Sports

John McGrath: Struggling Seattle Mariners should call on Montero

Lloyd McClendon got chased from his front row dugout seat Sunday by a home plate umpire who didn’t want to hear the Seattle Mariners manager gripe about a strike three call that wasn’t called strike three.

But what really spoiled McClendon’s afternoon were the wasted opportunities of a struggling team that has not earned the right to waste opportunities.

A few minutes after the Mariners’ 11-inning, 4-2 defeat to the Minnesota Twins, McClendon was asked what can be done to recharge an offense seemingly predicated on solo homers off the bat of Nelson Cruz.

“We’ll do what all good teams do,” McClendon answered. “We’ll show up tomorrow and keep working and grinding. We’re gonna come out of this. Eventually, it will be a thing of the past.”

Although McClendon’s optimism is reassuring, I disagree with his categorization of the Mariners as a “good team.” They were a good team a year ago, and pieces have been put in place for them to be a good team sometime this season.

But right now, no, this is not a good team.

A good team wins the brunt of its home games against opponents generally regarded to be inferior. The Mariners last week were given what amounted to a get-well-card homestand against the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins — three clubs that in 2014 combined to lose 72 more times than they won — and required a wild, eighth-inning rally against the Rangers to avoid finishing the homestand 3-7.

The pitching rotation behind the incomparable Felix Hernandez is doing a marginally better job of hanging around, and the Sunday start of recent Tacoma Rainiers’ call-up Roenis Elias — the lefty threw 105 pitches, a Herculian effort by 2015 Mariners standards — transforms into a victory if the offense doesn’t squander scoring-position chances in five innings.

“We’re playing decent baseball,” McClendon said, “we’re just not getting hits when it counts.”

Again, the question persists: What can be done?

I mean, besides the working and grinding and determination to keep on keeping on. The Mariners are desperate for some spark, and it’s too early to mull trade scenarios.

But it’s not too early to suggest there’s somebody on the 40-man roster whose bat might have improved the Mariners’ 0 for 12 effort Sunday with runners in scoring position.

Tacoma first baseman/designated hitter Jesus Montero has collected at least one hit in 15 of 16 games, and they haven’t been cheap: three homers, four doubles, eight multiple-hit games.

Triple-A stats do not consistently presage success in the big leagues, of course, but when you’re hitting .358 and there’s a level above you, it seems to me you might belong at the level above you.

Besides, there’s not exactly a log jam of torrid hitters preventing a Montero promotion.

First baseman Logan Morrison went 0 for 5 Sunday, lowering his batting average to .159 and his on-base percentage to .209. Morrison’s left-handed swing helped carry his teammates in September, but that was then and this is now, and it’s inconceivable he’s facing left-handed pitching on a regular basis.

A first base platoon of Morrison and the right-handed hitting Montero makes sense.

Montero has worked hard to convert himself from a wince-inducing project on defense to a player who’s capable at first, and it’s not as though we’re talking about a novice at the plate.

Montero hit .260 with 15 homers and 62 RBI for the 2012 Mariners. You know how the former Yankees prospect followed that up: He took on the role of punching bag against the game of baseball, on and off the field.

And Montero has persevered, thanks to changes in his diet and exercise regimen, along with the wake-up call that convinced him he was blowing the chance of a lifetime.

Montero’s bat is tearing up the Pacific Coast League, his glove has been steady and sometimes even spectacular, and here’s what’s most surprising of all: He’s still only 25 years old.

The Mariners offseason acquisitions not associated with a Boomstick are looking kind of like a hobo stew, aren’t they? Justin Ruggiano, Rickie Weeks and Seth Smith have driven in a collective nine runs. Smith connected on a bases-empty homer Sunday, but there’s not a lot of energy with this trio.

Montero could bring energy. Anxious to prove why the Seattle organization was wise not to quit on him, he’d give the Mariners more than just an option at first base against left-handed pitchers besides Morrison.

Montero has the potential to provide the 2015 Mariners the identity they lack: Rescued, reborn, ready to rock.

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