BY John Hickey 03:16PM 07/19/2011

Hickey: Mariners have lost their sense of fun

The Mariners’ body language is every bit a bad as their record heading into a tough nine days road.

Chone Figgins is just one of the Mariners hitters who have been way below expectations this year. / Getty Images

Besides a .186 team batting average for July, what exactly is wrong with the Mariners?

“I’ve been watching them for the last few weeks,’’ an American League executive said, “and the change is really remarkable.

“A month ago they looked like they were having fun – lots of fun. Now they look they like they’re having no fun at all.

“They had a lot of bounce in their step. They looked happy and ready to go, looking like they thought they’d win, right from the time they started stretching. Lately I haven’t seen that.’’

Nine-game losing streaks will do that to anyone.  Considering the schedule is getting tougher, things look glum indeed. After an off-day, the Mariners began Tuesday their longest trip of the season, through Toronto, Boston and New York.

In the four games before the break, the Mariners were swept by the Angels in Anaheim, and in the four games after the break by the Rangers in Seattle. It’s part of the toughest stretch of the schedule. In 42 games that started with the Angels and will last until Aug. 24, the Mariners are facing only two sub-.500 teams for nine games, the Blue Jays ( road and home) and the A’s in Safeco Field.

A team that two weeks ago was over .500 and competing for the American League West flag now is heading downhill faster than a slalom skier.

Much of the problem resides with the veterans. Two of them, Chone Figgins (.183) and Jack Cust (.207) aren’t playing any more and are trade bait. Of the rest, Ichiro Suzuki (.262), Brendan Ryan (.249), Adam Kennedy (.259), Miguel Olivo (.217) and Franklin Gutierrez (.190) all are having sub-par seasons.

Manager Eric Wedge has been patient, but that’s about at its end. He is tired of watching  veterans having bad at-bats, going to the plate without a clear idea of what needs to be done.

“With veterans, there shouldn’t be any excuses,” he said. “They should be going up there with a plan, sticking with their plan, and at least giving themselves a chance to have success. You’re not going to always have that, but you at least have to give yourself a chance.”

It’s clear that the three days Ichiro had off at the break, after not making it to the All-Star Game for the first time in a decade, didn’t rejuvenate his swing. In four games against Texas, he had one hit in 15 at-bats, although that hit did drive home one of Seattle’s two runs in the 36 innings of the series.

“Ichiro’s numbers are down,’’ the American League exec said, “but that isn’t because he forgotten how to hit. He’s just having one of those years that you are going to have if you play this game long enough.

“At the same time he really doesn’t look like he’s quite the same. When he’s at his best, he is willing to take a walk now and then. But he doesn’t do that as much lately.’’

In the first 68 games of the season through June 15, he walked 22 times, about once every three games. Since then, he’s walked five times in 26 games. As his walks have gone down, so has his average. He was at .269 at through June 16, but he’s averaged just .245 since, dropping him for the season to .262,  his chances of an 11th consecutive 200-hit season fading all the while.

But he’s not alone. The new leader in batting average is rookie Greg Halman, the part-time left fielder who has a .279 average in 68 at-bats. The team average is .221,  worst in the big leagues. Top to bottom, the lineup has been terrible.

Small wonder the Mariners don’t seem to be having much fun.

General manger Jack Zduriencik would seem to be one of those. But Sunday, in the wake of the club’s ninth straight loss, he talked a little about what keeping him sane in a crazy time.

“There are times I wake up at 4 in the morning wondering what’s going on,’’ Zduriencik said. “The hardest thing to do in this situation is to be positive. You tell youself things are going to get better.

“It can be hard to watch. But to get from Point A to Point C, you’ve got to go through Point B, and sometimes you go through a patch like this. I’m still looking at 2011, but I have to think about 2012, too. In my job, you have to think about the big picture.’’

The big picture is all about the club’s youth. Michael Pineda made the All-Star team as a rookie. Dustin Ackley took over as the No. 3 hitter in the lineup after just a couple of weeks in the big leagues. At times, the Mariners start five rookies.

“We have had 12 rookies up here this year; eight of them have made their big league debuts,’’ the GM said.  “When you are reasonably young, this is sometimes the path you have to take to become big league ball players.

“We’ve hit the skids lately while some of the clubs we’ve been playing have been hot. It’s going to happen, but we’ve got to play through it. And I know we’re going to bounce back. So, while right now we’re not swinging the bats, we can learn from the experience, as difficult as that is.

“We haven’t lost sight of the fact that the kids have to learn.’’

Wedge said in his first managing job in Cleveland a decade ago, he went through the pains of watching young players struggle.

Wedge said that it was worse for him then.

“We’re not playing bad baseball, we’re just not hitting at all,’’ Wedge said. “In Cleveland, we played some bad baseball at the beginning.’’

The Mariners aren’t hitting. And while Wedge says rosily that they aren’t playing bad baseball, they are playing baseball that is bad to watch, at least for fans, and that’s almost as bad.

Will things get better? Zduriencik and Wedge seem to think so. The American League executive we talked to suggested that might be optimistic.

If the fun doesn’t come back, it’s going to be long last two months.

Even if it does, the rest of the season seems to be dedicated to 2012.


YourThoughts

  • http://twitter.com/kingwabbit Jeff Shope

    how fun could it be playing for a team with as much power as quatamala tech’s girl’s basketweaving team?

  • Paulf54

    Type your comment here. I would lose my sense of fun and my sense of humor too!

  • Rmidence

    Looking at the picture posted here of Chone Figgins says it all.  His head is pointed not towards the ball and his eyes are definitely not looking where his head is pointing.  And he almost looks like he’s giving up on the ball. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but there has to be a reason for his having lost the fundamentals.  Everybody’s thinking it, I’m just saying, Big front loaded guaranteed free agent contracts reward players for past performance and are disincentives for future performance.  Chone doesn’t care.  Why should he? 

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