The all-important rubber game of the Mariners three-game series with the Texas Rangers is a couple hours away from getting started. While it is still “only” late April on the calendar, it is important to the Mariners for a couple of reasons: 1) it hasn’t won a series since the opening sweep over the Angels 2) it doesn’t want to lose touch with division leading Oakland and Texas (currently 5.5 games ahead) before May even gets under way and 3) it wouldn’t hurt to create some momentum prior to embarking on a 10-games-in-9-days road trip.
For the M’s, the big pre-game news is the return of Michael Saunders in the leadoff spot coupled with the day off for Abraham Almonte, meaning “the Condor” also gets to play center for the first time this season. Almonte isn’t the only regular Mariner getting the day off either, the struggling trio of Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino all will be watching the game from their personally selected seat on the pine.
1. Michael Saunders (L) cf
2. Stefen Romero rf
3. Robinson Cano (L) 2b
4. Corey Hart dh
5. Justin Smoak (s) 1b
6. Cole Gillespie lf
7. Kyle Seager (L) 3b
8. John Buck c
9. Willie Bloomquist ss
RHP Brandon Maurer
1. Michael Choice lf
2. Elvis Andrus ss
3. Prince Fielder (L) 1b
4. Adrian Beltre 3b
5. Alex Rios rf
6. Mitch Moreland (L) dh
7. Robinson Chirinos c
8. Leonys Martin cf
9. Josh Wilson 2b
LHP Matt Harrison
Back to Almonte, who gets his first day off since early on in spring training. Almonte is currently hitting .204 with a AL-leading 36 strikeouts. His on-base percentage is a horrid .250. Is the day off simply a day off, or can M’s fans get accustomed to seeing Saunders more regularly in center?
“I’m just trying to give Almonte a little time off. Two days off to clear his mind a little bit. You know this stuff can be overwhelming sometimes, I’ve been there,” Mariners’ manager Lloyd McClendon said. “We still believe in the young man, we want him to flourish but I don’t to overwhelm him . . . Same thing with Miller. We talk about Almonte all the time, but this young man is struggling too. So we’ll give them both some time off and they’ll be ready to go in New York.”
How would he characterize Almonte’s first month of the season?
“Not good,” McClendon said. “We got a lot of guys who are not hitting . . . So I don’t want to put everything on this guy’s shoulders and say, ‘Our offensive woes are because of Almonte.’ That’s just not the case. If we are going to analyze this and speak truthful about it, then let’s analyze and speak truthful about everybody: We’ve got a lot of guys who are not doing the job.
The M’s manager also spoke about eventually having Kyle Seager in the second spot, something he mentioned in spring training as being his ideal scenario. Is that close to coming to fruition?
“He needs to hit consistently like he’s capable of,” stated McClendon.
So perhaps a couple of good series in a row and Seager will be there, although the same could probably be said for Miller who started the season out in that position.
In the category of bright spots, Stefen Romero is getting another start against a lefty (Matt Harrison) and is batting second. Romero is hitting .304 (7-for-23) against left-handers in his rookie season. Then there’s Maurer who is getting his second start of the season after coming through with a solid four innings against Miami before wilted due to a climbing pitch count.
Paired with Roenis Elias, these are a few of the young kids that are faring well currently for the M’s. However, it’s still early and McClendon would have everyone remember that.
“You’ve just got to be patient. That’s the one thing we don’t seem to have in this game is patience for young players,” concluded McClendon.