BY Art Thiel 11:05PM 06/07/2013

Thiel: Despite threadbare roster, Mariners top NY

Jeremy Bonderman had a breakthrough game to beat the Yankees 4-1, but the Seattle lineup again was loaded with backups and replacements.

Replacing Dustin Ackley with Nick Franklin has been the one upgrade produced by the Mariners farm system this season. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

As the Mariners entered Friday’s game against the Yankees seeking to avoid falling a season-worst 10 games below .500, the situation sparked a recall of Mets manager Casey Stengel’s famous quote to his lamentable team:  “Can’t anybody here play this game?” But in fairness, the Mariners can modify Stengel’s expression, at least for the moment: “Can’t ENOUGH guys here play this game?”

One of the most remarkable nuggets left over from Wednesday’s 16-inning episode of freak-ball, the 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox, was this: The Mariners were the first American League team in the DH era (since 1973) to use only nine position players in a game of 16 or more innings.

That’s because two reserves, Michael Morse and catcher Jesus Sucre, were injured; a backup infielder, Carlos Triunfel, had been sent down; another rookie, Brandon Bantz, was an in-case-of-emergency-break-glass backup catcher, which left only Alex Liddi, who had to be preserved in case any of the iron nine went down.

Advance two days to Friday, and the Mariners had backups or replacements starting at catcher, first base, second base and all outfield positions. The DH, Michael Morse, missed seven games with a strained thigh muscle and was a game-long threat to re-injure himself on any hit less than a home run or a ground-rule double (which he had in the fourth inning).

“If it hadn’t bounced over the fence, he probably wouldn’t have made it to second base,” said manager Eric Wedge. “He still can’t run very well.”

Despite all, the Mariners, behind starter Jeremy Bonderman (of all people) beat the Yankees 4-1 and looked every bit the part of a major league club.

Bonderman, who pitched his second big-league game after nearly a thousand days of rest and rehab, gave up three hits and one run in six innings. Brendan Ryan had a two-run single in the fourth, when the Mariners scored all their runs.

The Yankees, spluttering, saw a four-game win streak end. They are 35-26 and shouldn’t have lost this game. On paper.

No excuses are made here for the Mariners, but the idea coming out of spring training was that this team would include pitchers Erasmo Ramirez, Stephen Pryor and perhaps by now Danny Hultzen, as well as position players Justin Smoak, Franklin Gutierrez, Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero.

All of those players, plus rookie starter Brandon Maurer, are either injured or have been demoted. What is left is roster by roto-tiller.

How the Mariners find themselves in this spot can be lamented, debated, condemned or ignored. Hey, all teams have injuries. All teams have flailing players.

What good teams have are answers.

At the moment, the Mariners have one answer on offense: Second baseman Nick Franklin.

For all the talk of the improved Mariners farm system, he is the only proof in the lineup, unless Raul Ibanez is counted, and his credit goes back to the Woody Woodward days of general managership (kids: Woody was around before smartphones, so please consult the fossil record).

Franklin was hitting .242 before Friday’s game, about 40 points up on Ackley before his trip to AAA Tacoma, and added a second-inning double and an eighth-inning single. He also appears at second base to be possessed of Shop-Vac hands.

The biggest advantage Franklin has over Ackley, both chosen in the first round of the 2009 draft, was that he was given time to figure out things in the minors.

“What’s helped him is he’s had some trouble, and he’s overcome his trouble,” said Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners general manager who was flagged down at Safeco Friday between rounds of the draft.  “A few players never have trouble, but a lot of them do. In his first major league camp with us (2010), Franklin had trouble. Last year at Triple A, he struggled. But he figured it out in two or three weeks. This year, we brought him to big league camp and he had some health problems. But once he felt healthy, there was a lot of progress.

“Plus he had this grit, this confidence about him. So why take the chance away from him?”

But to create the chance, Ackley had to fizzle.

“Two things were going on: Ackley’s troubles and Franklin’s history. If Ackley hadn’t had his trouble, Franklin probably wouldn’t have gotten the shot,” Zduriencik said.  So we made the flip, and Ackley gets a chance to get himself right offensively.”

For whatever can be made of hitting AAA pitching, Ackley seems to be right: Since his demotion, he is hitting .432 (19×44) with two home runs, seven RBIs and OPS of 1.164. But Zduriencik wasn’t giving in to the idea that Ackley was rushed too soon to the majors.

“He was playing so well at the Triple A level, and we had a need,” he said of his 2011 call-up. “He earned it —  look at his history in AA and AAA. He played in three College World Series and he’s a mature guy.

“You can look at every single move a different way. If it works, you look good. But some guys need the the time. He goes to Triple A, and he still has time.”

Time. Franklin had it; Ackley didn’t. It’s not the only reason for the divergent careers, but it’s enough of one that the Mariners have an object lesson in not trying to make up for the franchise’s long history of personnel goofs through a handful of young careers.



  • Jeff

    I’m not going to give Ackley a “time” excuse, especially since he played college ball and he played 2 years with little fear of someone behind him to take his big league job. He had a ton of time to make adjustments, yet only eroded as time went on.

    • art thiel

      You could be right. Would you have done same when Edgar Martinez took a few years to get to his position of eminence?

      • Da Kid

        Well, let’s be a tad realistic. Gar was held back for no apparent reason. (Let’s not forget what a hack of a GM Woody Woodpecker was.) Gar never had a great glove at 3rd, and it wasn’t long before he was moved to DH. Ackley’s not going to become a DH any more than Montero is. Not here, anyway.

        • jafabian

          Edgar had to wait because he had an all star named Jim Presley already playing third. He went to DH due to injury, not because of his glove.

          • bugzapper

            LOL! I presume you’re being facetious about Presley. He was the team’s All-Star rep in 1986 because somebody had to be, but he didn’t even play in the game. That year he raked M’s opposition for an eye-popping .265, followed by years of .247, .230 and .236. (He would have fit in perfectly with the current crop of impotendos.) Presley’s fielding percentage dropped from a high of .965 in ’86 to .924 in ’89.

            I never had a problem with Gar at third, but the knock on him was supposedly his limited range. Yeah, the ’93 injury no doubt contributed to that, but he DH’d 28 games in ’92 and only 24 games in ’93. Can’t really count ’94. As much as I hate to quote Richard Barbieri, who refuses to believe Gar is HOF-worthy, he does make this extremely lucid point (and further indictment of Woodward’s incompetence):

            “It was not until Martinez was 27 that he received 500 at-bats in a season. It is almost indisputable that he should have been playing long before that. In 1987, coming off a year when he put up a .329/.434/.473 line at Triple-A Calgary, Martinez earned a September call-up. In just under 50 plate appearances, he hit .372 and slugged .581 for a mediocre (78-84) Seattle team.

            “Instead of giving their obviously ready young hitter a chance, in 1988 (ahem …two years after the “all-star” season) the Mariners stuck with the dreadful Jim Presley who hit .230 and posted a .635 OPS – worse than all but fourteen batting title qualifiers that year. Meanwhile, Martinez proved he had nothing else to learn at Triple-A, hitting .363 with a .983 OPS, putting the power into the Calgary Cannons.

            “The Mariners still didn’t learn from this as it was not until 1990 that Martinez finally earned a full-time job.”

          • guybert

            To be fair, Presley actually had a pretty good season in 86 and was 21st in MVP votes that year (thank you His All-Star selection was not illegitimate. But I completely agree that comparisons between Ackley and Edgar are inapt, as Martinez should have been playing regularly in Seattle long before he did. And not all college stars require significant minor league time. John Olerud, for example, never played an inning in the minors until 2005, at the tail end of his career. (Oddly, Olerud was selected for the All Star game only twice in his long and distinguished career).

          • Trygvesture

            good points, good research. Anybody who saw Presley play regularly knows he was sloppy. He sometimes hit, sometimes for power, but was nothin to write home about. His fielding was mediocre. Seems like, as I remember it anyway, he was getting plunked fairly often, and not because of being offensive threat. The M’s stunk then, and even among those players he didn’t stand out as special. Was Gillick the only legitimate, credentialed with a history of success, reliably competent GM the M’s have ever had? Was Lou the only field manager with the guts to tell the FO what he needed to get past the division playoffs? Seems like it. Of course, Lincoln couldn’t tolerate their competence and got on his high horse with them and … they left.

    • jafabian

      Ackley hit .402, .417 and .417 at North Carolina but never played more than 73 games. He was in the M’s farm system for 1 1/2 seasons hitting .263 and .274 his first season for both West Tennessee and Tacoma then hit .303 in 66 games for Tacoma before being called up. Then he went .273 in 90 games for the M’s. However for 2012 he hit .226 and was absolutely miserable this year except for a two week stretch. Based on that either he was rushed thru the system too quickly or someone in the M’s chain of command got him to change what made him a great hitter. The same can be said for Smoak, Montero and Saunders.

  • Scott

    “At the moment, the Mariners have one answer on offense: Second baseman Nick Franklin. For all the talk of the improved Mariners farm system, he is the only proof in the lineup”
    I believe Kyle Seager came through this system as well.

  • maqman

    Well I owe Bonderman apology, I believed him to be craptastic and he’s planted a seed of doubt in the infertile field that is my brain. Who’d of thunk it? It’s like something out of a book, “The Bonderman Identity” or “The Unnatural” come to mind. Can he do it again? Probably need a copy of the script for “Mission Improbable” to find out.

  • Leon Russel

    So, from this article, is it safe to assume that Thiel has proclaimed Nick Franklin the “real deal” based on a couple of weeks in the majors? Didn’t Ackley look pretty good at times for stretches of a few weeks in his first stint in the major leagues? Many people were very high on Michael Saunders early this year. How has Saunders been doing lately? Don’t you think it’s just a tad premature to be judging

    And, the Yankees are not that good a team this year. Sort of a mystery how they have such a good record with the players they are putting on the field. New York did not have a single .300 hitter in last night’s lineup. Texeira, coming off an injury is now hitting .192 in the #3 slot; their shortstop (Brignac) is hitting .160; Vernon Wells is at .236; Hafner and Youkilis — #4 and #5 hitters — are both at .247. So, the Yankees are not exactly a powerhouse.

    If the Yankess ever get back Jeter, A-Rod and Granderson, they might be better, or they might not be.
    And, please… nobody is going to decide that Bonderman is really a major league pitcher based on one successful start, are they?