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Seattle will need major offensive infusion to shake two-year doldrums

Sun., April 2, 2006

SEATTLE – The Seattle Mariners discovered in 2005 that one off-season and $114 million wasn’t enough to fix their problems.

The team made much hoopla in signing sluggers Adrian Beltre and Randy Sexson to astronomical contracts. Yes, Sexson had a fine year, especially considering he missed the previous season with shoulder surgery. He led the team in homers and runs batted in.

But Sexson had little help.

One year after hitting 48 homers with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Beltre totaled just 19 with the Mariners. Getting Beltre back on track has to be at the top of Seattle’s wishes this season.

The Mariners desperately need Beltre to come around because no one other than Sexson drove in more than 90 runs. After spending for power, the Mariners scored the second-fewest runs in the American League and finished last in the A.L. West.

Indeed, after two straight seasons of 90-plus losses, general manager Bill Bavasi’s job might well depend on increased offensive production.

To that end, he signed outfielder Carl Everett, the temperamental but gifted veteran who hit 23 homers with the Chicago White Sox last season. It also is hoped that Everett will add some attitude to a sometimes excessively laid-back clubhouse. We say: Be careful what you wish for.

Seattle caught a break after it looked like center fielder Jeremy Reed broke his wrist crashing into an outfield wall chasing after a fly ball on March 23. What was first diagnosed as a broken bone in the wrist is now being called a sprained wrist after further review by doctors. Reed – an integral part of the Mariners’ outfield – probably won’t be out of the lineup more than a few games, if that, to start the season..

Had the diagnosis stayed a broken wrist bone, Seattle appeared ready to replace Reed in center field with Joe Borchard.

The players seemed to respond to new hitting coach Jeff Pentland this spring and were more successful in hitting to the opposite field and putting players in motion than they have been.

That’s great news for leadoff hitter Ichiro Suzuki, whose batting average dipped 36 points less than his career average in 2005. Even so, he still squeezed out 200 hits.

The M’s hope that Japanese import Kenji Johjima will be the answer to their catching woes. He already has shown a strong and accurate arm, along with an ability to communicate with his pitchers, despite the language differences.

Johjima also averaged 30 homers the past five years playing in Japan, but as a right-hander in cavernous Safeco Field, his numbers figure to decline a bit.

The M’s are rightfully excited about their middle infield, with 24-year-old shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and second baseman Jose Lopez, 22. Once Reed returns, the M’s defense should be solid up the middle.

The Mariners had the fewest errors in the league last year. Their defense, while young in many areas, can only get better.

Seattle’s starting rotation seems set. The Mariners signed free-agent Jarrod Washburn from the Los Angeles Angels, who joins civic treasure Jamie Moyer, Joel Pineiro, Gil Meche and Felix Hernandez.

Moyer, at 43, still can pitch 200 innings and Hernandez has one of the best young arms in baseball. But at the end of last season, both Pineiro and Meche wondered whether they would stick around. This is the year they have to show more consistency, or they simply won’t be.

The bullpen is a question mark. Closer Eddie Guardado, a lefty, is set. Right-handers J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano and Julio Mateo have been good, but left-handed relief has been getting shelled.

Give Beltre the benefit of the doubt. He lost a few pounds, his hamstrings won’t take the beating they did last year, and he had a good World Baseball Classic.

Other than Beltre, it’s difficult to pinpoint just how improved the Mariners can be. They’re better, yes, but so is the rest of the division.

Seattle shapes roster

The Mariners trimmed their opening-day roster to 25 players, optioning Rene Rivera to Triple-A Tacoma and keeping newly acquired Guillermo Quiroz to be their backup catcher behind Japan’s Kenji Johjima. The Mariners claimed Quiroz, 24, off waivers from Toronto on Friday.

Seattle also optioned right-hander Emiliano Fruto to Tacoma, selected infielder Roberto Petagine from Tacoma, placed outfielder Chris Snelling on the 15-day disabled list and designated Marcos Carvajal for assignment.

Today, Major League Baseball will place outfielder Matt Lawton on the restricted list for 10 days for violating rules against substance abuse.


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