Chicago Cubs pitchers managed to do Thursday what the rest of the Cactus League hasn’t this spring:
Keep Edgar Martinez hitless.
But only because Mariners manager Lou Piniella left Martinez back in Peoria - Seattle having to play without a designated hitter in a National League park.
“It’s not like he needs the practice,” groused teammate Jay Buhner, upon hearing that Martinez wouldn’t be on the bus to Mesa. “He’s only hitting .900.”
Not quite, but the American League batting champion of 1995 has turned into a god at the plate in Arizona. A 3-for-3 afternoon on Wednesday boosted his spring average to .522, the best in baseball - including 16 hits in his last 21 at bats, a .762 clip. Martinez’s slugging percentage is a mere .909, with five doubles and four homers among his 23 hits.
But then, Martinez is only 31 percentage points ahead of the club record pace he set last spring.
Hard to believe that the 11,735 people at HoHoKam Park bought tickets to see Randy Johnson hit instead.
Bullpen looks sharp
As uplifting as Johnson’s outing was in the 6-4 win over the Cubs, Piniella seemed even happier about the performance of his bullpen. Rusty Meacham, Salomon Torres, Bobby Ayala, Greg McCarthy and surprising Josias Manzanillo combined to shut down the Cubs on just one run after Johnson’s departure in the fifth inning.
It was the best showing by the M’s staff in 10 days, since a 2-0 loss to the Giants the day Johnson beaned J.T. Snow.
“That was encouraging,” Piniella said.
“The conditions in Arizona aren’t conducive to good pitching. It’s hard to get a read on guys, and you really can’t judge by statistics. But on the other hand, you want to see your guys put together good sequences against hitters, throw strikes and see how they do under pressure in a close game. They did very well today.”
Manzanillo threw a scoreless ninth, giving up a single and striking out two, for the save. A non-roster player, the 29-year-old right-hander was signed as a minor-league free agent out of the Yankees organization. He missed the entire 1996 season - and half of 1995 - due to inflammation of the right elbow.
This spring he has a 2.08 earned run average and 11 strikeouts in 8-2/3 innings and has pitched himself into contention for a job in the M’s bullpen.
“He’s something,” said pitching coach Nardi Contreras. “He’s got fire. He really gets into his game and he’s getting people out. We put him in a closing situation and he did that with no problem.”
Joey Cora’s grand slam in the fifth inning was the game-winning momentum changer for the Mariners, who won for the sixth time in eight games and evened their Cactus League record at 11-11.
But on his next at bat in the seventh, Cora was hit on the left wrist by a pitch from Jeremi Gonzalez. Though Cora hopped away from the plate in obvious pain, Piniella said afterward there was no real damage.
More cuts coming
After first saying that Wednesday’s seven cuts were probably the last until just before the start of the regular season, Piniella said another seven players could be sent down or released next Tuesday or Wednesday. That would leave the M’s with 27 players, two over the limit, for the final four exhibition games.
Seventeen position players remain for the 14 spots Piniella said he will reserve on his opening day roster. The Mariners plan to take 11 pitchers back to Seattle.
Fighting for a job
Lee Tinsley continued his bid for the left-field job with a home run on Thursday, and John Marzano - trying to stave off a bid by Brent Mayne for the backup catcher’s spot - also homered.