During the fourth inning of the Seattle Mariners’ game against the San Francisco Giants last week, Mark Trumbo took a pitch for ball four.
I am pointing this out because I’ve heard it said that Trumbo never walks. Not true. On June 18, 2015, before 34,354 witnesses at Safeco Field, Trumbo advanced to first base after Giants stater Ryan Vogelsong failed to locate a pitch in the strike zone four times.
Trumbo’s breakthrough achievement was obscured by the final score — San Francisco 7, Seattle 0 — and has been forgotten by fans inclined to dwell on the Mariners’ negative statistics. When a team is ranked last in the league in hits, batting average and on-base percentage, and second to last in runs, slugging percentage and strikeouts, it’s convenient to make a blanket statement that’s inaccurate.
Trumbo is capable of taking a pitch for a ball. He’s capable, we now know, of taking four of them. Sure, his walk-to-whiff ratio of 1-18 (since becoming a Mariner) can be improved upon, and his batting average (.159) and on-base percentage (.172) aren’t the best, but I’m an optimist. Besides, manager Lloyd McClendon wants those of us who work for media outlets to reset the ridiculous expectations we put on the Mariners during spring training.
“People outside of this team need to take a deep breath and just relax a little bit,” McClendon said the other day. “This team is going to be OK.”
As will Trumbo, an All-Star for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 acquired three weeks ago in a six-player deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Some might have wondered why the Mariners, whose trouble manufacturing runs corresponds with their lack of speed and inability to take walks, would trade for a player with no speed and an inability to take walks.
“Our thoughts were simple,” general manager Jack Zduriencik explained June 3. “If you look at where we’re at offensively, we’re not doing what I thought we would do —what most people thought we would do. Trumbo is a guy who I think brings an awful lot to the table: Big power hitter who will bat somewhere in the middle of our lineup.”
Trumbo’s middle-of-the-lineup power has translated into one home run and five RBIs. These numbers may not seem like much over 17 games, but when I take a deep breath and relax a little bit, I can see him going on a tear that will justify the remainder of the $6.9 million he’s guaranteed for 2015.
Zduriencik, a longtime scout and keen observer of baseball talent, obviously knows what he’s doing. He evaluated a sluggish offense constitutionally incapable of producing runs by any other method than hitting the occasional solo homer, and he pulled the trigger on a trade that brought in a sluggish hitter constitutionally incapable of producing runs by any other method than hitting an occasional solo homer.
Meanwhile, Jesus Montero continues to mash for the Tacoma Rainiers. Through 71 games going into Thursday, Montero had 56 RBIs to complement his .308 batting average.
The Mariners organization, you’ll recall, was at wit’s end with Montero last year. His season began by showing up in camp out of shape, and his season ended by clashing with the since-fired scout who humiliated him. Montero’s release seemed inevitable.
But the Mariners stuck with him, and Montero, defying his reputation as a talented but unmotivated slacker destined to disappoint, stuck with a winter training regimen that has found him enjoying a stellar season in the Pacific Coast League.
Those who understand the complex nuances of a hitting stroke better than I do assure me Montero remains a work in progress, and that it’s foolish to believe his promotion from Tacoma would provide a jolt for a listless team in Seattle.
So Trumbo, who has walked once while striking out 18 times, occupies a middle-of-the lineup spot for the Mariners because he happened to hit 34 homers as recently as 2013. And Montero, determined to prove he isn’t washed up at age 25, waits for the chance he’s earned with the Rainiers.
I’m not certain what kind of message that sends to Montero and his farm-system colleagues. Maybe the message is as basic as keep on truckin’, we’ll let you know your time has come when your time has come.
Meanwhile, I’m following McClendon’s advice. Despite the 33-40 record, despite 23 defeats at home — the Mariners lead the majors in one category — despite the failure to put together a winning streak longer than four games, I am taking a deep breath and relaxing, envisioning all the fun awaiting a team finally firing on all cylinders.
Eight days ago, Mark Trumbo went to first base on ball four. If that doesn’t relax you, what can?