Welcome home Venezuelans!
Wakamatsu said he hoped the four could bring some of the passion he saw on the field and in the stands at the WBC to the Mariners. Hernandez thought that was a good idea.
“We’re going to bring that to the clubhouse. We have to pitch the way we pitched there. That’s all we have to do, our thing,” he said. “We have to do the little things and play baseball.”
Lopez waxed almost poetic when asked about playing for Team Venezuela.
“It was beautiful. You come to the stadium to do a job for your country. The fans are there and you want to do your job better for them,” he said. “The fans are unbelievable for every country. It was beautiful.”
Chavez was just as happy.
“I just felt like a little kid in a big competition,” he said. “It was a feeling that I’ll never forget.”
Much as he enjoyed playing with other Venezuelans, Chavez said he was anxious to get back on the field and in the clubhouse with the Mariners.
”I’ve got good teammates here, too,” Chavez said. “The only difference is you’ve got to mix the languages – English, Japanese, Spanish. It’s great. I feel comfortable over here.”
Battle at backup receiver…
Johnson’s ability to work with pitchers, block the plate and throw runners out as part of an all-around defensive package has now vaulted him into the picture when it comes to making this Mariners team.
“If you don’t know a guy, I think it’s really wise to get with them before the game,” Johnson, 25, said. “Talk to them during batting practice. Maybe their start isn’t for three or four days, but you start getting in their ear a little bit about stuff they like to do. And then after the game, you ask: ‘How’d it go? What’d you think about this pitch? What’d you think about this situation? What could we have done differently in your eyes?’
“You just to try to get a good feel, and then the tempo of the game just goes and goes.”
Heading into camp, it appeared Jeff Clement was a shoo-in to make the squad and possibly supplant Kenji Johjima as the No. 1 catcher. But that’s been changed by the signing of left-handed slugger Ken Griffey Jr. — who would take potential designated-hitter at-bats away from Clement on days the latter isn’t catching — and the emphasis on defense by the team’s new coaching staff.
Clement’s defense remains a work-in-progress and his bat — despite a single in an 8-5 win by the Mariners over Oakland on Saturday — has yet to take off. Johnson’s bat has never been touted as his meal ticket, but his defense appears more polished than Clement’s.
“I think he’s pretty close,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said of Johnson being major-league ready. “I wouldn’t have probably said that about him the first couple of days I saw him.”
Wakamatsu, a former professional catcher, liked how involved Johnson was with pitchers in a Seattle loss Friday. Johnson was also involved in three separate tag plays at home plate in that same game.
“I feel a lot stronger about him than I did earlier,” Wakamatsu said. “And that’s not a knock on him. It’s just watching guys play.”
Wlad, the more patient
“That’s a mistake I made last year,” said Balentien, who had two singles in a 5-3 loss for the Mariners to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. “I tried to do more than I could do and I didn’t get results.”
Balentien stumbled through his rookie season, got sent back down to the minors for a prolonged stint, then finished the year with a terrible .202 average and .592 on-base-plus slugging percentage. The holes in his swing that had previously plagued him in the minors were evident in Seattle and he spent months trying new techniques with former hitting consultant Lee Elia behind the scenes.
This spring, he’s trying different drills with hitting coach Alan Cockrell and appears to be having some success. Balentien came out of Sunday’s game with 14 hits in his first 36 at-bats this spring, a .389 average.
Inflated spring stats don’t mean all that much, but the team is breathing easier now that Balentien is making contact. The Mariners know they might have to pinch-hit for Chavez late in games and need an outfielder who can come off the bench and play solid defense.
Balentien is versatile enough to play all three outfield positions without being a defensive liability. But the ticket to his sticking with the club was always going to involve showing improvement at the plate.
“Just about anybody will swing at a ball in the dirt a couple of times,” he said. “It’s kind of hard, but if I put a little more concentration on my hitting when I’m up there, I think I can do a better job with that.”
Granddaddy of Stat Geeks gives take on 2009 M’s
James’ new book, “The Bill James’ 2009 Gold Mine,” published by Acta Sports. The press release includes five of his observations on the Mariners:
- “Although he’s often overlooked, Adrian Beltreis one of the best third basemen in baseball. He is at the top of the list in fielding and below average in only one category, plate discipline. He has also been very durable, and his skill set is actually very similar to one of baseball’s saints: Brooks Robinson.“
- “The Mariners in 2006 drafted Brandon Morrow with the #5 pick in the draft, rather than local favorite Tim Lincecum, who went to San Francisco with the tenth pick. This is something that people talk about, but–just my opinion–in the long run, I don’t think anybody is going to regret drafting Brandon Morrow. I think he’s tremendous. Morrow had a 3.34 ERA last year, but there are several signals that he may be a better pitcher even than that. Batters hit .174 against him, which is Randy Johnsonterritory. He made a mid-season conversion from relief to starting, which probably didn’t help his numbers any, and he gave up 10 home runs with just 47 fly outs. A ratio like that is probably a fluke, since the pitcher doesn’t really control the percentage of flyballs against him that become home runs. He may not be a starting pitcher. In five starts in September he walked 19 men, which is too many; even Randy couldn’t succeed as a starter issuing that many free passes. He may have to go back to the bullpen. And I’m not saying he is Tim Lincecum, but…I think he’s a guy who has Cy Young ability.”
- “What happened toYuniesky Betancourt’s glove? His fielding plus/minus figures (the number of plays he makes above or below what an average defender at his position would have made) have dropped each of the past two years, and he was last among all major league shortstops in 2008. He has particularly lost range on groundballs up the middle.”
- “Last year, we mentioned that Felix Hernandez threw his slider more often in 2007. In 2008, he changed his pattern again, throwing fastballs more often than anytime in his major league career, and de-emphasizing the slider and curveball.”
- “The Seattle Mariners last year had a man on second base, no one out 116 times, and scored only 111 runs in those innings. They were the only major league team to score less than one run an inning when they had a leadoff hitter at second base. “