In optioning Jesus Montero to AAA Tacoma Thursday, the Mariners didn’t go far enough. They also should have optioned second baseman Dustin Ackley, who was rushed to the big leagues and has shown few signs of breaking out of the batting malaise that engulfed him for the entire 2012 season.
Montero heads south with a .208 batting average, a .264 on-base percentage, a .590 OPS and three home runs, a meager output mostly the result of him having no apparent plan at the plate other than to hack at balls out of the strike zone.
Ackley, whom the Mariners selected No. 2 overall in the 2009 amateur draft, 23 picks ahead of Mike Trout, is hitting .218, down from the .226 he hit last year and the .273 he batted as a rookie in 2011. A sophomore slump is one thing, but junior slumps should not be permitted to take root.
Ackley experimented with a new batting stance earlier in the season, but it didn’t work. So he went back to the old one that failed him last season. The new old one probably would have punched his ticket to the minors, where he could correct problems without the pressure of having to produce, if the Mariners hadn’t hyped him as Seattle’s next big thing, which is also what they’re doing with Mike Zunino.
GM Jack Zduriencik, himself under pressure to produce, could also finally confess that the two biggest trades he’s made in his six-year tenure, the 2012 deal with the Yankees that netted Montero, and the 2010 Cliff Lee swap that brought in Justin Smoak, have failed to deliver the “big bats” Zduriencik believed they would.
After swooning early, Smoak has contributed lately. He’s reached base safely in 15 of his past 16 games dating to April 29 and recorded at least one hit in 16 of his past 23 dating to April 22. By hitting .301 over that span, Smoak has elevated his batting average all the way up to — .240. That’s rare territory for him and better than the .217 he hit last year – that only after batting .341 in September.
Certainly Wedge would insist otherwise, but this remains a hamster wheel of a franchise, lots of movement but no obvious forward progress. After 47 games, the Mariners are 20-27 and 10 games behind Texas in the AL West. One year ago after 47, the Mariners were 21-26 and seven back.
The 2013 additions of Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibanez certainly haven’t hurt, but the Mariners rank last in the American League in batting (.239), 11th in on-base percentage (.310), 12th in slugging (.389) and 12th in OPS (.699). The totals last year: .234 BA (14th), .296 OBP (14th), .369 SLG (14th) and .665 OPS (14th).
This year’s numbers represent slight upticks, and Seattle’s home run total has taken a significant jump, 53 this season to 39 after 47 games last year. But the power boost has been negated by the fact that the Mariners are batting .206 with runners in scoring position, worst in the majors.
During the six-game losing streak, three by walk-off, two by obliteration, the Mariners went 4-for-39 (.102 BA) with runners in scoring position and stranded 45. Shake it all out and here’s what you get: After 47 games in 2012, the Mariners scored 176 runs. This year after 47: 169.
A lack of any improvement by Seattle’s offense nearing the 50-game mark is hardly the only issue. The back end of Seattle’s rotation continues to suck like a Pos-T-Vac. Aaron Harang, 1-5, 8.58 ERA in six starts, is a Jeff Weaver (2007) in the making (7-13, 6.20), or quite possibly a Steve “Rainbow” Trout, 4-7, 7.83 in 1988. The mess Harang is making can’t continue much longer as we approach the “designated for assignment” part of the schedule.
Brandon Maurer, as Wedge continues to insist, has the ability to pitch at the major league level. No doubt. But he also shows more often than not why it’s so difficult for a pitcher to make the jump from AA ball to the majors.
Wednesday in Anaheiim, Maurer allowed 11 hits and two walks in just innings in a 7-1 loss to the Angels. That placed him in some interesting company, although not in a positive way.
Only four other Seattle pitchers have allowed at least 13 batters to reach base while recording fewer than 10 outs in a game: Randy Johnson April 10, 1994 against Toronto, Greg Hibbard June 13, 1994 against Texas, John Halama June 9, 2000 against San Francisco and Freddy Garcia June 24, 2002 against Oakland.
Will someone please remind me why Doug Fister is 5-1, 3.63 for Detroit and we’re watching Charlie Furbush?
While the Mariners always lose more than they win, they at least have the virtue of offering a constant catalog of surprises. They lose four out of six to the Astros, but beat New York twice in Yankee Stadium (May 15-16), thanks largely to 40-year-old Raul Ibanez, who became the oldest player to hit a grand slam at Yankee Stadium, old or new.
That series win, giving the Mariners a 5-0-1 series mark after starting the season 0-5-2 in their first seven, suggesting a fine road trip was in the works and that the Mariners are progressing, as Wedge keeps saying.
But the Mariners arrived in Cleveland and handed the Indians three walk-off-wins in a series for the first time in 20 years, while also becoming the first team since the 2010 Dodgers to lose three walk-offs in a single series.
In the 5-4 walk-off loss May 18, Ibanez and Smoak hit back-to-back, two-out home runs in the ninth off Chris Perez to erase a 4-2 lead. It’s the first time in 37 years, the whole of their existence, that the Mariners had consecutive two-out home runs to tie a game in the ninth inning or later. They become the first MLB team to pull off this trick since Atlanta (Troy Glaus, Jason Heyward) in 2010.
Two nights later (May 20), the Mariners get home runs in the eighth (Kyle Seager), ninth (Endy Chavez) and 10th inning (Smoak), but lose on fielding errors by the first baseman (Smoak) and closer (Tom Wilhelmsen). Chavez becomes the first Mariner to hit a pinch homer to give Seattle a lead in the ninth inning or later since Ken Griffey Jr. Sept. 16, 1990.
The Mariners moved on to Anaheim, where Trout, in a 12-0 Angels victory, became the youngest player in American League history to hit for the cycle (May 21), and one night later Maurer joins four others in the “13 batters reach base with 10 or fewer outs” club.
You can’t make up gems like these.
Some Mariners fans probably believe they are merely watching a young team struggle to find an identity and play .500 ball. That’s true enough, but they are capable of individually impressive deeds.
On April 17, to cite one, Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer hooked up in a pitchers’ duel in which Hernandez allowed one run with12 strikeouts, which Scherzer amazingly matched. It marked just the fifth time since 1900 that opposing starting pitchers each had 12 or more strikeouts while allowing one or fewer runs in the same game. Remarkably, neither factored in the decision.
And on April 28, when Hisashi Iwakuma limited the Angels to one unearned run in six innings, he lowered his career ERA to 1.02 against L.A., the lowest against that franchise by any pitcher in major league history with at least five starts.
In the won-loss column, the Mariners are clearly not where Zduriencik or Wedge thought they would be after the (false) spring training the club had. So changes must be made, starting with Montero. More are coming, especially if the expected happens in the three-game series with Texas. Ackley ought to be one of them.