Greetings from Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix at 4:30 a.m.Let me get this straight, I'm leaving 90 degree heat for the 40 degree cold? Wow.
First of all, some business stuff to take care of. We were having a little trouble with our blog system yesterday, according TNT computer czar Doug Connaroe, it had something to do with the network upgrade we were having.
So that's why you can't access it sometimes and sometimes it wouldn't let you sign in. Or for me, it wouldn't let me post the rather long blog post I wrote last night about Yuniesky Betancourt that kind of followed up on what Lash wrote earlier, but it somehow disappeared into the ether.
But as I wait for my 6:15 a.m. flight back to Sea-Tac, I felt it was necessary to try and recreate at least some of it. Because what we saw and heard about Yuni from manager Don Wakamatsu told me a lot about the type of manager Wakamatsu is and what he aspires to be and also what he expects from his players and what he's willing to do to meet such expectations.
An initial glance at the box score of last night's game or even a glance at a few highlights on Baseball Tonight, one would think that Yuni had a pretty good game going 2-for-4 with a homer and a triple while driving in two runs.
But in terms of what Wakamatsu wants to see out of Yuni's approach to the game, it left a little to be desired. In four at-bats, the free-swinging Yuni saw a total of six pitcher. Six.
Let's break them down.
AB No. 1: He saw a first-pitch fastball for a strike. Down 0-1, he proceeds to swing at a fastball inside that is so far in that he can barely get his hands through. Really it looks like it might have hit him. The result? A weak pop-up in the infield.
AB No. 2: Runners on first and third with no outs and Yuni get antsy trying to drive in some runs. He takes a strike and then swings at a bad pitch and is way out in front rolling into a soft 6-4-3 double play.
AB No. 3: First pitch fastball home run to left
AB No. 4: First pitch fastball drive it right
While the last two at-bats will get noticed from people reading the box score, the first two were noticed by Wakamatsu. And he wasn't pleased.
"It's nice to hit a home run and a triple down the line but there's more to this game than that," Wakamatsu said.
The double play was especially irksome. Mike Wilson led off the inning with a double and Ronny Cedeno (who's been earning points with Wak every day) dropped a bunt for a single down to move Wilson to third. Franklin Gutierrez followed with a single to score Wilson and move Cedeno to third. Yuni steps up, sees one pitch and then produces the double play ball. So instead of having runners on second and third with one out, the M's had two outs and nobody on. Perhaps more galling for Wak is that Adrian Beltre and Mike Sweeney followed with back-to-back singles.
"We had Ronny go down and talk to him because Ronny laid down another nice bunt," Wakamatsu said. "(Yuni's) got to have other weapons, especially if he has a desire to hit in the No. 2 spot."
"Ronny did that on his own, and really it was perfect scenario for (Betancourt) to do the same thing. just push the ball to the right side."
Now we all know that Yuni has never thought the game out like that or played the game like that. But Wak is intent on forcing him to learn.
"I have the ability to give him a take, if it gets to the point where we have to break down every count whether it 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 and giving him the take to make him see more pitches, we'll do that," Wakamatsu said.
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa isn't afraid to do this with his players. This story talks about how he controls certain at-bats in spring games to build better discipline.
When mentioned to Wak about this, he was all for it.
"Absolutely, I'd do that," he said. "It all depends if it hurts the ball club or not. Obviously days he hits a home run and a triple you kind wash it away some, but it's going to be a big part of our offense that he can do those things that we have three or four guys either early or late in the lineup that can manufacture runs."
Wak and his staff have talked with Yuni, they've even recruited Cedeno and others as well to try and get him to understand.
"We're going to hit every avenue we possibly can, whether it's Beltre or Ronny," Wakamatsu said. "But it does get contagious when guy starts giving themselves up."
To be fair, Yuni isn't the first free swinger in baseball. Vlad Guerrero comes to mind. But Wak pointed out a big difference.
"You look at those guys and the majority of those guys are higher on base percentage guys," he said. "Is he having productive outs? That's key we have to look at. Whether he's moving runners or whether he has the ability to hit and run on certain guys, those are the things that are more important to me if we can't get him to see more than four pitches a game."
To be fair to Yuni, he hasn't been out playing every day to really get a feel for what Wak expects in games. He's been plagued by the sore hamstring and has half the at-bats he'd normally have. But that will change soon.
"You give him the benefit of doubt up to this point, now as he starts playng more and we're going to ask him to do more," Wakamatsu said. "If he doesn't, then he doesn't become the two-hole hitter and send a message that way."
But is that the worst that can happen? Wak was asked if Betancourt is THE shortstop.
"So far," he said with a chuckle.
And that's something we have not heard in a few years in Mariners land. I ranted last year on the Ian Furness show about how Yuni has no fear of ever losing his spot because of the sheer lack of talent in the upper minors at shortstop. But with Cedeno there that changes the landscape a little. And Wakamatsu said improved defense from Yuni wouldn't lengthen the rope to offset his plate issues.
"We're looking for a complete player," he said.
"It comes down to production and if he doesn't produce, then yeah, we'll look to go in a different direction."
Did I mention how much Wak is growing on me as a manager? This is something we would have never heard about any player last year. It's not biting, it's not cruel, it's critical and honest.