Despite the insouciant smile, Mariners’ third baseman Chone Figgins is no doubt churning inside. He’s got the numbers to prove it.
A typical at-bat:
- first pitch fastball down the middle for a called strike
- off-speed pitch for another called strike
- a swing and a miss on either a fastball out of the zone or a breaking ball in the dirt.
This gets old.
But his few supporters tell us that he’s still the best glove at that position in the club’s organization. Yet, he muffed a sure double-play grounder yesterday, almost costing the M’s another game. Fortunately, the pitching, for the most part, has done phenomenally well.
The emerging star of the lineup is Brendan Ryan, known more for his glove and psychological quirks. He’s now hitting the ball with consistency, batting over .500 this past week. Mercifully, manager Eric Wedge dropped Figgins to the 8th slot, promoting Ryan to the second, Figgins’s normal place in the order.
I routinely study the Tacoma Rainiers’s box scores. Dustin Ackley is finally demonstrating his batting prowess, inching up toward the magical .300. I’ve not seen him play defense, but he’s a quick learner and hard worker, so I imagine it’s just a matter of some polishing before he’s called up.
Italian-born Alex Liddi has hit .300 for a season; he’s currently at .276 with 9 homeruns. Again, I can’t vouch for his fielding. Matt Mangini was sharing third-base duties with Liddi, but is now listed at first base, with Matt Tuiasosopo. Mangini hits about as well as Liddi.
Both Mike Carp and Josh Bard have batted over .300, with Carp leading the club with 14 round-trippers. While a first baseman by trade, Carp has been tried in the outfield, but is now listed as the DH. Bard, we know, is a capable catcher, having been with the parent club much of last year.
I sense that there will be some movement over the next few weeks. Jack Wilson can’t be satisfied with his part-time role at second base, since he’s used to playing shortstop full time. Will management try to trade him? What about Figgins, who has a very lucrative contract?
If I were the GM, I’d try the following:
- send Michael Saunders back to the Rainiers so that he can learn how to hit; like Figgins, he lets too many good pitches go by and swings at the bad ones;
- as high as I was on Carlos Peguero, he’s become a human helicopter at the plate, creating a mighty wind with each empty swing; I’d send him back down to learn the strike zone and, more important, to start his swing earlier without prematurely opening up his front shoulder;
- bring Ackley up to share second base with Adam Kennedy, the off-season acquisition I truly loved, and I have not been disappointed; Wilson, as much as I liked his becoming an M, would benefit from new environs;
- Figgins’s problems appear to be mental more than physical, like Milton Bradley before him; he, too, might welcome new settings, which would leave room for Liddi.
These past few games I had opportunity to view the Yankees at the plate. There’s a reason their games last longer than the rest. Almost all their hitters exercise plate discipline. And when they see a pitch to hit, they swing hard, though not overly so, to bash solid line drives or four-baggers. I would not want to face them. I’m hoping that the Mariner hitters are watching films of Cano, Teixeira, and Granderson.
On the other hand, the Mariners are playing extremely well of late, winning more than losing. They’re within striking distance of first place. They can afford to play host to Figgins and Wilson and Peguero and Saunders. They are solid up the middle, especially with the return of Gutierrez in center. I’ve always liked Miguel Olivo behind the plate. He doesn’t have to hit to be valuable (notice how he frames the close pitches to receive favorable calls from the umps), yet he’s contributed much to the M’s current offensive performance.
We’ll see. How nice it is to be a fan again.