PEORIA, Ariz. – Jose Lopez is not a happy camper, and he doesn’t like to play baseball that way.
The Seattle Mariners infielder is frustrated with a spring training position switch. The 26-year-old Lopez has played second base almost exclusively for the past four seasons, but this spring he’s being tried out at third base.
“It makes sense but I don’t feel comfortable right now,” Lopez said after the Mariners’ intrasquad game Monday. “I don’t want to play mad. I want to play like the last four years at second base. I want to play happy.”
He’s not happy because he’s out of his comfort zone. He played some third base in the minor leagues but has been on the “hot corner” only five times in 718 big league games.
Third base was vacated after Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre departed, signing a free agent deal with Boston. The Mariners signed free agent Chone Figgins in the offseason with the idea he could play third. But Figgins is versatile enough to play all around the field. He’ll be playing second while the Lopez experiment progresses.
With Lopez’s power – 25 home runs last season – and some range limitations at second, the club believes third base would be a more accommodating spot for him. The Mariners will use at least the first half of their spring schedule to determine if it’s worth following through into the regular season.
“You’re looking at the middle of the games. We don’t have an end date,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “We want to take a look. We can always go back the other way.”
Although this was a local hot stove topic during the winter, Lopez said, “no one said nothing” to him about the change before camp opened. “I come in the first day and skipper talk to me.
“I never say no. I try. It’s a good idea for my team. I want to be a good teammate,” Lopez added. “Wak said, ‘you don’t like it, come see me in my office and say, you don’t like it.’ ”
Lopez is going to give it his best shot over the next few weeks.
“I want to catch a lot of ground balls in the games, see how I catch them at third base,” he said. “The ground ball is coming fast. One (difference) at third base is the ball is up in the eyes. I need maybe two weeks at third base to feel comfortable catching ground ball. When games start, I play maybe five games a week, maybe seven innings. I catch a lot of ground balls during the week.
“I don’t feel good right now. I want to be happy at third base.”
If it works out that Lopez stays at third with Figgins at second, the Mariners would essentially have an entire new infield from last season. The club signed Casey Kotchman to play first, and Jack Wilson, who arrived in a July 29 trade from Pittsburgh, will start at short. But Wilson was limited to only 31 games with the club last season because of a bruised right heel.
“We are all veterans. Everyone played four, five, six years in the big leagues,” Lopez added. “They know what’s going on in this game, especially Figgins, who played short, second, third, center field. It’ll take a couple weeks (to work together) but it’s no big deal.”
Lopez had a couple base hits, including a double, in the Mariners’ intrasquad game. However, he did not have a ground ball hit his way. … Dustin Ackley, the Mariners’ first-round draft pick (second overall) from last June, also is making a position transition from outfield to second base. He made a fine diving stop to his right to start a force-out at second base in the eighth inning. “It’s good to get out there and see balls off the bat live. It’s a little bit different when you get into games,” Ackley said.