My Top 10 wish list for the Mariners’ second half.
1. I want to see Dustin Ackley reach third base with a triple. Remember when the scouting report on Ackley was that he was a kid who could wake up in the middle of the night and hit line drives into the gaps? He still has that ability; the problem is waking him up.
Anyway, in 2011, he led all American League rookies with seven triples. Ackley has hit one this season. It came on May 6, in the fourth inning of a Sunday afternoon game against the Twins. I was at Safeco Field to watch Ackley drive Nick Blackburn’s pitch to deep left-center, and I remember it like it was, well, more than two months ago.
Ackley, whose batting average is down to .233, is taking too many called strikes on the outside corner, and whiffing at too many fastballs high in the zone. While he’s not going to solve these vulnerabilities with one swing, a three-base hit, punctuated by a classic slide, would be a start.
I miss Dustin Ackley, but what I really miss is dust on Ackley.
2. I want to see catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero add another slash to his position. I want Montero to begin his conversion to first base.
Montero hasn’t been a disaster behind the plate, and he enjoys catching more than playing DH because catching helps keep his head in the game. Which is a problem: Montero’s head is at stake whenever a foul tip crashes against his mask.
He sat out three games preceding the break with what was described as a “mild” concussion. Mild? He went down for the count, sustaining a trend that dates back to spring training, and had to be helped off the field.
University of Florida product Mike Zunino, the third overall selection of the amateur draft, is on an accelerated track to the big leagues. When he gets there, the Mariners will have an everyday catcher and something of a quandary: What to do with Montero?
Did I mention first base?
3. I want to see Justin Smoak in Tacoma, where the switch-hitting first baseman can work on dealing with pitches that aren’t fastballs placed in his wheelhouse. A year removed from 2011 – between injuries and bereavement, he missed about five weeks – Smoak is hitting .203, or .31 percentage points lower than he hit during the worst season of his baseball life.
Smoak is 25, the typical age of a Triple-A player. He’s got experience in the bigs but has been found to have fundamental flaws, which is also typical of a Triple-A player. Can Rainiers hitting coach Jeff Pentland identify better ways to salvage the Smoak Project than Mainers hitting coach Chris Chambliss?
It’s worth a shot.
4. I want to see shortstop Brendan Ryan auditioned as a leadoff hitter. Sure, the offensive numbers are abominable, but over the past month his on-base percentage is .348.
Ryan never has batted No. 1 in Seattle. When he was with the Cardinals, he served as leadoff hitter in 40 games, batting .364. A small sample size – 12-for-33, with seven walks – but an impressive one.
Ryan can run, and he can coax a walk, and if he manages to flourish in the leadoff role, he’ll give the Mariners reason to re-sign him after his contract expires in October. That last thought is personal: There is nothing I enjoy at Safeco Field more than watching Ryan make crazy plays at shortstop.
5. I want to see Ichiro Suzuki pitch. The second half of the season is shaping up as Ichiro’s last hurrah with the Mainers, for no other reason than the difficulty required to recall his second-to-last hurrah with the Mariners.
He’s bound for the Hall of Fame, and deserves a farewell celebration weekend at Safeco Field. The best way to celebrate Ichiro would be to allow him to realize his “Walter Mitty” fantasy: standing on the mound.
The owner of baseball’s single-season hits record is a closet pitcher with a yearning to display his power arm (which you’ve seen on those throws delivered from the right-field warning track) and his command of the curveball (which you haven’t seen). Ichiro made a pitching appearance in the 1996 Japanese All-Star Game, inducing a groundout, and in 2009, before the World Baseball Classic, when Japan manager Tatsunori Hara touted Ichiro’s potential as a stopgap reliever.
He’s got a fastball that registers over 90 mph, and a dream to use it against a big league hitter. On Oct. 3, when the Mariners face the Angels in the home finale, the starting pitcher should be Ichiro, so he can face one big league hitter.
6. I want to see Kyle Seager drive in 100 runs. He has 52 RBI at the break, so the quest is a bit uphill, but Seager’s development as a cleanup hitter has become a primary reason to check out box scores in the morning.
The most recent Seattle third baseman expected to drive in runs was Adrian Beltre, who averaged 79 RBI during his five seasons with the Mariners. Seager appears to be a lock for 79 RBI, and if he gets a little help, he’ll make a push toward 100.
7. I want to see John Jaso catch. He left Tampa Bay with a reputation as a defensive liability – two years ago, he was charged with five errors and seven passed balls in 80 games – but in 16 games behind the plate this season, he’s had no errors and only one passed ball.
Jaso is smart, instinctively canny, and a potential clubhouse leader. And while his ability to keep speedy baserunners tethered to first might best be described as modest, he has a lot more to offer than what we’ve seen.
8. I want to see Michael Saunders hit in Safeco Field. Saunders isn’t alone, of course, but his home-road splits border on the absurd: He’s got one homer, three RBI and six extra-base hits in Seattle, compared with seven homers, 22 RBI and 23 extra-base hits elsewhere.
Nobody on the Mariners – or for that matter, few players in baseball – are as comprehensively skilled as Saunders, who can run, throw, catch and hit. But three RBI at home? At the break?
Dude, what’s that about?
9. I want to see Felix Hernandez throw a no-hitter. The potential is always there, every fifth day, but no-hitter pitchers are famously arbitrary.
Steve Carlton, Whitey Ford, Ferguson Jenkins, Don Sutton and Early Wynn are among the Hall of Famers who never threw a no-hitter. Neither did such future Cooperstown candidates as Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Roger Clemens.
Think about that. Roger Clemens never threw a no-hitter at any level – high school, college, minor leagues, majors, anywhere – and yet Bobo Holloman, who won three games in his career, threw a no-hitter in his first big league start.
10. I want to see the Mariners’ marketing department promote a day (or a night, I’m not particular) on behalf of utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki. The Japanese import contributed all of 12 hits to the first-half cause – 11 singles and a double – and yet with his dugout dancing, persistent grin and inclination for general wackiness, he strikes me as the only athlete in a Mariners uniform who’s having fun this season.
Loosen up, guys. You’re playing baseball, amid weather conditions that resemble paradise. With pennant contention out of the question, a smiling face or two will have to suffice.
In case you’ve forgotten the exercise, check out Munenori Kawasaki. He’s hitting .185, and having the time of his email@example.com