PEORIA, Ariz. - Omar Vizquel winced when he heard the news.
“When you’re a shortstop, you don’t want to have to move to another position,” he said quietly. “It’s tough, especially if you still know you can do the job.”
The news was in Seattle Mariners’ camp Tuesday, where manager Eric Wedge named Brendan Ryan his starting shortstop and made veteran Jack Wilson his starting second baseman.
Vizquel, a former Mariner, was starting at shortstop for the Chicago White Sox against Seattle.
“Was Jack surprised?” he asked of the decision. “I’m surprised. Jack is a great shortstop.”
For now, he’s a second baseman.
“I’m a shortstop. On my insides, I still believe that,” Wilson said. “But you play for the Mariners, you don’t play for yourself. I came here as a shortstop, and obviously haven’t done my part after I signed my deal.
“They had a chance to get a player like Brendan, who I loved watching in St. Louis when he was coming up. I understand.”
The last time he played second base?
“It was 1997,” he said. Wilson was 19 years old then.
Ryan clearly didn’t want to seem too happy with the decision.
“Jack is a guy I look up to, and the way I see it, we have a shortstop on each side of the bag now,” he said. “My goal coming into camp was to win a starting job, whether it was shortstop, second base or head cheerleader.
“I was just excited to hear I’m going to be in the lineup.”
Wedge made the call after watching both players play each position, and told them before the team took the field Tuesday morning. His reasoning, he said, was simple – this was the duo that best served the team.
“We could have gone either way with it because we’re comfortable with both guys on both sides of the bag, but we felt this is the best combination,” Wedge said
Wilson and Ryan had been waiting for the decision.
“I thought it was 50-50,” Wilson said. “It’s a win-win situation. Of course, I want to be out there in that (shortstop) position. That’s where I feel the most comfortable.
“The bottom line: I’m in the big leagues playing baseball for a living.”
Wilson, 33, has been a shortstop throughout his career, a man known for making spectacular plays and near-impossible throws. But he has battled injuries since being acquired by Seattle in trade from Pittsburgh in 2009.
Ryan, who turns 29 in a few days, has played all over the infield – although last year he led all National League shortstops in assists.
Wedge was a little vague in explaining the decision.
“I really feel confident this is the right move,” he said. “Ultimately it’s my job to put the best team out there and make sure when we’re talking about the middle of our field, that’s something that you’ve got to feel pretty good about. I feel we’re going to be very athletic up the middle.”
One theory for making Ryan the shortstop may have rested with the hopes and fears of the team.
The fear? That Wilson would go down with injury again and Ryan would have to play shortstop – after putting in all his work at second base. The hope? That Wilson will prove to be a versatile infielder, a man capable of playing second or short.
That could be important later in the season, when rookie Dustin Ackley could assume the position and Wilson could be an attractive trade piece to a contending team.
Regardless of the reasoning, Wilson and Ryan will play together often in the final week of camp, ironing out double plays, pickoffs and cutoffs.
“Jack can play anywhere,” Ryan said. “We’ll be a good tandem up the middle.”