Veterans’ workload, youngsters’ woes weighing down M’s

June 10, 2013 

For those who weren’t condemned to endure another feeble showing by the Seattle Mariners’ offense Sunday, here is all you need to know:

Jason Bay led off with a solid single to left field, giving manager Eric Wedge a chance to show why he moved rookie Nick Franklin to the No. 2 slot in the batting order. But before Franklin had an opportunity to advance the baserunner, Bay was picked off first by New York Yankees pitcher David Phelps.

This, in a nutshell, was the story of a 2-1 defeat: On those infrequent occasions the Mariners were in position to create a spark, they found a blanket wet enough to snuff it.

Wedge didn’t think of Phelps’ pickoff as an omen — “That’s not how I operate,” he said — but losing a leadoff baserunner in the first inning was like sitting through a grisly murder scene 30 seconds into a movie: You don’t enjoy it, but at least it gives you an idea of what you’ll be up against for the next few hours.

I don’t want to pile on Bay. A thoughtful, thoroughly professional veteran acquired before the season as a fourth outfielder, he figured to start in one of the corners once or twice a week and also pinch-hit. Bay has fulfilled that role — with eight home runs, he already has duplicated his 2012 homer total with the New York Mets — but at 34, he’s not an everyday player.

Because of injuries to the usual suspects (Michael Morse, hampered by a pulled quad muscle, and Franklin Gutierrez, hampered by, well, you name it), Bay has become an everyday player with the Mariners. And because of the mysterious disappearance of Michael Saunders’ bat, Bay has been turned into the leadoff hitter he never was.

Put simply, Bay has been asked to do too much. So has 41-year-old outfielder Raul Ibañez, whose torrid power streak in May masks the fact his batting average is down to .224.

But Wedge has been forced to lean on his veterans out of necessity. With the exception of Kyle Seager and possibly Franklin, the young hitters once projected to form the core of future batting orders have washed out.

Dustin Ackley is trying to work things out with the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. Jesus Montero also was sent to Tacoma, only to learn he needed knee surgery. Justin Smoak is hurt, but he wasn’t particularly useful when he was healthy.

Between veterans with too much on their plate and kids who aren’t contributing, the 2013 Mariners are turning baseball games into laborious exercises in futility. Take Sunday, when an announced crowd of 43,389 — the largest of the season at Safeco Field — showed up on what began as a perfect late-spring afternoon.

The afternoon ended under hovering clouds as the Mariners combined for two hits and a walk against the Yankees’ living legend, closer Mariano Rivera. Three baserunners reached in the ninth inning of a one-run game, and yet nobody advanced beyond second.

“We’ve got to do better offensively,” Wedge said.

“I know we’re beat up, we’re tired. I appreciate all that. But we’ve got to stick our nose in there and do a better job of fighting through ABs.

“We’ve got veterans out there. We’ve got kids out there. Regardless of where we’re at and where they’re at, we’ve got to collectively be better offensively.”

Asked if still more roster moves were imminent, Wedge phrased his answer in words fit for the front page of a New York City tabloid.

“We can’t keep watching this.”

The Rainiers provide some intriguing options, and they begin with Brad Miller. The shortstop on Sunday extended his hitting streak to 10 games, during which he has produced six extra-base hits, scored 12 runs and driven in 16.

Although Miller has a decent arm, his defense, at the most important position on the field, is not polished. Otherwise, he’s sheer electricity. His swing is quick. He runs in a gallop. When he launches a ball into the gap, it’s a certain double and possible triple.

Raw? No question. A second-round draft selection out of Clemson in 2011, Miller brought only 151 games of pro experience into 2013. But in those 151 games, he hit .341.

And now, at 23, he’s raking at Triple-A.

Again, I’ve got nothing but admiration for Bay, whose job as occasional outfielder somehow has converted him into an everyday leadoff man.

But if Wedge is screaming for somebody to stick his nose in there and fight through an at-bat, here’s a suggestion:

Promote Miller to the next level, and pencil him in as the Mariners’ leadoff man. Miller won’t save the season — he’s not a miracle worker — but he’ll give Mariners fans a reason to watch games better than the one they watched Sunday, when a first-inning pickoff throw foreshadowed another afternoon destined for gloom.

john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com

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