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The Kids Are Getting It Done

Posted by Jason A. Churchill on May 15, 2006

The Mariners head into their mid-week series at Oakland with a 17-22 record, but with a chance to make a move in the American League west.

Sounds either strange or odd to say that – or both – but it's as true as Bill Gates is rich.

Just 3 1/2 games back of first place Texas – yes, Texas – the M's can set themselves up for a very interesting eight-week stretch up to the all-star break with a strong finish to the current six-game road trip.

And they can thank the kids for that opportunity.

The M's are the third-youngest team in the majors, with an average age of 28, and the youngsters are producing, particularly in May.

Second baseman Jose Lopez has continued his strong start and he's slugging .469 through 39 games. Don't forget, half those games are at the Safe, death to right-handed bats.

Lopez, 22, is hitting .288 overall and a solid .271 at home. He's shredding the AL's pitching on the road, sporting a .560 slugging percentage away from the Safe.

The Venezuelan leads the team with a .410 average with runners in scoring position and a .313 average with runners in scoring position and two down. Talk about "two outs, so what?"

Lopez is the team's MVP through the first quarter of the season, and there really is no argument to be made. Just ask the Los Angeles Angels, against whom Lopez is hitting .414 with a .621 slugging.

For all of his defensive wizardry, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt is doing just fine at the plate. Sure, he's drawn just one walk, but he's hitting a very respectable .260 with two home runs and 11 total extra-base hits.

Betancourt is also 5-for-7 on stolen-base attempts and has a .545 slugging percentage away from home. Mighty nice to have from the league's best defensive player.

After hitting .188 in April, center fielder Jeremy Reed is batting .333 in May with four runs batted in. Both of his homers came in the Angels' series, as did both of Betancourt's as the team smacked nine long balls in the three games in Heaven.

Reed has clearly made three major adjustments to his approach, one is visibly obvious in his batting stance.

1)He's adjusted where he sets his hands, also something worked on during ST.

But his hands were too far back, and too stiff, leaving Reed susceptible to a lot of pitches, particularly anything in on his hands and anything up.

He's also keeping his hands still instead of the constant rocking of the bat in his palms.

2) With his hands lower, Reed can look for a pitch middle-in and adjust to the outer half, even if it's a fastball. He drove a K-Rod fastball into right-center field in the ninth inning on Saturday. The pitch was a little bit up and away, but Reed was able to lay a good swing on it.

3) Reed is actually looking to drive the ball and adjustments No. 1 and 2 have helped him keep his swing level through the zone, even when he's put an aggressive swing on the pitch.

His walk totals may stray a bit low for now, but he's in attack mode and looking much more comfortable than he has in 12 months.

When Reed is producing, this team is pretty good, even without Beltre and Sexson up to par.

Kenji Johjima will be 30 next month but he's an inexperienced player in this league. He's a legitimate rookie.

But his steady performance at the plate is a breath of fresh air. He's not going to win any batting titles and he may never make an all-star team in the US, but he's fanned just 13 times in 119 at-bats and is second on the club with a .357 average with runners in scoring position.

His defense was inconsistent for the first three to four weeks but he's been steady of late.

The young bats aren't solely responsible for the M's recent display of solid play. Felix Hernandez tossed seven strong inning versus Tampa last Wednesday and will be a major key to the series in Oakland. The 20-year-old starts the first game on Tuesday with a chance to continue the momentum the M's have built in the last two series.

With the exception of the injured Julio Mateo, an inconsistent and possibly done Eddie Guardado, a misused prospect and a few arms that just don't belong, the M's bullpen has been sensational.

Well, basically that means three arms have gotten the job done.

J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano and George Sherrill have combined to allow just 37 hits in 53 2/3 innings. The trio have fanned 68 and walked 23, holding opponents to a .198 average.

Putz has held right-handers to a .167 average while Soriano has held all hitters to a .208 average. The southpaw, Sherrill, has held left-handed hitters to a ridiculous .091 average.

Even Jake Woods, among those who don't belong in the bigs in the first place, has a .270 ERA in May and picked up a save versus his former club over the weekend.

The current bullpen, minus Guardado, has a total of eight seasons of major league experience among the five pitchers.

Putz and Soriano are all-star worthy.

Right-hander Emiliano Fruto was called up on Sunday and went the final 3 2/3 for the save in his first major league appearance and has the stuff to be a mainstay in the Mariners pen.

This team is starting to shape up a bit, even Adrian Beltre is starting to produce some. A few more tweaks and a Richie Sexson peak, and the M's may find themselves in serious business for the stretch drive.

And they can thank the kids for that opportunity.

Photo: Out Of The Park Images

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51 Responses to “The Kids Are Getting It Done”

  1. Willmore said

    How much of Lopez’ success can be attributed to him being protected by Ibanez batting behind him ?

    Now that Lopez found his “groove”, why not move him down to the #5 spot, and put Reed in the #2 slot to gain a similar advantage from Ibanez ?

    How about a lineup like this:

    1. Ichiro
    2. Reed
    3. Ibanez
    4. Sexson
    5. Lopez
    6. Johjima
    7. Everett
    8. Beltre
    9. Betancourt

    It creates an awkward L/R splits, but I never really believed that alternating them makes any difference.

    What do you think ?

  2. I hate the L/R thing. Hate it. It’s stupid.

    And with Reed it doesn’t come into play all that much right now anyways because he’s not going to start games versus lefties – also stupid, but even in my world he wouldn’t start half the time against LHP.

    Anyways… I like that lineup with the except of the 6-7 holes… I’d flip Everett and Johjima and then Beltre and Johjima.

    Beltre 7th, Joh 8th.

  3. Willmore said

    Yeah, 6-8 was a toss-up. I just have more faith in Joh to produce than I do in the other two. Beltre being an out 8 times out of 10, I don’t want him to be the 3rd out, I’d rather have Everett or Joh be in that position, preferrably Everett because, no matter how much I don’t want him on the club, he has shown some clutch ability. And if Beltre is the 3rd out, I’m completely fine with Betancourt starting off the next inning and setting the plate for Ichiro.

  4. Ya have to protect Beltre some, too. Hitting him 8th makes no sense.

  5. Willmore said

    Ok, it’s the 3 o’clock curse. Not sure if my previous post made sense, but basically I don’t want Beltre to be in a position to be the final out or the first batter of an inning. I figure that having him 8th would give him the most chances of being only the 2nd out. Not sure how I came up with it, but I’m basically working without stats here.

  6. Willmore said

    You’re probably right, but Beltre was supposed to be the guy giving the protection … *sob* … I’m depressed.

  7. If Beltre is hitting 8th, he can only be the potential third out if two of the first seven are already out and five have reached base to start the first inning.

    All other innings are much too unpredictable. You don’t know if the second inning is going to start in the 4th, 5th, or 6th, hole and the third inning on is even more impossible to project out.

    Ideally, Johjima would hit ninth behind Betancourt, whose on-base skills are very raw and TERRIBLE right now.

    But Joh is needed too much near the heart of the order to drive in runs.

  8. Goose said

    Somebody should of taped that Anahiem series, because I think the chances of Yubet and Reed both hitting two homers in the same series again are slim.

  9. Knuckles said

    Jason: I’m trying to find some news as to why Garciaparra was called up to Tacoma. Is Morse on the DL or something?

    Damn, that kid is small.

  10. T Shot said

    How about hitting Beltre 2nd for a while, so he can see some fastballs?

  11. DIQ said

    Beltre does see fastballs. See’s them go by or foul them off.

  12. Garciaparra was called up for two reasons.

    1. Dobbs’ foot is really sore and while he hasn’t been DL’d he has been available for PH duty only.

    That could change any day.

    2. With Snelling DH’ing, Jones, Choo and Bohn can only play the OF to get into the lineup, but they want Morse to play first as much as they can get him in there. That leaves Cabrera and Youngbauer as the only two every day middle infielders.

    Morban is still on the DL.

  13. Knuckles said

    Damn. Forgot about Morban. Yesterday was my first Rainiers game of the season. I guess my real question is: Why Garciaparra? All I read about is how ill-prepared he is for the pro game, and what a waste of a draft pick he was. I was rather impressed with his strike zone judgement, as I expected him to be outrageously hacktacular in his approach. TJ Bohn, on the other hand, impressed me with his…height. Kid’s tall. He and Morse should never be allowed to play basketball on the same team.

  14. Garciaparra’s not ill-prepared, he’s just not talented enough to have been a first rounder.

    He’s had problems staying healthy, but the past season and a half that hes’ played he’s hit for average and gotten on base at a very solid clip.

    Why Garciaparra?

    Who else were you going to call up for spot duty in Tacoma?

    Ya don’t yo-yo Navarro, because he’s an actual prospect. Ismael Castro, who took MG’s spot on SA’s roster, wasn’t ready, and isn’t the defender you want in AAA.

    I may have gone with Bourgeois over MG, but because it’s a short-term thing, I don’t have an issue with it at all.

    Bohn grossly unimpresses me offensively. He’s got terrible plate discipline, is very hesistant at times and cannot handle a decent slider to save his life.

    He’s got raw power but he’s already 25+ and it doesn’t appear he’s going to turn a corner anytime soon.

  15. eknpdx said

    But he is tall, right?

    So Jason, since you brought it up, how is Navarro viewed by the organization?

    From what I can recall, he was an all glove, light hitting at best IF-er. Has something changed?

  16. Knuckles said

    Yeah, Jason, that was my question: Why Garciaparra and not Navarro, not knowing that the callup is only temporary. Like I said, seeing his name in the 9 hole caught me off-guard.

    Who is pitching at tomorrow’s game for the Rainiers? I’m chaperoning a field trip for my son’s school.

  17. They love Navarro. Enough to add him to the 40-man this past winter.

    And he’s no more of a light-hitting bat than Cabrera at the same stage. STAGE, not age.

  18. Cha Seung Baek goes for Tacoma tomorrow.

    I’ll be at the game, scream my name and watch me wave from the press box.

    11:35 games are killer. Man, that is early.

  19. DIQ said

    JAC,

    Finally got a chance to catch you on Softy’s show this morning. Really enjoyed the segment although it felt a little bit short. So there is a high possibility of Snelling getting called up a month from now?

  20. JasonAChurchill said

    It’ll be short when there isn’t much going on. 8 to 15 minutes.

    Yeah, there is a shot that Snelling gets the call in June, but if Everett keeps hitting at a high level, Snelling won’t be taking Abs from him.

    Unless Reed keeps up his recent streak, that’s where the Abs may come from. Ichiro to center and Snelling and Raul play the corners.

  21. DIQ said

    Also what do you think of the adjustments Reed has made to his stance? Has his brief performance secured him as the CF? If continues to struggle at the plate I hope there IS a chance of Snelling coming up for Reed in the near future.

  22. JasonAChurchill said

    BTW, the more calls they get during the segment, the longer they’ll go.

    So start calling and trying to get on the air.

  23. eknpdx said

    The Baseball cube lists Navarro as a switch hitter, is that right?

    His current .405 OBP is a major jump from the past. 20BB/23Ks is very impressive.

    I didn’t realize he had the potential to hit.

    Oh, and did you expect Fruto to perform the way he did for his first game? I was a bit shocked. He seemed to be hiding the ball very well.

  24. Knuckles said

    How realistic do you think it is that the M’s would actually move Ichiro to CF? As far as I can recall, he only did it once for Bone back in the ’01 playoffs. I personally think that OF would be decent, but I’d rather see Snelling and Choo playing the corners, with Raul DH’ing and C. Rex getting dealt to…hell, anyone. Even the Angels.

    I’ll holler on up there. I have no idea where the kids are sitting, however (it’s WASL relief day for the Bremerton School District. Not a crappy way to spend a day, in my opinion).

  25. Knuckles said

    And for some reason, I thought Baek was going today. I’ll admit it, I like watching him pitch in Tacoma. Guy always seems to do well when I’m at the game.

  26. DIQ said

    Will do Jason. Didn’t catch the number in time, but I had intended in making a call to the show. Too bad.

  27. Ichiro didn’t move in the ’01 playoffs… Buhner played left.

    I’m not sure if Ichiro is all that willing to move to center, but I also don’t think the club has asked him.

    I think if they did, he’d move.

  28. DIQ said

    BTW.

    Jason I’m glad that someone called out Bavasi/Hargrove on the misuse of B-Liv on the big club. It seems that people really think Livingston’s stint was a failure when it’s the fact that he wasn’t put in a position to succeed.

    Did anybody hear that guy suggest benching Sexson and starting Bloomquist at 1B?

    That got me chuckling.

  29. Knuckles said

    Man, I remember Buhner playing RF at Yanl Stadium. And actually, I’m right. Lou listed him as the starting LF, but Ichiro and Bone switched (although my assertion that Ichiro played CF is just stupid on the face of it, remembering that we had Cammy at the time).

    http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/ws/news/ws_news_story_alcs.jsp?article=10232001-0223

  30. Knuckles said

    Whoops. Sorry about the URL.

  31. Willmore said

    With a name like Knuckles, you know it has to be good.

  32. Willmore said

    Wlad Balentien recorded a golden sombrero today. His plate discipline sure seems to be improving … 😦

  33. Knuckles said

    Hey, Bohn managed to rack up the sombrero yesterday. Looked very snazzy with his long blond hair.

  34. JasonAChurchill said

    Ichiro has never started in center for the M’s, I don’t believe, and certainly not in the playoffs.

  35. marinerswinws said

    Ichiro did play left for one game when Buner played right. BTW calling in to the radioshow , thats a challenge.

  36. Goose said

    According to ESPN he started 3 games in centerfield in 2002 for hte Mariners.He has never played left field however.

  37. Goose said

    Linkage

  38. 3 games of 850.

    Pretty close to never.

  39. Knuckles said

    Hey, I was referring only to the playoff game at Yanl Stadium so Bone could play right. And I will once again throw myself on the altar of apology for completely spacing that we had Cammy starting in CF, so there’s no way Ichiro would have displaced him. Ichiro moved to LF.

  40. eknpdx said

    That’s okay Knuckles, it’s because you are not tall.

    Jason, can you shed a little light on when Rob Johnson would be considered ready for a MLB job? And do you consider him traded by 2007?

  41. 2quarters said

    I wish I could see how Ichiro played out there.

    I wonder why he likes playing RF so much as opposed to center?

  42. Goose said

    Maybe because he likes to show off his cannon?

    I don’t understand it either.Didn’t he play CF in Japan?

  43. marc w. said

    I’ll see you at the game, I hope, JAC – you gonna hang around a bit after the game, chat to scouts, etc? If so, let me know.

  44. JH said

    Blackley’s back to being incredibly tough to hit.

    7IP, 5H, 0R, 2BB, 4K today

    Wolff is helping him out, but damn it’s nice to see him puttin up those zeros.

  45. Dwight Schrute said

    Hi Jason. Are you still planning on writing up some specific trades that the M’s should pursue? Thanks.

  46. Yes, Dwight. I’m almost done with it as we head to the 7th here at Cheney.

  47. Willmore said

    Jason, is Snelling ok ? Was the defensive substitution just that, or did he get hurt ?

    Please tell me he’s fine !

  48. He’s fine. They don’t want him logging long innings out there right away.

  49. Willmore said

    That’s what I thought … but boy, a scary box score 🙂

  50. Knuckles said

    Jason: Completely irrelevant question, but wasn’t Doyle wearing #19 on Sunday?

  51. StandinPat said

    Lopez creeping back towards .300, two more RBI’s last night with two outs. Is it too early to start thinking about dropping him down int he order?

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