SEATTLE — It happens occasionally that Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, like all of his peers, expresses irritation over the pitch-selection decisions from his pitcher/catcher combination.
So question: Why not just call pitches from the bench? That routinely happens in college and high school. Mariners catcher Mike Zunino wore an NFL-style wrist band in college. Many college catchers do.
“It was for calling pitches,” Zunino recalled. “They had pickoff plays, pitchouts, the running game. It sort of had everything.”
Why not have something similar in the big leagues? The Mariners reached Thursday’s open date in their schedule at 3-6 in large part because their staff has a fat 5.16 ERA. Could that be trimmed, even a little, from the bench?
“It doesn’t work because you’re not in tune with the pitcher,” McClendon said. “The catcher and pitcher have a relationship. They have a feel and a touch for the moment.
“The worst thing I can do is to call pitches constantly for my catcher. Now, he loses his sense of worth, his sense of an ability to run a game, to get a pitcher in a groove the way he wants him. It’s just not good.”
It’s must be more than that, though. Even the NFL’s top quarterbacks, after all, get plays sent in from the sideline — with no apparent loss of self-worth. Although, yes, they also often change those plays at the line of scrimmage.
Zunino sees a similarity in that sense.
“There is a lot of stuff we can go over in a scouting report,” he said, “but hitters make adjustments, too. A guy comes up for his first at-bat, and he can be going totally against the script. There’s definitely a feel to it.
“There are little things that you pick up on. Are they diving? Or leaning. A lot of that translates into the next pitch as well.”
McClendon began his playing career as a catcher and recalls the learning process at such outposts as Kingsport, Tenn., and Little Falls, N.Y.
“After my games,” he said, “I would sit down in the office with the manager and go over the game, the mistakes I made. We would talk about the mistakes I made. And you learn.”
Third-base coach Rich Donnelly, also a former catcher, points to those subtleties within the game as the primary argument against calling pitches from the bench at the big-league level.
“A good catcher can read the hitter,” Donnelly said. “He can see if a guy is leaning. A manager can’t see that. A catcher knows his feet, can watch his eyes.”
Donnelly said most called third strikes on fastballs are the result of the catcher reading the batter in a way that can’t be done at the bench.
“You can almost tell when he’s looking for a breaking ball because he’s leaning out over the plate. Then you bust him in. That’s why you see a lot of guys go like this — (throws arms up and jumps back) — on strike three.”
McClendon added: “You can’t, just can’t, know that feeling from the bench. My plate calling is strictly late in the game to help develop my catcher for the future.”
“I reminded Mike earlier in the week that a guy is a first-pitch charger,” McClendon said. “Don’t throw him a fastball.”
Mostly, though, that duty falls to Zunino or backup Jesus Sucre.
“Part of my job title is to call games,” Zunino said. “That’s a catcher’s responsibility. Sometimes, there’s a certain situation where they think a certain pitch is the right one, and they’ll relay that to me.
“But for the most part, it’s my responsibility.”
So no wristbands. And not many pitch calls from the bench.
Nelson Cruz enters the weekend on a streak of six homers in his last five games, including at least one in each of those games.
He is the fifth different player in franchise history with homers in at least five straight games. Jay Buhner did it twice. Only one player extended his streak beyond five games.
That was Ken Griffey Jr., who had an eight-game streak from July 20-28, 1993. Griffey shares the major-league record with Dale Long (Pittsburgh, 1956) and Don Mattingly (New York Yankees, 1987)
Cruz has the Mariners’ first five-game homer streak in nearly 15 years and the first since the club moved into Safeco Field — although all six of his homers came in the just-completed road trip.
The other five game streaks:
***Richie Zisk: April 24-28, 1981.
***Buhner: Sept. 9-13, 1995.
***Buhner: May 15-21, 1996.
***Alex Rodriguez: Aug. 11-16, 1999.
Cruz’s six homers also match a franchise record for most through the season’s first nine games. Three others did it: Jim Presley in 1985, Griffey in 1997 and Mike Morse in 2013.
It was three years ago Friday — April 17, 2012 — that the Mariners reached two milestones in a crushing 9-8 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Safeco Field.
They recorded the 25,000th run in franchise when Justin Smoak scored in the fourth inning. They also got the 50,000th hit in franchise history on a single by Kyle Seager.
But…the Mariners also blew an 8-1 lead when the Indians scored seven runs in the fifth inning and another run in the seventh inning.
Seager enters the weekend with hits in seven straight games…Cruz is 9-for-19 since opening the season in a 1-for-15 slump…The Mariners are 0-6 in night games…The Mariners have scored 21 of their 32 runs on home runs.
The Mariners look to break a three-game skid when they open a nine-game homestand at 7:10 p.m. Friday with the first of three weekend games against Texas at Safeco Field.
Lefty J.A. Happ (0-0, 2.84) will start against Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo (1-1, 5.59). The game can be seen on Root Sports and heard on 710 ESPN.