Saturday, May 25, 2013 @ 12:24pm
By Brent Stecker
Mariners catcher Jesus Montero struggled mightily in the first two months of the MLB season, and the front office spoke Thursday by demoting the 23-year-old to Triple-A Tacoma, where he is now trying to regain his stroke while also learning to play first base.
But Montero isn't the only former prized prospect that has under-performed for Seattle this season.
Dustin Ackley was the 2009 No. 2 overall draft pick, but the former college superstar has managed just five extra base hits this season. (AP)
Second baseman Dustin Ackley, the 2009 No. 2 overall draft pick with the supposed can't-miss bat, is hitting .213 and slugging .260 with just five extra-base hits to his name through 43 games in 2013. And the question begs to be asked, could he soon also be sent back to the minors to catch his breath, as former MLB general manager Jim Bowden suggested a week ago to "Bob and Groz" on 710 ESPN Seattle?
According to manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik in separate interviews with 710 ESPN Seattle's "Wyman, Mike and Moore" Friday, the Mariners are trying to exercise more patience with the 25-year-old Ackley.
"We've seen some things (from Ackley) in (batting practice), we've seen some at-bats -- he's had a lot of tough outs -- that lead us to believe he's finding his way," Wedge said. "I do want to see more consistency with it, though. Sometimes I think he's a little too passive up there. The way he started to come out of his funk, he raised his average 50 or 60 points here over a couple of weeks because he was aggressive in the zone, which allowed him to see the ball better and take his walks too. I feel good about that."
Zduriencik mentioned that while Ackley's development has been slower than expected, he's still making progress.
"Ackley's been struggling, but he's hit balls hard too," Zduriencik said. "In all fairness to Dustin, it's not what we would like. He's been a little bit slow coming in terms of being a productive player, (but) he's played great defense."
Wedge is still optimistic about Ackley's future.
"Is he gonna do better? Yeah, no doubt about it. That's not who is, not who is gonna be," he said. "Every game up here (in the majors) is worth 10 down there (in the minors). There's first-round picks that don't even get to the big leagues. He's going to be a good, solid Major League player. He's a solid second baseman. He's going to be a solid player on a big league club."
Wedge said the Mariners are trying to avoid making the kind of hasty changes with struggling players that hurt the franchise during previous regimes.
"(Ackley is) still not where he needs to be, but he still raised his average quite a bit the last two or three weeks. You just can't keep changing. They did that here for a lot of years -- didn't work. You gotta stick with the program," he said.
Friday, May 24, 2013 @ 11:32am
What a difference a week makes – or in this case, six games.
Things were looking up for the Mariners entering their four-game series against the Indians last Friday. They had just taken two of three from the Yankees in New York and were 5-0-1 in their last six series, climbing into second place in the AL West and pulling to within a game of .500 in the process.
It's also reignited questions about general manager Jack Zduriencik's job security.
"I just got a text today from a senior front-office guy in another organization that said, 'I hear Jack Z's seat in Seattle is getting hotter by the day,'" ESPN's Keith Law told "Wyman, Mike and Moore" Thursday afternoon.
"And that doesn't surprise me at all. He's been there for a while, and the major-league team, they're not good on paper in terms of the standings and they look even worse."
The Mariners dropped to 20-27 after being swept by the Indians and Angels. They're now on pace for another 90-loss season, which would be their third in Zduriencik's five years in Seattle.
The back end of the rotation and an inconsistent offense have been the biggest culprits this season. While Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have been one of the best one-two punches in baseball, Joe Saunders, Brandon Maurer and Aaron Harang have a combined record of 6-15 and all have ERAs north of 5.5.
After scoring one run during their two-game sweep in Anaheim, the Mariners are averaging just under 3.6 runs per game, slightly less than last year's average of 3.82.
"I think if you had to watch this club play every day you might actually think they're worse than they actually are because it's an ugly style of baseball when your offense is that anemic," Law said. "And I could see that coming down on the manager or on the front office just because one, that's the industry rumor and two, that's kind of how GMs get replaced across the game of baseball."
The continued struggles of once-highly-regarded prospects Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero haven't help matters – neither the Mariners' offense nor Zduriencik's track record.
"They just have not had any success developing young hitters once they get to the big leagues," said Law, a former front-office executive. "The guys all look fine in the minors. They get to the big leagues and they just stop hitting."
Zduriencik received a multi-year extension in August of 2011 even though the Mariners were en route to their second-straight losing season. He's been credited with replenishing a farm system that was considered bare when he replaced Bill Bavasi before the 2009 season. While Law believes the Mariners' future is bright with Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and the Big 3 pitching prospects on the horizon, he thinks 2015 is the soonest the team could conceivably contend.
"There's a lot to like, actually, in the long term for this club," he said, "but the short term is probably still going to be pretty unpleasant."
Thursday, May 23, 2013 @ 11:53pm
The Mariners may not be done making moves after sending Jesus Montero to Triple-A Tacoma, but Dustin Ackley and Aaron Harang are safe for now.
That was the word from general manager Jack Zduriencik, who joined "Wyman, Mike and Moore" Thursday afternoon. A few highlights from that conversation:
Ackley. Zduriencik's stated reasons for not sending Ackley to Tacoma included his strong defense at second base, some "tough luck" he's endured – presumably with hard-hit balls that ended up as outs – and a stretch in which Ackley appeared to be breaking out of his season-long slump. Zduriencik even said Ackley "has figured it out at the big-league level."
Dustin Ackley has a .218 batting average and five extra-base hits. "We're going to look forward to Dustin coming out of this thing," Jack Zduriencik said. (AP)
"Whenever you make a move, what is your best option to replace a player that you would send down?" Zduriencik said. "And I do think that is a major, major decision. That's a big, big decision in terms of the player you're bringing up, where he's at in his career and the player that's on your big-league ballclub."
Infielder Nick Franklin has been discussed as a potential call-up lately. Franklin, 22, was drafted with the second of the Mariners' two first-round picks in 2009, the same year they chose Ackley No. 2 overall. He's played in 101 games in Triple-A Tacoma since his promotion last year and his hitting .318 with four home runs and 20 RBIs in 37 games this season.
When asked specifically about Franklin, Zduriencik said he's happy with the way he's been playing in Tacoma but noted that he's young and not on the 40-man roster.
"Timing is everything with these young kids, there's no question," he said.
Harang. Zduriencik is giving Harang more time to recover from what has been a miserable start. Since he was acquired on April 11, Harang has gone 1-5 with an 8.58 ERA, and on Tuesday against the Angels he allowed seven earned runs and nine hits in just 3 2/3 innings.
Zduriencik, though, noted that start came after a nearly-two-week layoff and that Harang pitched well in Pittsburgh before he was scratched from his next start because of back spasms.
"I think when you have a veteran guy like this who has a history of being a dependable pitcher, you've got to continue to give him some rope and see what happens," Zduriencik said. "Hopefully he gets himself back on track. He said he felt good physically the other day; he just didn't pitch very good."
Gutierrez update. Zduriencik said he expects center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to be back with the big-league club "probably in a week." Gutierrez was placed on the 15-day disabled list on April 23 with a strained hamstring. It was his fifth trip to the DL since 2011. Zduriencik said the Mariners are taking their time given Gutierrez's injury history.
"With Franklin, you just have to see," he said. "He has to sustain a period, I think, for us to say, 'OK, he's ready to come up.' He's on a 20-day rehab, and ... in the past we've brought him up here when he said he feels good and he's played a couple days in a row, but I think we're looking to see a little more out of him this time, where, 'Franklin, you've got to go out there and feel really good about yourself.'"
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 @ 1:23pm
I don't know if you've heard about the sports-radio host who predicted that the Mariners would hit 200 homers or the Seahawks would go 19-0 this year.
He's the same one who predicted that Chris Hansen would come home with the promise of an expansion team at the NBA owners' meeting last week.
Hansen returned to Seattle with nothing. After smacking three homers in Monday's 10-8 loss to Cleveland, the Mariners are on a pace for 190. The Seahawks are still unbeaten, but it's only May, three and a half months from the season opener at Carolina on Sept. 8.
I thought they had a shot at an undefeated season after acquiring Percy Harvin in a trade and Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett in free agency. Then throw in what they picked up in the draft, particularly Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams on the defensive line. They went 12-6 last year without those players and keep in mind that they dropped those six games by a combined 26 points.
But Bruce Irvin's four-game suspension is making me waffle a bit. When you make a 19-0 prediction, you don't need guys to violate the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy.
You don't want to see the Seahawks take on Carolina, San Francisco, Jacksonville and Houston without Irvin. Sure, they'll probably beat the Jaguars without him, but what about the other three opponents?
The Seahawks will be without Bruce Irvin for their first four games, including a Week 2 meeting with the 49ers. (AP)
The 49ers? You don't want to face the NFC champs, even at home, without all hands on board.
The Jaguars? No problem there.
And the Texans? The Seahawks are one-point favorites to win at Houston, but that's certainly a losable game with or without Irvin.
You can justifiably argue that Irvin didn't make that much of a difference in many games last year. He was a situational player, primarily used to rush the quarterback. He was also a rookie, adjusting to the NFL like all first-year players.
Much more is expected from the former first-round choice this year. Or much more was expected.
I'm still mystified as to why Irvin would take Adderall in the offseason. From what I understand, it fires you up and helps you focus. What's the point of that in the offseason before you're even required to show up for practice? Which leads me to believe he didn't take Adderall but actually took something else.
I guess that part of it doesn't matter. Since we're in Seattle and since he's young, I get the feeling that we cut him more slack than we would if we were somewhere else and if Irvin were 29 instead of 25 years old.
If we were somewhere else, we'd be ripping and mocking the Seahawks for having five players who have been suspended for violating the NFL's PED policy in the last two years. We'd be calling them the Seadderall Seahawks.
We'd be criticizing Irvin's public apology, saying that what he's most sorry about is getting caught. We'd be playing the air violin after seeing him tweet that he's been depressed for weeks and experiencing sleepless nights.
Maybe he'll come back for the game at Indianapolis on a natural high, more focused and fired up than ever, seeking redemption.
Until then, Irvin's suspension will be a distraction because it's the latest in a series of PED screw-ups by the Seahawks. National media types were coming to Seattle anyway to write about the Seahawks' Super Bowl potential. Now they'll have different story angles in mind.
You know what else caught me off-guard? The news from Monday that Avril is dealing with a plantar fasciitis issue. Pete Carroll said it's minor. Avril said it's minor. But it bears watching. Remember how it affected Red Bryant last year?
Unless I'm mistaken, the Seahawks in their first four games will have only one true pass-rushing defensive end in the currently sore-footed Avril. After tearing his ACL in the playoff game at Washington, Chris Clemons likely won't be available. Neither will Greg Scruggs, who recently tore his ACL.
Maybe Bennett, the hybrid defensive tackle/end, can fill in. Maybe converted linebackers Malcolm Smith and Mike Morgan can, too.
But these are red flags. Forget about an unbeaten season; what about overtaking the 49ers in the NFC West?
For that to happen, the margin of error is slim, and Irvin's mistake doesn't help matters at all.
The Go 2 Guy also writes for his website, www.jimmoorethego2guy.com; www.seattlepi.com; and www.kitsapsun.com. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo. Jim appears weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on "Wyman, Mike and Moore".
Monday, May 20, 2013 @ 7:23pm
RENTON – Cliff Avril was a spectator as the Seahawks held their first organized team activity Monday, but he says the plantar fascia foot injury that kept him on the sideline is nothing to be concerned about.
While painful, Avril's injury didn't require surgery, and coach Pete Carroll said he expects the defensive end to be back to full speed in a matter of weeks.
That qualifies as a bit of good news for the Seahawks, who have seen their pass rush take a hit in recent weeks with Avril's foot injury, Greg Scruggs' ACL tear and Bruce Irvin's suspension. When the Seahawks signed Avril and Michael Bennett during the first week of free agency, their additions were seen as a luxury for a team that already had Irvin and at some point would get Chris Clemons back from a knee injury.
The outlook changed Friday when the NFL announced that Irvin will be suspended for the first four games of the season for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Irvin waived his right to appeal and acknowledged that he made a mistake by taking a substance that is prohibited without a medical-use exemption. He apologized publicly via a statement released by the team as well as a lengthy message posted on his Twitter account.
Irvin also apologized to his teammates during a team meeting. That impressed Avril, who saw plenty of teammates run afoul of the law and the NFL's policies during his five seasons with the Lions.
"Honestly, it was surprising for a young player like that to want to get in front of the team and apologize and what not. That was great, though, to see that maturity in him," Avril said. "I've only known him for a few weeks now, and to see a young player actually want to go out in front of 50, 60 guys and tell them what's going on and that he's going to miss the first four games of the season, much respect to him."
Irvin, eligible to participate in offseason activities despite his suspension, lined up at both Leo end and outside linebacker Monday. The Seahawks are considering using Irvin and Avril at outside linebacker in certain situations this season as a way of getting as many pass rushers on the field as possible, and Monday's OTA was an indication that they aren't scrapping that experiment because of Irvin's suspension.
Avril, 27, totaled 29 sacks over the last three seasons while mostly playing end in Detroit's 4-3 defense. While any new position requires a significant adjustment, starting in a two-point stance and dropping into coverage aren't completely foreign concepts for Avril, who began his career at Purdue as an outside linebacker. The Seahawks haven't offered many specifics about their plans for Avril and Irvin, but Avril said any action he sees in that role would include him lining up on the line of scrimmage.
"We talked about it during the process while I was signing. It's possible that there may be times where they need me to drop into coverage from time to time, and I do feel like I can do it. Whatever the team needs," he said. "But come passing downs, I truly believe I'll be one of the guys getting after the quarterbacks."
Friday, May 17, 2013 @ 10:49am
Can we call them the red-hot Mariners?
Normally, red-hot suggests 10 wins in a row or something along those lines, but when we're referring to the Mariners, doesn't 5-0-1 in the last six series qualify as red-hot? Especially when they came home from Houston at 8-15 last month after losing their second series of the season to the Astros.
I was starting to think they were the same old Mariners, but they've been a surprising bunch since, going 12-6, beating good teams and bad teams.
After their series win over the Yankees, the M's are now 12-6 since losing two of three to the Astros last month. (AP)
I also thought they wouldn't sniff .500 the rest of the year after losing 4-3 on Tuesday with Felix Hernandez starting the first game of the New York series. But here they are at 20-21 with a chance to hit .500 Friday night.
What they've done is pretty amazing. Even when fully healthy, they're an average team. Injuries sidelined Michael Saunders for two weeks, and Franklin Gutierrez and Stephen Pryor are still missing. Based on the fact that Gutie DH'd for the Rainiers Thursday night, he could return from his hamstring issues next week.
I figured they'd struggle without Saunders in the outfield and in the lineup, and they did, but the Mariners also hung in there with gritty veteran Endy Chavez taking over in center field.
ESPN.com's Keith Law told us that "Jason Bay stinks," yet the 34-year-old hasn't stunk. I know, he hasn't been terrific, but he hasn't been terrible either. He seems like a clubhouse glue guy, too.
And Raul Ibanez, I thought he might be finished, but what happens? He hits three home runs in two nights in the Yankees series. It's important that he remains moderately productive because of his strong presence in the clubhouse with younger players. I'm into that intangible stuff as much as seamheads like their numbers, and Ibanez has plus-plus stuff in that department.
Three-fifths of the rotation is loaded with question marks, and the Mariners have withstood those problems, too.
Things have turned in such a positive direction that the Mariners compared Thursday night's 3-2 win to a playoff game. Playoffs with this team this year? It's probably a pipedream, but as you know if you listen to the show, I'm into pipedreams, and sometimes pipedreams come true.
(Speaking of pipedreams, I've been roundly and justifiably criticized for predicting that the Mariners will hit 200 home runs this year. After Michael Morse clubbed his 10th of the season Thursday night, the Mariners are on a pace for 178 and still have a shot at the 200 milestone when you consider that Justin Smoak had 19 homers last year and has only one this year and is bound to heat up, isn't he? Ah, never mind, you might be right about Smoak.)
A fourth of the way through the season, the Mariners are four games back in the wild-card race. If they could win 85 games, they might have a shot. Does this team look like it could win 85 games? Right now it does. But when it came home from Houston last month? Not so much.
One more time, let me bring up what happened last year. Who among us thought the Orioles and A's would be in the playoffs? Why can't the Mariners be one of those teams this year?
I know, you've got plenty of plausible reasons why that won't happen. I'd counter that by saying: "You never know." Who would've thought the Angels would be 15-26 at this point with their lineup? I'll tell you what, I'm glad the Mariners have Morse instead of Josh Hamilton right now.
As I've mentioned before, imagine what it would be like if they can squeeze into the playoffs. Would you like their chances if Felix Hernandez pitched in a one-game wild-card playoff? Me too. Would you like their chances in a seven-game series with Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma pitching in four of the games? Me too.
Anything's possible. As evidence, Brendan Ryan went 2 for 4 Thursday, raising his average to .149.
The Mariners have a new ad campaign called "True to the Blue." As a longtime cynic, I'm not true to the blue as much as I'm true to the crimson, even if it doesn't rhyme.
But there's hope here, and hope is a heck of a lot better than we've had in the past.
Thursday, May 9, 2013 @ 4:14pm
Seahawks defensive end Greg Scruggs recently suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will threaten the backup pass rusher's availability for the upcoming season.
A source told 710Sports.com's Danny O'Neil that Scruggs underwent reconstructive surgery on his right knee Thursday morning, an operation performed by team surgeon Dr. Ed Khalfayan. General manager John Schneider told "Brock and Danny" Friday that Scruggs sustained the injury during a recent agility drill.
"One thing is guaranteed that I'm going to bust my butt to get back to full strength and contribute next year. Very disappointing...," Scruggs tweeted Thursday.
Scruggs, a seventh-round pick out of Louisville in 2012, finished his rookie season with two sacks and six tackles, playing in 11 regular-season games and both of Seattle's playoff games. He was projected to be a backup this season, a versatile defensive lineman with the size (6-foot-3, 284 pounds) to slide inside on passing downs.
His loss is one the Seahawks can absorb after bolstering their defensive line over the offseason. Seattle signed ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett as well as tackle Tony McDaniel before adding tackles Jordan Hill and Jesse Williams in the draft.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013 @ 9:18am
Not sure if you caught the Associated Press story from Yakima on Monday, the one in which Bill Moos made a lukewarm assessment of the 2013 football season, Mike Leach's second as head coach.
"I don't think I would forecast that we are assured of six wins this year," the Washington State athletic director said. "We've got a tough schedule. We've to open on the road at Auburn and then at USC, but we'll be better. I don't know if the scoreboard will show it. We're setting the foundation for what I believe will be a very strong program. Year 3 is when I believe it will show."
Washington State went 3-9 during Mike Leach's first season as head coach. (AP)
I know – it takes time to change the culture, time to get every player on board, time to rebuild the offensive line among other things. I also get that there weren't a lot of talented players for Leach to work with last year. As Moos pointed out in the AP story, "The guy is a great football coach, he's not the Wizard of Oz."
But we were 4-8 in 2011 and seemingly poised for a decent season at least, especially with a rock-star coach coming to town. Or so I thought. Didn't you?
Those games against Colorado, Utah and ASU were as bad as any games during the Paul Wulff era. I never saw 3-9 coming, and we were an eyelash from being 2-10 and going winless in the Pac-12 until the miraculous Apple Cup rally.
If you criticized Wulff during his tenure, it was more than acceptable – he had won at Eastern Washington, but there were questions about whether he could do it at a higher level.
But boy, if you criticize Leach you'll hear it from many alums who think you're not a true Coug. I was actually told by a prominent WSU booster that if I wasn't 100 percent supportive of Leach, I would lose my right to be a Coug and should no longer be able to say: "Go Cougs."
These fans basically feel that what happened last year – when the bad apples and slackers were weeded out – was a necessary step toward building a successful program. They also point to Leach's shiny record at Texas Tech and the fact that he led the Red Raiders to 10 consecutive bowl games.
And you know what? They're probably right. I'm guessing in 2014 when we're at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and in 2015 when we're at the Holiday Bowl and 2016 when we're in the Rose Bowl, they'll put it in my face and say I should've been more patient and should've understood the process.
But right now? Off of the season we just had? Then to be told not to expect much in 2013? With a schedule that features Southern Utah and Idaho?
(By the way, that Southern Utah game bothers me. We replaced BYU with Southern Utah because Moos said it gave our schedule more competitive balance or something like that. Personally, I'd rather see us play BYU in Pullman on Sept. 14 instead of Southern Utah, a team I'd never heard of. Sure, we'll beat the Thunderbirds, but I think it would've been more fun to play BYU. Our home schedule at Martin Stadium is the saddest home schedule we've ever had – Southern Utah, Idaho, Oregon State, ASU and Utah. BYU would've spiced it up.)
When you're a Coug, I understand that we're a loyal bunch that sticks with the team through the ups and the far-too-many downs. I've never been this conflicted about our football team before, and it troubles me when my allegiance to my alma mater is questioned. I should probably march in step with all of the Cougs who firmly believe that the Pirate of the Palouse is the answer to all of our football problems.
But from what I've seen so far, I'm on the fence with Leach.