BY Art Thiel 06:45PM 05/19/2011

Thiel: Not the season to trade pitching for hitting

The Mariners have scored more than three runs just four times in the last 15 games, but it makes no sense to damage a quality starting rotation to patch a meager offense for 2011.

Doug Fister - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 2

Doug Fister was again stellar Thursday beating the Angels, dropping his ERA to 2.93. / Ben Van Houten, Mariners

A preacher has drawn national attention by claiming the Rapture will occur Saturday, in which Christians will ascend to heaven and non-Christians will be consigned to parsing forever the NFL labor dispute.

Wherever Mariners fans line up on that issue, they can greet their fates assured that they saw Thursday the perfect paradigm of the 2011 Mariners game-winning rally:

*Clean-up hitter check-swings an infield dribbler into a lead-off single;

*Sacrificed to second via bunt;

*Advances to third on an infield out;

*Scores the decider in a 2-1 victory over the Angels when the only ball of the inning that goes beyond the infield grass also goes straight into the sun, where it is lost by, as Mariners manager Eric Wedge described him, “one of greatest center fielders of our generation.”

After that, Mariners fans of all persuasions should be comfortable heading to their destinies knowing that they have seen it all – except for a Mariners World Series, which is probably the subject of another column in a parallel universe.

So absurd was the outcome that Jack Cust, the clean-up hitter who scored the winner, admitted afterward that he went back and re-touched home plate. Just to be sure.

Then again, Cust has crossed the plate so few times this year that the giddy ride was worth buying a second ticket.

The persistent offensive futility is the topic of our discussion today, however tempting it is to dissect the subject of a once-every-10-years “sun-off” single that embarrassed the great Torii Hunter.

But for the freakiness of intervention by an object 93 million miles away, the Mariners likely would have squandered yet another substantial contribution by a starting pitcher.

This time, Doug Fister pitched eight innings and gave up a run on six hits and two walks. He lowered a bit the collective 3.33 ERA entering the game by his rotation mates Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Jason Vargas and Erik Bedard, a number that ranked second in the American League and lately makes them probably the best starting staff in the circuit.

But the Mariners are just 19-24 because, as Seattle fans know by now, the noodles the offense uses for bats wouldn’t qualify for inclusion in a bag of Top Ramen.

The Mariners are the game’s most imbalanced team – tops in pitching, worst in hitting – with no obvious resolution apparent.

So the question has begun to loom: Should the Mariners in the near term cannibalize one to feed the other?

“We’re not going to mortgage the future,” said general manager Jack Zduriencik after the game, falling back on one of hoariest bromides of sports executive-ship. “I realize our pitching has been real good. But when you look at the standings, nearly every team is staying alive.

“It’s too early to even talk about contention, but every team I’ve talked to that is within earshot is not willing to give up anything of value.”

Mid-May is a long way from the trade deadline at the end of July, but the astonishing pitching the Mariners have displayed is the object of considerable attention, if not ardor, around the game.

Zduriencik said the generic conversation with his brethren goes something like this:

“Are you willing to part with a starting pitcher?”

“Depends. Are you willing to send a big bat?”

“Well, right now, we can’t part with one, Jack.”

End of discussion.

“Every conversation goes that way,” he said. “Even if some (big bat) were available, I’d be asking why he’s available.”

As in, what’s wrong with the dude? The dominance of pitching throughout the game is so great, the hitting so meager, that any position player on the market automatically would be assumed to be the equivalent of the late-stage Black Knight in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” – no remaining appendages, but a bold talker.

Weak as is the Mariners .301 team on-base percentage as of Thursday morning, the league average is only .320 and the best is Cleveland’s .338.

Aggravating as it is for Mariners fans to watch, the offense will have to depend on guys like Cust and Chone Figgins to return to their career averages, and the rest of the roster to get lucky – as did rookie Carlos Peguero Thursday, when his sky-pop disappeared on Hunter.

“When I hit it, I said, ‘Drop it! Drop it!” Peguero said, smiling, through halting English. When one is hitting .129, one says things like that.

With one exception, players in the farm system with a chance of helping the major league team are here. Besides Peguero, the other rookie recently brought up to replace left fielder Milton Bradley, Mike Wilson, is hitting .091.

For 2011, the Mariners have virtually no options to upgrade from within. The exception, second baseman Dustin Ackley, will become a quality major league hitter but right now is shaky defensively.

From without, trading a starting pitcher makes no sense at all, because the 2011 season was accepted internally as a competitive write-off. No one will say that, of course, but no substantive investment was made on that end, so the discerning fan should expect no improvement.

The risky part of the circumstance is the strain on the starters. It’s emotionally and physically draining for a starter to realize that every single turn requires him to pitch nearly a perfect game, and he still might lose.

By August at Safeco, the Mariners may have on their hands Five Angry Men – and 20 guys in the dugout shouting in the bottom of the ninth, “Drop it! Drop it!” in English, Spanish and Japanese.

Presuming, of course, most of us are still here to care.


YourThoughts

  • Rjgoodwin

    The poor hitting coach. How do you work w crap like this?
    “You can only ger better son”"
    “what were you thinking when you swung at that? – I am sorry, forget I asked that”
    Couldn’t a guy of the street hit .125?
    What is the salary per hit cost?
    All I will say is they seem to be better, for now… 

  • Rjgoodwin

    The poor hitting coach. How do you work w crap like this?
    “You can only ger better son”"
    “what were you thinking when you swung at that? – I am sorry, forget I asked that”
    Couldn’t a guy of the street hit .125?
    What is the salary per hit cost?
    All I will say is they seem to be better, for now… 

  • Michael Kaiser

     You know, I tend to agree with Art here, but the thing is, the pitching will probably not be as good in the future  either.  Hard to improve on first. So do you waste it?  But, ya, the Mariners are light years, mentally and otherwise, from being really competitive, so loading up on hitting at this point–even if it could be done–would be like what happens when you give food to a starving person.  If you are not careful they die and, regardless, their system arguably is not ready for it. Kind of interesting, though, that such a parallel can be made about the Mariners. 

  • Michael Kaiser

     You know, I tend to agree with Art here, but the thing is, the pitching will probably not be as good in the future  either.  Hard to improve on first. So do you waste it?  But, ya, the Mariners are light years, mentally and otherwise, from being really competitive, so loading up on hitting at this point–even if it could be done–would be like what happens when you give food to a starving person.  If you are not careful they die and, regardless, their system arguably is not ready for it. Kind of interesting, though, that such a parallel can be made about the Mariners. 

  • SeattleNative

    Nice theory, but I think you’re offbase on the offensive analysis, pardon my pun. I agree , our offense is pathetic. However, as the weather warms, so will the hitting. These Mariners have been tragically unlucky. Leagues misadventures were just the tip of the past blunders, including Ichiro’s sunball. At least 3 of our last 6 losses should have been W’s. Those 3 wins would put us closer to. 500 which is probably the best this group could expect. The upside is that our rotation is for real and should be for some time. Their relative ages would suggest many years of productive pitching. Don’t forget, Wedge is a master of pitching and bullpen management. He cut his teeth managing pitchers and in-game strategy. The offense will be fine. Smoak is a budding superstar in the Griffey mold. Figgins won’t be around, preceded by Wilson if the rumors are true. Ackley and Gutierrez will improve the offense if not the defense. Pitching and defense will take us to the World Series. We have that. Offense will win the Series for us. Trader Jack should not and will not sacrifice pitching. Over Wedge’s dead body. I believe help us on the way and that Ackley, Carp and Peguero will make positive contributions this year. Trades will be made and Jack Z will be in the driver’s seat. I hope he doesn’t blow it. We have most of the right ingredients to contend. It’s just getting over that hump, like Wedge said, you win games like today and then you begin to expect to win games like that. Their confidence grows and next thing you know, they’ve won 10 in a row. Could happen, probably not. We can be good, with our starting pitching the skies the limit. Good times are just around the corner.

  • SeattleNative

    Nice theory, but I think you’re offbase on the offensive analysis, pardon my pun. I agree , our offense is pathetic. However, as the weather warms, so will the hitting. These Mariners have been tragically unlucky. Leagues misadventures were just the tip of the past blunders, including Ichiro’s sunball. At least 3 of our last 6 losses should have been W’s. Those 3 wins would put us closer to. 500 which is probably the best this group could expect. The upside is that our rotation is for real and should be for some time. Their relative ages would suggest many years of productive pitching. Don’t forget, Wedge is a master of pitching and bullpen management. He cut his teeth managing pitchers and in-game strategy. The offense will be fine. Smoak is a budding superstar in the Griffey mold. Figgins won’t be around, preceded by Wilson if the rumors are true. Ackley and Gutierrez will improve the offense if not the defense. Pitching and defense will take us to the World Series. We have that. Offense will win the Series for us. Trader Jack should not and will not sacrifice pitching. Over Wedge’s dead body. I believe help us on the way and that Ackley, Carp and Peguero will make positive contributions this year. Trades will be made and Jack Z will be in the driver’s seat. I hope he doesn’t blow it. We have most of the right ingredients to contend. It’s just getting over that hump, like Wedge said, you win games like today and then you begin to expect to win games like that. Their confidence grows and next thing you know, they’ve won 10 in a row. Could happen, probably not. We can be good, with our starting pitching the skies the limit. Good times are just around the corner.

  • Jeff

    i dont understand why they dont put ackley in left and draft rendon who is playing second now at rice univ
    he can hit, ackley can hit
    carp can be our dh in 2012

  • Jeff

    i dont understand why they dont put ackley in left and draft rendon who is playing second now at rice univ
    he can hit, ackley can hit
    carp can be our dh in 2012