Rookie first baseman Dan Vogelbach approached Mariners bench coach Tim Bogar prior to Wednesday’s game with a question: Was there time to get in some extra on-field defensive work?
It’s now a daily routine for Vogelbach, who became the club’s designated first baseman of the future once he arrived July 20 from the Chicago Cubs with minor-league pitcher Paul Blackburn in a trade for pitcher Mike Montgomery.
"It’s definitely something I’m taking seriously," Vogelbach said, "because it’s something I need to improve. I’m taking full advantage of Bogie, and he’s been teaching me the correct things so that come the off-season, I can get after it and come to spring training and be ready to go."
Those "correct things" consist primarily of Vogelbach putting himself in a good starting position through a proper defensive foundation and working on his footwork to adjust to grounders and make accurate throws.
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"When you’re a younger player and you hit as well as he does," Bogar said, "sometimes the defense gets pushed aside. You just rely on athleticism to play the position without knowing the intricacies of how to do it correctly.
"What we’re trying to do is get him to understand the foundation it takes to catch ground balls, and the footwork it takes to throw accurately in a consistent manner. He’s been very open to it, and it’s gone really well."
Vogelbach is more blunt.
"I’ve been doing it the wrong way for so long," he said, "that I’m now making the correct muscle memory. Getting it to be a natural habit. I can already feel a difference.
"Obviously, I still have a ways to go, but that’s what the off-season is for. I have plenty of time to get it to where I want to be. But I’ve already seen big steps. Any time you’re working on something new, to see growth is always a positive."
Vogelbach, 23, has just one hit in 11 at-bats in limited action since his Sept. 12 promotion from Triple-A Tacoma. But he’s always hit in the minors. So he’s first in line next season with Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee about to become free agents.
"Oh, he’s going to hit," general manager Jerry Dipoto insisted. "He’ll bring it. Right now, he’s out the gas, and you can tell he is tense. This is a guy who doesn’t swing at bad pitches ever, and he’s been doing that."
Vogelbach was picked by Baseball America as the best Triple-A first baseman after he finished with a .292 average and a .417 on-base percentage in 133 games at Tacoma and Triple-A Iowa. He also had 23 homers and 96 RBIs.
"He’s a very good athlete," Bogar said. "He’s got great hand/eye coordination. He knows how his hands work. His defense is already growing by leaps and bounds just in a short time. It’s not consistent, but it will be."
Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is recovering from a broken blood vessel in his eye, which he attributes to a hard sneeze.
"It’s really ugly," manager Scott Servais said. "You think there’s something more going on there. He says he’s OK. It started with just a little red line, and then it just took over his whole eye. It’s ugly. It really is."
Gutierrez didn’t play in the three-game series at Houston. He is batting .252 with 14 homers and 39 RBIs in 95 games.
Willing to dream a little?
The Mariners own the tiebreaker advantage in two of three possible scenarios if they end up tied for the second wild-card berth in the American League.
A play-in game for that second berth would be Monday at Safeco Field if the Mariners end up tied with Baltimore or Toronto. If they end up tied with the Tigers, that game would be played in Detroit.
The winner of the play-in game would then play Tuesday at the home of the AL’s top wild-card qualifier. That winner would advance to the AL Division Series against the division champion with the best record.
COUNTING IT DOWN
Baltimore pulled out a dramatic victory Wednesday at Toronto, which dealt a blow to the Mariners’ postseason hopes. Detroit’s rain-shortened victory over Cleveland didn’t help, either.
Those results send the Mariners into their season-ending series against Oakland, which opens Thursday at Safeco Field, trailing Baltimore by two games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth. They trail Detroit by one game. All three clubs have four games remaining.
Here are the remaining schedules for the primary five teams battling for the AL’s two wild-card berths:
Toronto (87-71): Thursday vs. Baltimore; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Boston.
Baltimore (86-72): Thursday at Toronto; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at New York Yankees.
Detroit (85-73): Thursday vs. Cleveland; Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Atlanta.
Mariners (84-74): Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday vs. Oakland.
Houston (83-76): Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Los Angels Angels.
It was 28 years ago Thursday — Sept. 29, 1988 — that Mark Langston gave up one run in the ninth inning of a 5-1 victory over Texas at the Kingdome.
That run was notable because it ended Langston’s streak of shutout innings at 34 1/3, which remains a franchise record. Langston was subsequently selected as the American League pitcher of the month for the second time in his career.
The Mariners open their final series of the regular season Thursday when Oakland begins a four-game stay at Safeco Field.
Rookie lefty Ariel Miranda (5-2 with a 4.10 ERA) will face Athletics right-hander Kendall Graveman (10-11, 4.19) at 7:10 p.m. in the series opener.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
The Mariners hold a 10-5 lead in the season series but are just 2-4 against the Athletics at Safeco Field.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners