Fernando Rodney still gets the baseball in San Diego. Logan Morrison’s name remains on the odd lineup card.
Failure is not only an option in baseball, it’s apparently the key to continued employment.
And failure – OK, sometimes relative failure – is all the Mariners have known since 2001, when they made their last appearance in Major League Baseball’s playoffs. In that time they managed to halve attendance that reached 3.5 million, though the tide has inched back in of late, as people feel the need to find new venues at which to be on their phones all the time.
This is where the M’s excel: creating indifference.
And they’re at it again.
Five games into the 2016 baseball season, the Mariners have managed to quell the minor rattle and hum they had generated in a couple of rock ’em, sock ’em days in Texas. In a dispiriting 6-1 loss to the Oakland A’s on Saturday night, Seattle looked so much like recent incarnations that the marketing folks mulled giving away any leftover Dustin Ackley bobbleheads cluttering up the storage closet.
Two home games, nine hits, three runs – and 83,000 customers with little incentive to return.
Caveat time: It’s early. Pretty sure somebody said that Saturday night.
“It’s a little early,” cautioned catcher Chris Iannetta.
See? This is why it’s important to take notes.
And you don’t enter a garbage scow in a slalom race. It takes time to change course in baseball, especially when the tiller has rusted in place out of sheer stubbornness.
But, of course, that’s why all it took was just a sliver of light to bathe this Mariners season in hope.
Because they’d invested in change. Ownership finally got the message last year that Zduriencik’s peculiar talent was fraud and rid themselves of it, and hired Jerry Dipoto – the Ike Clanton to Mike Scioscia’s Wyatt Earp at the Oh No Corral of the Los Angeles Angels’ inner sanctum. Dipoto then signed on buddy Scott Servais as the field manager, and together they took to remaking the Mariners with the same sharp utensils Pete Carroll and John Schneider took to the Seahawks roster some years back.
Ten new faces on the 25-man roster, four more who weren’t in uniform for Opening Day 2015.
And on Saturday night, the new-look M’s were made to look foolish by one Rich Hill, a 36-year-old left-hander with nine wins to his credit in the last eight years. He struck out 10 Mariners in six innings, and each time it looked as uncomfortable as a colonoscopy.
This is change?
On paper, yes. Zduriencik’s tone-deafness to the need for getting runners on base was crazy-making – extending an M’s tradition of being last in the league most years, and a streak that dated back to 2003 of always being below the league average. Dipoto scrounged for new bats with a history of getting aboard – Iannetta, Norichika Aoki, Adam Lind – and more speed in the likes of Leonys Martin.
“You saw glimpses in Texas when the pieces around our core grind at-bats, get on base, make it tough on the pitcher,” Servais said. “If those guys are on base when the middle of our lineup gets to the plate, we’re going to score lot of runs and it’s going to be fun to watch. It’s the design behind how our team was built.”
Well, in two nights at Safeco Field, there’s been no fun. It was especially un-fun in the sixth inning Saturday, when the M’s got two men on and Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Iannetta all fanned on 75 mph breaking balls.
“Double-digit strikeouts is not great,” Servais allowed. “We needed to be more competitive in some at-bats. Rich has a great curveball and he finished us off late in counts, and we just weren’t able to adjust.”
The home run derby in Texas that got folks all a-dither was likely a fool’s gold combination of a hitter’s ballpark and a suspect Rangers bullpen. Obviously, there is long-knockage in Seattle’s lineup, but the balance is missing. Already, the M’s are hitting just .167 against left-handers, .309 against righties.
“Teams will throw left-handers at us when they can, based on our lineup and how it’s designed,” Servais admitted. “We’ve got to get the right-handed guys going.”
As encouraging as the lineup makeover was from the statistical side, the vital statistics aren’t as leavening. There are some aging bats in there – Aoki, Cano, Iannetta, Nelson Cruz, Franklin Gutierrez, Seth Smith and Dae-Ho Lee are all 33 or older.
So it’s early yet. But not for them, necessarily.
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