M's infield experiment undergoes first trial
LARRY LARUE; Staff writer
PEORIA, Ariz. –
If the Seattle Mariners are going to make a major shakeup in their infield – putting Chone Figgins at second base, Jose Lopez at third – they see no reason to put off the process.
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Thirty minutes into the first day of full-squad workouts, the Mariners had their first infield drill, and Lopez was at third base, Figgins at second.
“We did promise everybody that we will leave here with the best defense possible,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “I think you have to look at things. We haven’t made a decision, but I talked to Lopey and he said he would take some ground balls over there.”
“If we’re going to take a look at this, we might as well do it sooner rather than later,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said.
Free agent Figgins has played most everywhere on the diamond – from the outfield to the infield – and wasn’t bothered by the experiment.
“I told them when I signed I was prepared for anything. I take ground balls at second base, third base and shortstop every offseason,” Figgins said. “This is just something we’re looking at, something we’ll have to watch awhile.”
Lopez, who resisted efforts to move him to first base a year ago, seemed open to trying the switch to third base.
“I’ll try it. I’ll try to catch ground balls at third base and see what happens in spring training. Play a couple of games,” Lopez said. “If we don’t like it, we tried – and I’ll go back to second base.”
The absolute best up-the-middle defense for Seattle would be the tandem of shortstop Jack Wilson and second baseman Figgins and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez. On a team built around its pitching and defense, that alignment makes a lot of sense.
The key to making it work, however, is finding out if Lopez can play third base.
“You just don’t know how guys react, the throw in particular,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s a longer throw from third and you have to be real careful you don’t get a sore arm in that aspect. There are different actions.”
Lopez said he wasn’t surprised by the experiment – “I read about it in the paper a couple of weeks ago” – and said his talk with Wakamatsu was no ultimatum.
“He didn’t say, ‘You’re playing third base,’ ” Lopez said. “We’ll see what happens the next couple of days as my arm gets in shape. Taking ground balls in batting practice is no big deal. The ball comes to you quick. I played three years ago a couple of games at third base.”
“Wak just said we’ll see what’s best for the team. Figgins is a good guy, and he’s quick. He’s got the range that we need. I’ve got a better arm than Figgins at third base, especially with a diving catch.
“I came in here and talked to the skipper and I said, ‘All right, we’ll try it.’” Lopez said.
Infield coach Mike Brumley said it’s a situation the team wants to watch develop.
“Jose has nice hands and looked comfortable at the position,” Brumley said. “Don and Jack want to feel it out. He got a lot of work at second base, as well.”
Figgins has played second base, but not much lately.
“I think the last time I played second regularly was maybe ’05? And I only played there a few months, then started bouncing around,” Figgins said. “The toughest thing is making the pivot on the double play, and I need a lot of work on it.
“If you’re going to be there, you have to make that play seem routine. You have to be comfortable, so I’ll probably do a lot of extra work after practice.”
Wakamatsu said he appreciated Lopez and his decision.
“He wants to win, he’s willing to try this,” Wakamatsu said.