BY Art Thiel 06:13PM 06/01/2011

Thiel: Save the arms and bring up some bats

Feebleness at the plate is threatening to compromise dominance on the mound. The Mariners need not be shy about tryouts now; the team wasn’t supposed to be here anyway.

Mike Carp - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 1

Mike Carp is hitting well in Tacoma and might be in line to help the Mariners offense. / Ben Van Houten, Mariners

In games such as the one Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field, the Mariners seem as if they are on a leaking raft heading toward a distant shore.

It’s clear what’s going to happen.  The only question is how fast they can paddle.

Their surprising success to date (28-27) is so pitching-dependent that no one would criticize rookie Michael Pineda if he unleashed one of his long arms across the clubhouse and dope-slapped the entire offense.

“One run,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan, who saw his 11-game hitting streak end. “That’s just not fair to him.”

It’s been a season-long lament, and hardly surprising, given the lack of investment in offense during the off-season. But the unexpected dominance of starters and relievers has thrust the Mariners into an unexpected competitiveness. Peculiarly for this franchise and this time of year, it feels as if something is at stake.

Perhaps there is – the mental health of the pitchers.

“Too many nail-biters,” is the way Ryan put it. “It would be nice to draw first blood. When we don’t, it means the bullpen has got to be perfect.”

One blemish from a reliever – a sinker from Jamey Wright that failed to sink – led to Adam Jones’ solo home run in the eighth inning, the difference in a 2-1 defeat that allowed the Baltimore Orioles an escape from the oppressiveness of the Pineda heat.

In seven innings, the Mariners’ version of Baby Shaq (props to Shaquille O’Neal upon his retirement day) struck out seven in seven innings, allowing a run on six hits. It was a good bounce-back from his slightly shaky outing against the Yankees and richly deserving of a W.

The night before, starter Doug Fister was in a similar deficit after pitching well, trailing 2-0 before Justin Smoak made things all better with a three-run homer to decide the game. But judging by production through 56 games, that stroke filled the seasonal quota of three-run, game-saving dingers.

Here’s how manager Eric Wedge put it after Wednesday’s loss:

“We’ve got a few guys here who need to be better . . . you can’t go up there and do the same things and expect different results.”

Since they are not getting better, pressure is on Wedge and the front office to get some in-season tryouts underway.

Not from outside the franchise, however. The Mariners are highly unlikely to pursue offensive help because a) there isn’t much to be had in MLB’s worst hitting season in more than 20 years, and b) they already have dedicated $21 million in salary to do next to nothing.

Left fielder Milton Bradley ($12 million) has been fired and third baseman Chone Figgins ($9 million) has been benched, necessary moves but deadening more than 25 percent of the player payroll.

That’s like getting into the ring with one good arm and one good eye against Ivan Drago. Only there’s no Hollywood ending.

Remarkably, the Mariners dodged and ducked their way to the best May (15-11) in four years despite hitting .228 as a team. Here’s one of the unorthodox routes they have taken: With 11, the Mariners lead the major leagues in bases-loaded walks. That’s 11 runs scored by having the courage to do nothing.

The Mariners are getting miserable production out of left field, third base and DH.

They’ve already tried two minor leaguers in left, Carlos Peguero and Mike Wilson, and neither has seized the opportunity. The incumbent, Michael Saunders, is hitting .168. Figgins is almost helpless at the plate and becoming vulnerable in the field. At DH, Jack Cust has one more home run than the Mariner Moose.

At Triple-A Tacoma, the Mariners have moved infielder Mike Carp to left field, where he is hitting .312 with 14 homers and 43 RBI. He’s played 34 games with the Mariners over parts of two seasons.

Second baseman and media darling Dustin Ackley is hitting .292 with an OPS of .866, but is still learning his position, one that is adequately staffed in Seattle.

Other prospects such as Alex Liddi and Greg Halman will merit a look. It’s time.

Normally, such looks would happen with September call-ups. But this is a freakish season in which two abundances have collided – Mariners pitching and AL West mediocrity – to create a sort of odd opportunity where there was forecast to be nothing.

The opportunity is not worth sacrificing the future by being a trade-deadline buyer. But it is worth trying out premier prospects in midseason, even if it starts some service-time clocks running.

There is a splendid pitching staff here, waiting politely – so far – for the offense to pick up a paddle and get to shore ahead of the sharks.


  • Alex

    Jack Cust hit .276/.375./447 in May. This is far from “miserable production.”

    • Brett

      Agreed.  Cust is fine.  LF and 3B are the real problems.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I agree.

  • Michael Kaiser

    By the way, I “agree” with Art.  As for Cust, take away his walks–something you really are not looking for from your DH, although things are changing a bit with regard to DH expectations–and he would be borderline worthless.

    • Alex Ferri

      That’s like saying, “Take away Jose Bautista’s home runs and he would be borderline worthless.” 

      OBP is a big part of what makes Cust valuable– you can’t just disregard them. Also, a .457 slugging in May is pretty good considering offense is at a 20 year low.

  • Pixel13

    And the UW should be doing exactly the same thing with their Beast (Chris Polk).