BY Art Thiel 05:38PM 04/15/2012

Thiel: Mariners learning — and winning a bit

A 5-3 win over the ubiquitous A’s gives the Mariners a 6-5 start and a moment to reflect that Jesus Montero might become what Jack Zduriencik dared to dream.

Jesus Montero, here at spring training, is learning fast what it takes to be a major league hitter -- and catcher. /Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

What have we learned so far about the Mariners? They’re still learning.

Take, for example, Brendan Ryan. He learned halfway through his interviews Sunday afternoon as a home-run hero that Monday was a day off at home.

“Really?” he said, lighting up even more than his usual lit-up demeanor. “I didn’t know. Great.  I’ll get some furniture for my condo.”

Ichiro finally is learning to hit like a No. 3 hitter, pulling a hard double down the right-field line that drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning. Since his four-for-five opener in Tokyo, he had been hitting .164 until two hits Sunday.

And Jesus Montero learned that just because he’s in the big leagues doesn’t mean he’ll always experience big-league umpiring. The called third strike on him in the fifth inning was terrible. He let umpire Eric Cooper know it from the dugout. Cooper, who was having a bad day all-around, warned, with finger pointed, Montero to shut up.

Who said learning wasn’t fun?

It would be easy to say that we learned the Oakland A’s aren’t very good, but Mariners fans already knew that. The rote repetition Sunday was worthwhile from a record standpoint, the 5-3 win — thanks in part to two A’s fielding miscues — giving the Mariners a 6-5 record, which includes 5-2 against the A’s, their nearly permanent playing partner.

One more game together and they would have tied Beavis and Butthead for 85th on the show-biz list of “most semi-popular tandems.” But now they part, the Mariners get a day off, followed by a mediocre team from Cleveland. Hard to imagine.

From the standpoint of a properly skeptical Mariners follower charting whether to put in with these guys, the most gratifying development so far is the progress of Montero. Despite an 0-for-4 day Sunday that ended his eight-game hitting streak, the rookie DH/catcher is hitting .286, and Saturday had his first extra-base hit, a home run to the deepest part of  the national park that is Safeco Field.

Even giving lip to the umpire was a sign that he is making, at 22, the big-boy leap that GM Jack Zduriencik had hoped for when he went all in on the off-season trade that brought him from the Yankees.

He’s even caught two games, including Saturday’s splendid 4-0 win over the A’s in which his Yankees pal, Hector Noesi, who came with him in the trade, was nails through eight innings.

That’s only the second game behind the plate out of 11, but it seemed a bit of breakthrough regarding the doubts about whether he will someday develop the goods to be a solid major league catcher.

Given the chronic defensive deficiencies of starting catcher Miguel Olivo, plus his frozen bat (.111 after an o-fer Sunday), Wedge will face a season-long demand from fans and media to give Montero more time behind the plate, not just as DH.

Before the game, Wedge detailed his expectations for the position.

“I don’t give a damn what you do offensively, by far the most important thing for a catcher is running the game,” said Wedge, a former catcher. “By definition running the game is getting the most important part –  getting most out of your pitcher. What you do in that moment is everything.”

That has been Olivo’s saving grace. In his 12th season and 34 in July, he knows how to work his own staff as well as opposing hitters. Wedge is willing to indulge Olivo’s passed balls and slow bat because he manages the game well.

“It’s the rhythm you keep the pitcher in — a pause here and there, then pick up the tempo,” he said. “It’s the way you come in and out of the dugout; the way you call pitches ahead in the count and behind in the count — that’s how you run a game. That’s where it all starts and ends.”

In that regard, how did Montero do Saturday?

“He did a nice job,” Wedge said. “He’s always had the passion and the understanding. He’s a good listener — we should all do that, myself first and foremost.  And Jesus has the aptitude to get better.”

Given his familiarity with Noesi — they were in the Yankees system together — it seemed plain that Montero could be Noesi’s designated catcher. Although Wedge wouldn’t commit, he’s not an idiot, either.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think about it,” Wedge said.

For his part, Montero is a Labrador puppy with a tennis ball.

“It’s a new experience being a whole year with a major league baseball team,” he said before the home opener Friday. “I’m excited and happy to be here; for me, everything is a surprise. I’m still a rookie. Everything I see now is a lot different than the minors. All new to me.”

In his first game behind the plate, he caught Kevin Millwood, the crusty Marlboro Man who’s 15 years his senior. That was a case of the pitcher carrying the catcher, and it worked — Millwood gave up one run in six innings in Texas against the Rangers.

“We did a nice job together — we are on the same page,” Montero said. “I went out to him once, not about pitches, just the situation. I gave him a little time, then talked about what to do in the moment.

“He’s a veteran guy who knows what to do. He knows where he wants to throw. I catch the ball, and let him do whatever he wants.”

If Montero were to grow more quickly into the catching job, it would free up the DH spot to roll through several players, depending on the match-up of the day and the hot bat. But as long as veteran guys don’t pull their weight, Mariners offensive production is held back.

As learning abates, the doing begins. Until then, guys like Brendan Ryan must contend with learning about whether the La-Z-Boy and wagon wheel coffee table goes with the new fiancee’s Chippendale tastes. Baseball is a hard game.


YourThoughts

  • user

    “the crusty Marlboro Man.” So awesome. Love hearing you on 950.

  • Kswiss

    “Given the chronic defensive deficiencies of starting catcher Miguel Olivo, plus his frozen bat (.111 after an o-fer Sunday), Wedge will face a season-long demand from fans and media to give Montero more time behind the plate, not just as DH.”

    I agree with you completely on this sentiment. I for one am already tired of Olivo and would like to see Jaso get a chance to play.

  • Frankiecappuccino

    How do we not hand the ball to Marshawn 4 times with 1st & Goal for the win?

    • Jamo57

      No time outs (though they gave us one we didn’t have).

    • Artthiel

       Can’t get off that many rushing plays in the time allowed — can’t always count on free timeouts.

  • notaboomer

    if only wilson could have twisted his ankle and let flynn come in for the win. 

    • Artthiel

       As I mentioned above, on this day, Flynn may have gotten the final red zone touchdown. Purely a function of experience. That situation was asking a lot of Wilson.

  • jeff

    Why not give Leon a crack at it? Seemed he had some good moves going today.

    • Artthiel

       Leon is always better in the open field than scrimmage, where’s he’s ordinary.

  • RadioGuy

    Wilson was lucky to get those 18 completions, given the lousy “protection” the O-line gave him.  When you’re constantly surrounded by red jerseys before there’s even a pocket to set up in, you’re in for a looooong afternoon.

    And now Okung may be out with his annual injury.  Terrific.  It’s becoming a Rite of Autumn:  The kids are back in school, the leaves on the trees are changing color and Russell Okung gets injured…it’s like a reminder to set our clocks back to Standard Time.

    • Artthiel

       I’m told it’s a sprained knee, not serious. But losing him for the last drive was a factor. Just another inhibitor for Wilson.

  • Jamo57

    Art, was it my just imagination that the Cardinals receivers were much more open that the Hawks receivers?  Even in the red zones on the respective drives late in the 4th quarter?

    It seems to me that the Hawks receivers were unable to get any separation forcing Wilson to be just about perfect on his throws, which appeared to me to be in spots only the Hawks receivers could get to.  (With the exception of the one underthrown fade route to the right side).   Of course they would have been difficult catches given the small windows and Wilson having to err on the side away from the DB.

    They overall point being, the Hawks receivers didn’t seem to be able to get much separation for most of the day.   And given the O-Line not giving Wilson a ton of time, I think he performed adequately given the shortcomings around him. 

    • Artthiel

       Wilson was regularly on the move in his first real start. He missed a few windows, but showed a lot with late passes to Miller and Martin. The Seahawks went with pressure on Skelton, leaving receivers in man coverage. The Az D is good, and they disguise well. Flynn probably would have had a better day, but Wilson won’t have a worse one.

  • Artthiel

    I said last week that the Seahawks would lose the opener and still make the playoffs. It was too much to ask of Wilson and Sweezy in the first week. Plus Baldwin missed most of the preseason. That’s the risk Carroll takes going so young.

  • Brian Dadant

    If Matt Flynn played we would have won. It is time to end the Pete Carroll era. Every his teams are NOT prepared for the season opener. He chose to play Wilson over Flynn. We committed way to many penalties. This all proves he isn’t the correct man to be our head coach.

  • Old Goat

    How In the world does Flynn make the catch for Edwards?
    What is the long term upside for the two QBs ? Only time and experience will tell. By the way with poor protection Wilson extended plays where Flynn may have been sacked. Thanks for the outlook Art.

  • Pixeldawg13

    Well, as usual, the backup QB is the most popular man in town.  Had Flynn played–and been sacked at least 3 times more than Wilson was–we’d be seeing the same posters howling because Wilson didn’t play.

    And what’s with these people who don’t grasp the concept of “no timeouts left”?