Because Brad Miller was encircled at his locker by a media horde, Nick Franklin sat on the arm of a leather couch to wait.
Franklin’s adjacent locker was inaccessible because it was blocked off by reporters wanting to talk to the newest of new Mariners.
Once the group dispersed, Franklin made his way over and mocked his friend and fellow Floridian for his press attention. Six weeks into his major league career, Franklin, 22, had become old news.
The delivery via stork of Franklin and Miller after the promotion of catcher Mike Zunino gives the Mariners a starting lineup with three guys 23 or younger. It also leaves them with heavy reliance on the young trio in the second half.
The eldest, Miller, has been up just 16 games and already is the leadoff hitter. He spurns batting gloves, pulls his socks high and runs as if he’s being terrorized. Miller has a .246 average during this embryonic stage of his career. He has earned it through fearlessness. He figures he’s going to be attacked, so he attacks back.
“They’re going to come right after me,” Miller said. “Why not? They’re going to come right after me and see what I can do.”
Same for Franklin. He joined the club when Dustin Ackley was jettisoned to Triple-A Tacoma to fix multiple broken things. Franklin had a strong June when he hit .296 and popped two homers.
July thumped him back, however. He hit .195 with a .267 on-base percentage. He walked three times Sunday, but before that, he had struck out 16 times and walked once in July. Still, his solid bat has coupled with magical flashes at second base to ramp up expectations.
Zunino’s call-up stunned many. He was signed out of Florida on July 2, 2012. A year later, at age 22, he was behind the plate in Texas. He’s hitting .230 and slugging just .299, though the Mariners want him to focus on defense at this point.
Franklin and Zunino caught the attention of their manager after playing through dings. Franklin bunted a ball off the inside of his kneecap but stayed in the game. A feisty foul ball caught Zunino on the inside of the knee while catching. The pain forced him to lie down in the dirt for two minutes. Yet, he didn’t come out, and he played the next day.
“I’m going to get my bumps and bruises,” Zunino said. “You’ve just got to play through it sometime. I want to be back there as much as I can, so whatever I have to do to be ready to go, that’s what I am going to do.”
He has little choice. Zunino, Miller and Franklin, already are everyday players the way Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero immediately were forced to be.
There is a distinct difference for the new group of youngsters, however, which might offer insight to the Mariners’ trade deadline approach.
The nonwaiver trade deadline is July 31. Veterans Raul Ibañez and Kendrys Morales are effective hitters on one-year deals — the type often moved by teams out of contention around the break.
If the Mariners chose that path, they would revert to the situation they had a couple years ago, where the middle of the lineup was devoid of any anchors, forcing the youngsters into those spots. That was an error, according to Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
“I am 100 percent convinced ... it hurt that first wave big-time,” Wedge said. “It cost them time, without a doubt, whereas the second wave, it’s going to help them be there, stay there, get there quicker.
“What we had to do with those kids the last couple years was not right. Didn’t have any protection for them. To pencil (Ibañez and Morales) in 3-4, 4-5, whatever it’s been, it’s a big deal. Surround them by the kids, it’s been a big deal for us.”
Miller, Franklin and Zunino will be around the rest of the year even if their veteran assistance is not. General manager Jack Zduriencik is interested to see how they react to the likely struggles that come.
“I think we’d all like to look at them and feel like they’re big leaguers,” Zduriencik said. “Look at them and think when you go into 2014 — and we’re not giving up on this year, don’t get me wrong — but I think you look at what happens the rest of this year, but you also look forward and think Opening Day next year, these guys are not going to be wet behind the ears.”
One thing is certain: They can’t get younger.