SEATTLE – Turning for third with two outs last week in Oakland, Seattle Mariners outfielder Abraham Almonte did not have the proper grasp of two things.
First, he didn’t understand that Oakland A’s outfielder Sam Fuld has a strong throwing arm. As a part-time player, Fuld has produced 13 outfield assists, including five in one season.
Second, Almonte didn’t grasp how hard shortstop Brad Miller had hit the ball at Fuld. That was likely the downfall for the speedy rookie from the Dominican Republic during his pursuit of going from first to third base.
Among baseball’s baserunning bylaws is never make the third out at third base. Almonte’s ambitious attempt resulted in Robinson Cano leading off the next inning. Had he halted at second, Cano would have come up with two men on base.
Those mistakes will be made this season. Then, hopefully, rectified. Almonte’s played just 33 major league games, yet is the Mariners’ starting center fielder and leadoff hitter. New manager Lloyd McClendon has turned Almonte loose despite his inexperience and is living with the consequences, good and bad.
“It’s a necessary evil,” McClendon said. “The only way he’s going to be an instinctive player is to rely on his own talents. I liken it a lot to when I used to go see my son play high school baseball. There’s two outs and there’s (a) 3-0 (count) on the hitter, and the coach is giving signs and there’s nobody on base. I’m like, ‘What the hell? Let the kids play.’
“Sometimes we become too instructive as coaches and we actually get in the players’ way. I’m just trying to stay out of their way. Let them play. If they’re good, they’ll figure it out.”
Almonte has erred in the outfield, too. He dove for a sinking line drive and missed. The ball rolled to the wall.
But, there has also been times the rookie has burned into second, able to take an extra base. He’s run down fly balls in the outfield. He also adds spunk to the top of the Mariners’ lineup this season after being acquired from the Yankees in a trade for reliever Shawn Kelley last offseason.
The freedom from McClendon is surprising and welcome.
“The player that I am, it’s big,” Almonte, 24, said. “Sometimes, I don’t know what to do. Am I supposed to run or no? When you’ve got a guy that tells you, ‘Be you. If you do something that we think you’ve got to be a different way, we’ll tell you. But don’t be afraid to do something because we’re going to say something. Just play your game. Be you.’”