldn't be, but this club is not clicking on all cylinders, and unlike last year, I think help is available on some fronts.
The page on the calendar has flipped. We are now one month into the season. While the "it's early" card has not been played much this year, in my mind it is no longer early. For some it may still be somewhat early but on a team that is made up mostly of young players who were given a full year look the previous season and guys with very established track records, I think at this point you should have a good idea of where this team is at and whether or not you can expect improvement from individual players.
In other words, I don't think it's too early to make moves.
Help is needed on the bench, which is not the strength I think a lot of us figured it would be coming out of spring training. Help is needed in the pen. Then there is the question of what's best for the development of some of the younger players on the roster.
A move I would make right away would be to get a true long-relief/swingman in the pen. Blake Beavan did not exactly put out the fire, coming in for Maurer Tuesday night and extending the Mariners' deficit from four runs to seven. More importantly, he is not finding answers in the pen. He is nearly moving in the wrong direction. His ERA is now at 8.27. His tempo is off, his delivery inconsistent and for some reason Tuesday night he wouldn't throw his four-seamer. If the Mariners want to see him start again at some point he needs to be starting now. In Tacoma.
Shortstops Robert Andino and Brendan Ryan are hitting a combined .169 through the first month of the season. (AP)
I will take my chances on losing a Double-A outfielder or any minor-league infielder on the 40-man not named Carlos Triunfel with Nick Franklin and Brad Miller on the horizon. Perhaps Erasmo Ramirez can be put on the 60-day disabled list. I would find a way to get Beavan down and get someone, perhaps Brian Sweeney, up. He has got plenty of experience, can easily pitch the swing role and can handle not pitching for longer periods of time. Easy fix there.
A tougher fix is what to do at shortstop. The combination of Brendan Ryan and Robert Andino obviously is not getting it done offensively. Franklin is absolutely tearing it up, hitting .410 at Triple-A right now. Is it too soon to call him up after a rough first season in Tacoma and just 17 games this year? That's for the Mariners to decide. I trust them in knowing where he is in his development beyond the numbers, but if they do not believe he is ready then I have to believe that it wouldn't hurt to take a look at Triunfel.
What about first base? A bunch of you were calling for Justin Smoak to be sent down in the comment section of my last post. I am going to guess that you are overlooking the fact that he has hit .357/.454/.571/1.025 in his last eight games. Small sample size, but clearly progress.
Not progressing much would be Jesus Montero and this is a situation I don't quite understand. Coming into the season we knew that in order to get at-bats he would have to catch because Kendrys Morales was going to be the primary DH. Montero struggled early and Eric Wedge said that Kelly Shoppach would get more time behind the plate.
In my mind, if Montero isn't getting consistent at-bats he shouldn't be here. Whether he is your future catcher, future DH or future currency in the form of trade, he needs to be playing. He has played in just 17 games so far and is projected to get 352 at-bats. That is not helping his value by any means and he has come nowhere near to looking like the hitter many thought he could be, the hitter that earned him high rankings as a prospect.
Who would replace Montero? With Mike Zunino not ready, I would make a move to get Jesus Sucre on the 40-man and up to Seattle. I wouldn't expect much from him offensively but he would be the backup so this is not a huge deal. He is a decent defender and handles pitchers well.
Other moves would appear to be a little further off. As I have been saying for some time now, keep an eye on Stefen Romero. Just nine games into his first season at Triple-A he is hitting well and most interestingly is now playing left field after playing mostly second while in the organization. Will we see him in the outfield mid-season?
What about Danny Hultzen? He was pitching well before being sidelined with the rotator cuff strain. How quickly can he bounce back?
There is little question in my mind that we should see some moves. As I said at the top of this post, it is no longer early or too soon to make the call that help is needed. If a move can benefit the big club or help a struggling player in the long run, it is time to make those moves.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013 @ 12:16am
So I think it is safe to say we have seen some signs of life on this homestand.
Who had Joe Saunders becoming the first Mariner to throw a complete game this year? Anybody? How about Jason Bay coming up with his first three-hit game since 2011? No? Michael Saunders coming off the DL to hit his first career leadoff home run? How about the 6-7-8-9 of Justin Smoak, Bay, Robert Andino and Brendan Ryan being the most productive part of the lineup, going 7-for-15 with two runs scored and three driven in? Anyone?
The bottom four in the M's lineup Monday went 7-for-15 with three RBIs, one coming via a Brendan Ryan single. (AP)
Oh yes, wait, I almost forgot. How about the umpire nailing Orioles starting pitcher Zach Britton in the shoulder throwing the ball back? Okay, now.
Or maybe something more. Maybe Joe Saunders was on with his sinker, generating 17 groundouts. Maybe the work Bay has been putting in has helped him find the swing he has been looking for. Maybe the Michael Saunders home run helped the offense take a breath and keep them from pressing. Maybe the bottom-of-the-order bats are coming around. Maybe things aren't as bleak as they looked a week ago.
We saw good pitching, good defense and better hitting against a good team Monday night at Safeco Field. Perhaps more importantly, they saw it. Bay pointed out in the clubhouse after the game that while momentum in baseball is nothing more than that day's starting pitcher, there is without a doubt a difference in that clubhouse as the team starts to win more games.
"The feel is a lot different than when we left Houston," he said. "It was a very blah road trip, very uninspiring. We come here and beat Anaheim, win this game and the feel is definitely different."
Michael Saunders spoke of growing confidence in the clubhouse in his on-field interview with me. on Sunday Michael Morse said he believed the team was poised to have a strong May. Individual performances – Joe Saunders' complete game Monday night and Morse's home run Sunday against the Angels – are in large part helping inspire this confidence, but we are seeing the small victories that no doubt are contributing as well.
I am not ready to say they have completely turned things around. It is just three games, but they have something to build on and that is something they didn't seem to have a week ago. At the very least, they have put the brakes on what looked to be a disastrous slide.