For a decade, Mariners management has been asking a lot of its fan base. Now they have upped the ante — in so many words, they are asking customers to squint as hard as manager Eric Wedge to find something worthy.
Has a fan base ever gone on the disabled list from pulled facial muscles?
After the predictable shutout loss Sunday to Rangers’ All-Star lefty Matt Harrison, who is now 9-1 against Seattle and is about to enter the company of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez as Mariners-killers, Wedge insisted before and after the 4-0 defeat that his club was closer.
“It felt like it was different,” said Wedge, comparing the five-hit shutout with other clobberings Harrison has delivered. “We hit the ball hard . . . we will break through this.”
Hitting the ball hard. Making good outs. Having better batting practices.
Isn’t that what is said in Little League, or high school?
Yes, they had a nice little four-run, two-hit first inning Saturday night against Rangers ace Yu Darvish. But in the other 26 innings over three weekend games against the Rangers, they had five runs.
Hardly surprising. Hardly worth the energy of a squint.
The lineup against Harrison and the Rangers included three batters hitting below .200 — third baseman Chone Figgins (.186), catcher Miguel Olivo (.198) and shortstop Brendan Ryan (.182), who unexpectedly found himself hitting leadoff, mostly because he was right-handed and ambulatory.
By game’s end, the trio was joined by first baseman Justin Smoak, news as brutal as it was unsurprising. The other three guys are over 30 and not in the long-term plans. Smoak is 25, and getting worse.
After an 0-for-4 Sunday, Smoak went from .201 to .199, the second-worst batting average in the American League among regulars (minimum 245 at bats), ahead of only Carlos Pena of Tampa (.196). But Pena has him by nearly 100 points in OPS (.692 to .593).
In partial defense of his futility, often cited is Smoak’s limited time in the minors (773 plate appearances) before he became a regular. For comparison purposes, Joey Votto had 2,500 at bats and 3,000 plate appearances in the minor leagues before he made it big with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 at 25. He was the National League’s MVP in 2010 and is now a three-time All-Star.
Smoak, who went to college for three years at South Carolina, could use the defense of relative newness to wooden bats. He declines.
“It comes down to the same thing — get a good pitch to hit and square it up,” he said Sunday. “Nothing that different. Being a switch hitter, you’ve got to find that time on both sides of the plate to work.”
Smoak has been switch-hitting since after his freshman year in high school, and according to Wedge, there is no plan to return him to one side. He came in to the game hitting .177 right-handed, .212 from the left.
“No, not at all,” Wedge said. “No question in my mind he’s a switch-hitter. When he gets it, he’s going to do it from both sides.”
Wedge didn’t say “if,” but when. It hasn’t happened in more than 1,200 major league at-bats.
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of conversations with him,” Wedge said pre-game. “Like we said with (second baseman Dustin Ackley, also struggling at .230), we’re not far along, but not too far away.
“Obviously, we’ve got to see more. He’s still working to get that consistent feel (at the plate). His batting practices are a lot better. That’s definitely a good indicator. (Saturday) he was off. Friday, he looked like he was on his way. Let’s see what it is today — two out of three is a good sign.”
Sunday he was off again. Bad sign. That’s where the squint is deployed, looking for progress. Smoak knows it.
“I felt lot better today, but it’s a matter of coming through when game’s on the line,” he said. “That’s something I haven’t done at all. In the minors, I didn’t have anything as drastic as it is now.”
Smoak does admit to being a little overwhelmed with all the advice he’s getting.
“No doubt — everyone wants success, and when things aren’t going good, everyone wants to help you out,” he said. “Sometimes it works, some has to go in one ear and out the other. I’ve done a lot of listening, now it’s time to show it on the field.
“You don’t want to keep hearing the same things, day in and day out. It’s one of those things you gotta get through.”
The guess is here he would benefit from the relative quiet of time in AAA Tacoma. The indignity of a temporary demotion would quickly be forgotten if it helps cure what ails him. At the moment, it really doesn’t matter who replaces him on the major league roster, because Seattle is not going anywhere, nor showcasing him for a trade. Hell, put Chone Figgins at first.
Being what amounts to the worst regular hitter in the league is not doing him or the Mariners any service. At the moment, he’s not worth a squint from anyone.