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News » Seattle Mariners Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Seattle Mariners Inside Pitch 2009-03-29

Seattle Mariners Inside Pitch 2009-03-29
The Mariners aren't the same team that lost 101 games a year ago. It can be argued that they're not much better, but they certainly aren't the same.

Seattle has four new starters in the lineup -- left fielder Ken Griffey Jr., center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, designated hitter Mike Sweeney and first baseman Russell Branyan -- and a reworked bullpen.

There also is a new manager, Don Wakamatsu, and an entirely new coaching staff.

Such is the job turned in by new general manager Jack Zduriencik in his first five months at the helm.

What might come as a surprise is the fact that there seems to be a different attitude, too. The sullenness that dominated the team last year seems to have been purged, possibly because of the new management, possibly because of the new players or possibly because it's a new year.

But Griffey and Sweeney have spent the last month introducing a collegial atmosphere into the Mariners' clubhouse, and it has carried over onto the field.

A team with no appreciable leadership of note a year ago has those two to fall back on, and both seem more than willing to carry the burden.

The Mariners should hit for more power -- it would be difficult to hit for less than their 124 home runs hit last year, 12th in the American League -- with the additions of Branyan, Griffey and Sweeney, even though the team's RBI leader in 2008, left fielder Raul Ibanez, now plies his trade in Philadelphia.

Perhaps more significantly, the Mariners figure to draw more walks with their revamped lineup, which could put the hitters in more RBI spots than they were in a year ago, when Seattle seemed to go out of its way not to draw a walk.

The rotation could well be the backbone of this team even though two of the key members, left-hander Erik Bedard (sore butt muscle) and right-hander Brandon Morrow (forearm stiffness), didn't get to pitch as much as hoped in the spring.

Morrow, at least, figures to either stay in extended spring training or break with the Class AAA club in Tacoma while rebuilding his arm strength.

Those two and ace right-hander Felix Hernandez give the Mariners what they hope will be a strong 1-2-3, and right-hander Carlos Silva, left-hander Jarrod Washburn and left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith will fill out the rotation, Rowland-Smith taking over for Morrow at least to start the season.

The bullpen could be a problem, however, because the spring did not see anyone jump up to grab the closer's role vacated when right-hander J.J. Putz was traded to the New York Mets.

Wakamatsu says he doesn't want a bullpen by committee, but he might get exactly that from right-handers Miguel Batista, Mark Lowe and Roy Corcoran until, perhaps, right-hander Chad Cordero comes off the disabled list in May.

The Mariners don't look like a contender out of the chute, but most of the holdovers on the team save for second baseman Jose Lopez and right fielder Ichiro Suzuki are coming off down years.

If the others rebound, most notably Silva, Washburn, Batista, catcher Kenji Johjima and suddenly defensively challenged shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt, surprise is possible.

THE MARINERS WILL CONTEND IF ...: Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard and Brandon Morrow all are healthy and consistently give the team six to seven innings a start. It will be tough to get that from Bedard and Morrow in April, but the talent is there once they build up arm strength. The offense will need to go from last year's 671 runs to about 750 runs to make it all work. If things don't click, look for Washburn and the team's home run leader last season, third baseman Adrian Beltre, to be dealt by the All-Star break.

PRIMED FOR A BIG SEASON: 2B Jose Lopez had the best season of his career last year (.297 average, 17 home runs, 89 runs batted in), then crushed the ball throughout the World Baseball Classic for Team Venezuela. He could be the extra middle-of-the-lineup presence the Mariners need.

ON THE DECLINE: LHP Jarrod Washburn hasn't had a winning season in his first three years with Seattle. A 5-14 record and 4.69 ERA last year could have been better with some support, but Washburn might simply need to have a different address to get back to his form of the early part of this decade with the Angels.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: March 29, 2009

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