Thiel: Almost halfway, Mariners seek 'good outs'

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by Art Thiel

SportsPressNorthwest

Posted on June 28, 2012 at 7:09 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 28 at 7:30 PM

As Seattle fans ponder how a team with 10 hits over three games can beat the Mariners twice, as the Oakland A's did this week, let's throw this log on the fire (or is it an ember?):

The team with an $82 million payroll lost four of the past six to the two cheapest outfits in MLB, the Padres and A's, who each entered the season with payrolls of $55 million.

Obviously, payrolls don't dictate single-game outcomes, but they are indicators of direction. The A's under Billy Beane planned to be lousy this year, and certainly looked like 110-game losers in the series they played in Japan against the Mariners. But here we are, upon the weekend of mid-season, and the Mariners -- 32-45 after losing 2-1 Wednesday at Safeco despite four pitchers allowing just two hits -- are 5.5 games behind the A's (37-39) in the much-anticipated battle for third place in the four-team American League West.

Yet to be made is the Shopping Bag of Shame large enough to accommodate the Mariners baseball heads after again being outsmarted by Beane and his ragamuffin franchise.

What are the Mariners doing with their $82 million? They are stuck, high-centered, going neither forward nor back. Manager Eric Wedge has become strident to the point of shrillness in his faith about these players, and then they embarrass the hell out of him Wednesday in losing a two-hitter by leaving nine men on base.

"Today was a little disappointing because we didn't make very many good outs -- hitting the ball hard," was all Wedge could muster. "We didn't do a lot of that today."

No, they didn't even rise to the Mariners' new metric of making good outs -- against a rookie pitcher, Jarrod Parker, making his 13th career start. Good outs? Does Tiger Woods get rewarded for keeping his scorecard accurate?

"It's frustrating because I know these guys are a much better club than we're seeing at home," Wedge went on. "I don't want to hear about the fences, or this, that and the other. It's about getting up to home plate, putting up good ABs and hitting the ball hard."

Actually, the fans don't much care to hear about hitting the ball hard characterized as a primary achievement. And as much as Wedge doesn't want to hear it, Safeco's imbalanced conditions are weighing on the young guys.

CatcherJohn Jaso was willing indirectly to buck the no-bash policy about the ballpark. As owner of two of the Mariners' four hits Wednesday, including the second-inning homer that produced their only run, he had some cred on the topic of why the club has the worst home record (13-21) in MLB.

"It is tough," he said of hitting at Safeco. "No team that hits here has a production they would somewhere else. You go on the road and pop a couple out, and come back here. It's a tough park.

"It's a great place to play and the challenge is doing the best with it, knowing you hit that fly ball and you know it's not going to go out. So you concentrate on hitting liners and grounders instead of fly balls. It's kind of a different mental approach."

Even Jaso knows that changing approaches messes with the heads of less veteran players.

"It's a fine line," he said. "When you start to do that different approach, and you don't get results, that different approach can take away from your strengths. You don't see production again and it really starts playing on your mind. This is a pitcher's ballpark."

Messed up as they are, the players are not to blame when one of their hottest hitters is kept out of the game. Young outfielder Casper Wells, who is 12-for-29 (.414) since his June 13 recall from Tacoma, did not play Wednesday. In right field was, per usual, Ichiro, who Wednesday struck out with runners on second and third for the final out of the second inning, then whiffed again for the game's final out with the tying run on second base.

Yes, Ichiro has 15 hits in his last 34 at-bats, but when veterans don't come through in such moments, it's how a team loses one-run games, and loses a three-game home series when the opponent scores five runs.

There isn't any reasonable solution this season. They can't unload Ichiro, Chone Figgins or Miguel Olivo, can't move in the fences, can't smarten up the young guys in a season, and the club lacks players such as the A's Cuban behemoth, Yeonis Cespedes, who can turn on any pitch in his area code and win a game on a swing, as he did in the seventh inning.

Although they could fire Jaso for speaking the truth in public. That should fix things.

MILLWOOD HURT -- Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood came out of the game with two outs in the third inning after re-aggravating the right groin muscle he hurt during the six-pitcher no-hitter June 8. Wedge said he didn't think it was serious, but an exam awaits Wednesday. Someone likely will have to replace him in his next turn, but Wedge declined to speculation on options. One is a promotion of Hisashi Iwakuma, who came in cold for Millwood and did a solid job, giving up only the Cespedes homer in 3.2 innings.

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