PEORIA, Ariz. — Despite Ichiro Suzuki’s record-shattering 262 hits, no team in the American League scored fewer runs or hit fewer homers than the Seattle Mariners last season.
The Mariners suffered through an offensive nightmare. The 2.9 million fans who paid their way into Safeco Field grew weary of seeing the team’s lack of power and timely hitting.
“You shouldn’t be last in runs scored when a player like Ichiro gets 262 hits,” said new hitting coach Don Baylor, slowly shaking his head. “He has to score 150, 170 runs.”
Ichiro had a career-low 101 runs in 2004. The Mariners finished 29 games out of first place in the A.L. West and had their most losses in 21 years, 99.
“If I’m an RBI guy and that guy’s out there, I’m going to drive him in a lot of times,” Baylor said. “That’s the mentality that hitters have to have, you want to drive that tough RBI in.”
The Mariners knew they had to spend big to repair their offense. They doled out $114 million to free-agent sluggers Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson.
But Beltre, who led the majors with 48 homers last season, and the 6-foot-8 Sexson, who hit 45 homers for Milwaukee in both 2001 and 2003, can’t supply the entire power surge. They need help from some of the returning Mariners.
Players like Bret Boone, Raul Ibanez, Randy Winn and Miguel Olivo.
Baylor is optimistic he can help turn around an offense that scored 698 runs and hit 136 homers last season.
“We’re going to have some guys who want to do it,” Baylor said. “They better. If not, they’re going to be looking for another hitting coach. But I’m confident in my ability to get it done.”
With the exception of pitching coach Bryan Price, Mariners manager Bob Melvin and his coaches were fired after last season. That included hitting coach Paul Molitor, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last summer.
New manager Mike Hargrove hired Baylor, 55, who was the bench coach of the New York Mets the past two seasons. It’s Baylor’s fifth job as a major league hitting coach.
He managed the Colorado Rockies from 1993-1998 and the Chicago Cubs from 2000-2002.
Hargrove swears by Baylor, who played 19 seasons in the majors.
Baylor is the strong, silent-type who was a premier power hitter as a player in the 1970s and 1980s with 338 homers and 1,276 RBIs.
“He brings instant credibility that not a lot of people can command,” Hargrove said. “He was an established hitting superstar in the game. Don was a hard-nosed player. He had a reputation of playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played and for demanding the same of his teammates. He brings that attitude to his job.”
Baylor will try to persuade the Mariners to hit his way, especially at Safeco, which is viewed as a pitcher’s park. He’ll be working with a predominantly right-handed hitting lineup.
“You play half your games there,” he said. “In the times I’ve been in that ballpark, right field is a hitter’s dream – if you hit the other way.”
Baylor admitted it may take some convincing.
“Sometimes guys get carried away,” he said. “They want to pull the ball. They want to hit long home runs to left. To me, it’s impressive if you hit the ball the other way. So that’s what my goal is: To get guys to hit the other way. That means we put more balls in play. That means we end up driving in more runs.”
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