HOUSTON — Robert Andino getting a start on the Wednesday game wasn’t much of a surprise. Brendan Ryan started the previous two games and continued to struggle at the plate.
But it got more surprising after Mariners manager Eric Wedge casually mentioned that Andino will be staying the starting lineup in the days ahead.
“I’ve actually talked to both Robert and Brendan and I’m going to give Andino an opportunity to play a little bit more,” Wedge said.
How much more?
“I’m going to take it day by day, week by week, month by month,” Wedge said. “I’m going to give Robert a chance to play and see where he takes it.”
Andino went 1-for-4 on his first day as a starter with an RBI. He also struck out, grounded into a double play and walked.
It’s similar to the decision Wedge made with Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach at catcher. There is no starter and no backup; he just plays them both.
But with this, it’s clear that Andino is going to get the bulk of the playing time in the foreseeable future. And Wedge made that clear to both players.
“I wanted to be upfront with both those guys,” he said. “I had very strong conversations with both of those guys because of the responsibility that goes along with playing more, with Andino. Of course, with Brendan, it was what I feel he needs to do to get to where he needs to go.”
The decision is somewhat surprising because Andino (6-for-34, .176, with 12 strikeouts) isn’t hitting that much better than Ryan (8-for-56, .143, with 14 strikeouts). Over their career, and by most measures, they are essentially the same hitter: Ryan is a .241 hitter over a seven-year career; Andino’s average over nine seasons is .233. The main difference is that Ryan is an elite defensive player and Andino is about average.
So how much will the team take a hit without a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop?
“Well that’s up to Mr. Andino,” Wedge said. “He’s capable of being a pretty good shortstop.”
It seems as if Ryan’s poor hitting and flawed hitting approach might have finally taken its toll on Wedge.
“You can’t expect change by doing the same thing every day,” Wedge said. “You’ve got to change your habits. You have to change the way you go about doing things. This is going to give him a chance to work with (hitting coach) Dave Hansen and take a step back and hopefully take two steps forward. It’s up to him.”
The Mariners simply couldn’t do this last year because they had Munenori Kawasaki as the backup, and Wedge wasn’t going to play him every day.
“We stuck with (Ryan) last year because we felt we’d give him every opportunity … (and) we had an opportunity to give him every opportunity,” Wedge said.
Ryan is a passionate player, who often is hard on himself for his lack of offensive production. Wedge has seen it before.
“It’s the mental side,” Wedge said. “It’s definitely the way with him, whether it be positively or negatively.”
In a week or two, the Mariners might have to revert to Ryan or look to Triple-A Tacoma and possibly Carlos Triunfel, who is already on the 40-man roster and is hitting .321 with one homer and eight RBI. Or possibly Nick Franklin, who is hitting .325 with five homers and 19 RBI but is not on the 40-man roster. Brad Miller, who is playing well at Double-A Jackson and is a Wedge favorite, also is not on the 40-man roster and is a little more raw.
SAUNDERS LIKELY HEADED FOR A REHAB STINT FIRST
Outfielder Michael Saunders played catch again and took batting practice, and seems close to returning to the Mariners. He is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list (shoulder) Friday.
But it seems likely his first action could be with the Tacoma Rainiers on a rehab assignment.
“Saunders definitely is headed in the right direction,” Wedge said. “He had a real good day today playing catch. We’ll go home tomorrow and let the doctors look at him again, and potentially send him out as early as Friday. We want him to play for a couple days and hopefully get him back, whether it be this weekend or it could be as late as Monday.”
Wedge wants Saunders to get his timing back and some game action before returning to the big league club.
“I think he needs to play for a couple days,” Wedge said. “He might DH the first day or two, but I do need to get him in the field at least one day because when he comes back he’s going to be playing center field.”
The Mariners could use him back soon. They have been forced to play Raul Ibañez in the outfield far more than Wedge wanted. Saunders will take over in center for the injured Franklin Gutierrez.
“We’ve definitely missed him,” Wedge said. “He’s a big part of this club. If you look at what he’s ended up being here, there’s a level of toughness he brings, a level of leadership for our younger kids. And being a complete player, his skill set is a big difference maker for us, especially with Gutierrez out.”
The Mariners return home to open a four-game series with the Los Angeles Angels. Right-hander Brandon Maurer (1-3, 4.75 ERA) will get the start for Seattle; the Angels counter with right-hander Garrett Richards (1-0, 2.55 ERA). First pitch is set for 7:10 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish