Greetings from somewhere over the Midwest. I figured with a three hour flight, I'd crank out some thoughts on what we witnessed over the first seven games of the season.
The Mariners are finally returning home to play at Safeco Field for the first time this season. I'm finally returning home since Feb. 10. I might get lost on the way back there.
Seattle brings home a 3-4 record. Realistically, the Mariners could be 4-3 or 5-2, or just as easily be 2-5.
There has been a fair amount of complaining, mocking, worrying, lamenting, criticizing, second-guessing and overreacting on Twitter, which is what that social media network is created for - along with taking pictures of food and telling other people how stupid they are or asking for retweets from athletes or celebrities. I think we all know I use it for a vehicle to complain about things and to make fun of Larry Stone.
It's all good. It's just Twitter. It's why I tend to remain patient with people who seem to be freaking out about the Mariners and want me to join their emotional freefall.
Remember a few years ago when people would ask Chone Figgins about his struggles, and he would tell people "it's early." It used to infuriate fans. It's instructive to note that comment came about two months into the season. We are seven games into the season.
So to quote the currently unemployed Figgins:
Seven games, one week. Not exactly a huge sample size. We don't really know who or what the 2013 can be in that small amount of time.
Michael Morse invoked the comment yesterday, as did Justin Smoak.
Yes, the Mariners have been inconsistent from game to game, and their hitting with runners in scoring position hasn't been great. But it will likely improve. After being constantly reminded that spring training production and stats do not matter, perhaps it's fair to not be upset when that level production doesn't continue in the first week of the regular season.
So do what you want, but I will probably wait a little while before making any sweeping generalizations about players, the offense, the roster, the pitching or the future of the season.
On leashes, Ackley and Smoak ...
I've had a plethora of questions on Twitter regarding these two. They range from: What is wrong with Ackley? Is Smoak ever going to hit? When are they going to send Smoak/Ackley down to Tacoma? How long of a leash will they have with Smoak/Ackley?
Yes, this is my world.
As for leashes, well, I'm guessing the leash lasts longer than a week. Looking at Figgins' game logs, the Mariners gave him about 25 games before they decided what we all knew - he was done.
I would expect Ackley and Smoak to get more than that. They are both young and still considered part of the Mariners future on some level.
Ackley's new swing and new approach are different. He believes in it. And I don't think he's going to change it after seven games either. The pre-swing movement does seem to put him in between or even behind on pitches. But he has said it is going to help in the long run. Ackley should have gotten credited with a hit the other day on the hard ball groundball that scored Raul Ibanez. He also yanked a line drive to first that Brandon Moss made a leaping grab to rob him of a sure double against Oakland.
Smoak has hit some balls hard that have been caught. The Smoak shift when he is batting left-handed has cost him two hits.With the exception of yesterday's late inning strikeout where he swung at a 3-2 change-up that was nowhere near the strike zone, Smoak seems to be seeing the ball better. He has four walks so far, including one with the bases loaded.
I'm not going to say I know everything about baseball, but the part I do know is that the swing changes Smoak has made should make him a more consistent, viable hitter. I'm not saying he will be an all-star, but he should be better than what we've seen in the past.
On umpires, pitch framing and Jesus Montero ...
Yes, the umpiring was not good this weekend. Jeff Nelson and his crew had meandering strike zones that left pitchers, hitters and people shaking their heads. We probably shouldn't be surprised by this, and just be thankful CB Bucknor or Angel Hernandez weren't there too. Umpires are humans, there will be mistakes in strike zones. I don't think they hate Felix Hernandez or any of the Mariners pitchers and are trying to squeeze them on purpose.
One thing to be certain ... the pitch F/X tracker on MLB.com is not perfect. It uses an algorithm to help measure everything. It's not perfect measurement or formula. How do I know? Because it said that Felix Hernandez threw 64 change-ups against the Oakland A's in his first start. And don't even get me started on the tracer technology that ROOT sports uses on the telecast. I'm sorry but something sponsored by a casino and manned and developed by ROOT is also not to be trusted. Any longtime viewer of the station understands why I say that.
As for what we see on TV, that's also a little flawed. The center field camera obviously can't be directly behind the pitcher, or we wouldn't be able to see the catcher, his glove and the plate. Because the camera sits slightly off-center and often elevated, what we see on TV can be a little different than in real life. I asked a couple camera men about this, and they agree. It's just something to keep in mind when it looks like an umpire is just refusing to call certain pitches that appear to be strikes.
Jesus Montero is not a great receiver. This has been established. This is not up for debate. Do I think he costs his pitchers strikes? Of course. Do I think it's as many as some people claim? No.
Montero isn't great at framing pitches. Nearly every umpire often will say they aren't influenced by framing or the catcher's glove. Nearly every umpire would be lying.
But framing is an art. Obviously, some catchers are better at it than others - the Molinas. As someone who caught for a while, I learned that framing isn't about just your hand and wrist and the snapping action as the pitch is caught bringing the glove into the strike zone. It's also about body positioning, staying square to the plate and not having a lot of useless movement,, which can be distracting. Montero is a big guy and he often drops down and moves around as he catches the pitch. It doesn't help. Sometimes he gives up on pitches that are borderline a little too soon. All of which can be improved over time.
It's also important to remember that you can't and shouldn't frame everything. Umpires look at it as begging and a way of showing them up. If you do it on pitches that are not borderline, the effectiveness of a good framing job has been worn off. It also irritates the umps even more. Believe me, they will tell you to stop doing it.
There was a fair amount of consternation about Montero's inability to block a third-strike slider in the dirt from Carter Capps, allowing the runner to reach first.
First of all, it was ruled a wild pitch and not a passed ball. And that was the proper scoring decision. Any pitch that strikes the dirt first will almost always be ruled wild pitch - no matter how blockable it looks.
Speaking from experience, blocking pitches isn't easy. Usually fastballs are the toughest to block because of their velocity and the understanding that most are supposed to be catchable. With breaking balls, it's a little different. They are slower and there is also an expectation of them to be low or in the dirt.
As a catcher, you can cheat it a little. But blocking isn't about just throwing your body in front of it. In that situation, you are trying slide your body to the right, keeping your butt down as low as possible while curling your right shoulder in to not only have the ball bounce off you but land in front of you back toward the plate. It's not easy. And even the best - the Molinas, Brad Ausmus, Pudge Rodriguez, Buster Posey - had ones that got away from them. Why? Because you are not only trying to stop a spinning ball that is moving at rate usually higher than 75 mph with your body, but also controlling where it goes.
Also, Capps' slider is very unpredictable right now. It's a good and necessary pitch. Just showing that he has it makes his fastball that much better. But there is no consistency with it's break right now. Sometimes it moves a few inches and spins, other times it breaks properly and other times the break will just explode. And it changes from pitch to pitch, batter to batter. It's hard to block a breaking pitch that has no predictability.
I don't know if Montero will ever be the player that the Yankees touted him to be. As someone who is hyper critical of catching, he is adequate defensively. And it's better than it was last season. And it's not Miguel Olivo.
On Mike Zunino and the prospects ...
Mike Zunino has had an outstanding start to his first Triple A season. But unless there's an injury, the Mariners aren't calling him up this week, or the next week or the week after that. There's no reason to rush Zunino right now. Everybody loves prospects and wants to see them play, but it would be prudent for the Mariners to wail till July before even think of bringing him up. They should try and avoid letting Zunino reach " Super 2" status, which would make him eligible for arbitration and free agency a year earlier.
Let's wait a little bit and see how Zunino handles the rigors of Triple A. It's much more of a mental grind, particularly when it comes to the defensive aspect. We've seen some good offensive numbers, but there's more to catching at the big league level than just offense.
On Eric Wedge, line-ups and pinch hitting ...
Wedge and his decisions have been the subject of much debate and criticism and anger .... again on Twitter.
Look, the line-ups are probably going to change back and forth for a while. This is due to a few reasons.
1. Wedge wants to play all of his guys early on as they come out of spring training. He doesn't want players like Ibanez, Robert Andino and Jason Bay sit for a bunch of games coming out of spring training. He will try and get them playing time in certain situations and then obviously dial it back or give them more as the season progresses.
2. The center fielder has proven to be more fragile than uncooked spaghetti. Yes, Franklin Gutierrez has been the victim of bad luck and a bad stomach causing him to miss a bunch of games in the past few seasons. But the hamstring tightness that he is battling isn't something that can be ignored. Basically Wedge feels if he monitors Gutierrez's playing time now, the chances of having him somewhat healthier down the road increase.
3. He is using platoon situations as well in hopes of putting players in position to succeed. It worked for John Jaso quite nicely last season.
As for pinch hitting decisions, Wedge explained he is trying to let these guys show him something, particularly early in the game. It's one of the reasons why he stuck with Ibanez the other day against the left-hander.
"With Raul (Ibanez), particularly this early in the year, or maybe Jason Bay or Andino or whoever it may be, you want to give them additional opportunities to do stuff early on. What you don’t want is guys looking over their shoulder when they go to home plate," said Wedge.
Feel to agree with me on some of this, feel free to disagree with me on all of this. It's all debatable. It's what makes baseball great.