Reasons were many for the Mariners lack of success in 2011, most having to do with an offense that was unproductive in the extreme. Seattle scored 556 runs when the American League team average for runs scored was 723, and when the next-worst offense, the Minnesota Twins, scored 619.
Improving the bats was the prime directive for general manager Jack Zduriencik this off-season. It wasnt, however, the only shortcoming needing attention.
Take, for example, the way Zduriencik went out of his way to bring in left-handed relievers. Two former All-Stars, George Sherrill and Hong-Chih Kuo, were brought in, as was another veteran, Oliver Perez.
The Mariners dipped into the ranks of the Rule 5 draft to nab lefty Lucas Luetge, plucked out of the Milwaukee minor league system. Sean Henn, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2009, was given a shot.
Charlie Furbush, a starter in 2011 for all but one game after being acquired from Detroit, was pushed into the bullpen competition. Cesar Jimenez, a longtime Seattle minor leaguer who got into a handful of games last year, was brought into camp with another chance to win a job.
Why all this emphasis on the left-handed side of the equation? Its all about the numbers.
Seven of the top 10 hitters in the American League in batting average were either left-handed or switch-hitters. The top four (and five of the top six) RBI producers were either lefties or switch-hitters. And three of the leagues top five home run producers fit into the same category.
Against that, the Mariners had just two lefties who threw more than one game of relief last year, Aaron Laffey and Jimenez. Laffey, let go on waivers last August and now trying to catch on with the Blue Jays, threw 42.2 innings in 36 games before his exit. Jimenez pitched 6.2 innings in eight games. That was it. Including Furbushs one inning, lefty relievers contributed 50.1 innings to the cause in 2011.
Consider that 12 AL left-handed pitchers individually threw more innings of relief than that. The White Sox had three, including former Mariner first-round draft pick Matt Thornton.
Three other American League teams had two left-handed relievers exceed the Mariners team total, including the Angels and As from the AL West.
The Mariners were woefully understaffed in that area. Zduriencik did what he could to make things right.
Trouble is, things have not gone well for most of the left-handed troops this spring. Perez and Henn have already been sent to the minor league camp.
Meanwhile, Kuo has been so awful, giving up 15 hits in 6.2 innings, including a team-worst five homers to go with a 17.55 ERA, that he was released Monday.
“He shows signs, but hes just been erratic with his fastball, and his breaking ball has been in and out at times, manager Eric Wedge told the Mariners media in putting the best possible spin on a grim-looking spring for Kuo. “He just hasn’t been able to put it all together just yet.
Sherrill, a rock for the Mariners during his first stay 2004-07, had such a heavy workload last year he appeared in 51 games and estimates he may have warmed up in another 50-60 games for the Braves the decision was made to bring him along slowly. Swelling in his elbow helped to force the issue.
Hes pitching now a rainout interrupted plans to pitch Sunday, along with Furbush and Jimenez but the results have been slow. Hes thrown four innings, walked three and has a 9.00 ERA.
However, Sherrill had a history of tough springs with Seattle although none of the current power brokers in the Seattle front office were around at the time. Still, his poor numbers this spring get a little bit of a pass.
“When you have a veteran guy like him, he knows his body and what it will take to get ready, Wedge said. “You want to have him ready for the season and be able to keep him going all season. That means you might have to back off a little down here.
Jimenez is a something of a long shot based on his numbers a 9.00 ERA in three Cactus League games. But he has thrown in one intrasquad game and one B game without allowing a run, so the numbers dont tell the whole story.
Furbush has been the only standout of the group four games, six innings, no runs allowed. But he did allow two runs his last time out in a B game against the White Sox. He may have the best shot of landing a job.
Perhaps the biggest question is Luetge. Hes never pitched above Double-A, but under big league rules, the Mariners have to keep him on the roster or offer him back to Milwaukee. Luetge has thrown well enough five hits, one walk and seven strikeouts in four innings to go with a 3.60 ERA and some vets have pitched poorly enough that perhaps Zduriencik and Wedge can find a way to shoehorn him onto the roster.
“Hes had a real good camp, Wedge said. “Hes a young man thats handled himself well. Hes done a pretty good job against left-handers and right-handers.
There is no getting around the fact that Luetge has never pitched against this level of competition.
“Its been a bit of an adjustment, he said, “getting used to all the new players and coaches. Im getting it down. Im watching (the veterans throw) their bullpens. That helps a lot, seeing what theyve done. Im trying to pick on every little thing I can.
Will he pick up enough to stick?
The club should know this week. If Luetge is one of the 30 players who makes the flight from Phoenix to Tokyo, hell have made it.