DETROIT – There is no question Chris Taylor is an extremely talented shortstop. We are seeing the occasional error on some of the more routine plays he attempts to make, however. We’ve seen it in back-to-back games here in Detroit, but there is little concern that this will become an ongoing problem. Infield coach Chris Woodward believes that what we are seeing is far from out of the ordinary with a rookie shortstop.
“He just needs to get more experience,” Woodward told me on the pregame radio show. “It’s a tough spot to be in when you are a young shortstop and you are playing on a contending team. I can’t understate the importance of that.”
That also goes for second-year shortstop Brad Miller, who has been splitting time with Taylor in the lineup.
“As much as I talk to both him and Brad, they both care a lot about the success of this team. When there is no experience or no past success to build off of, as a big-league player you are still trying to prove yourself. On a contending team? That’s difficult,” Woodward said. “It’s a difficult thing to ask for. I just ask them to play fearless every day, regardless of the results. (Taylor) made an error in the first inning (Friday) but made five or six other plays.”
Woodward pointed out that regardless of how long a player has been playing a position, there are still things they are seeing for the first time in the big leagues. You don’t see a Miguel Cabrera in the minors, and the ball comes off his bat differently. The game speeds up. The bounces, the spin and the fields are different. The stakes, of course, are much higher. It’s different mentally and it is different physically and there is no substitute for experience.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said that he was not worried about Taylor’s errors as long as he saw the effort. Woodward agrees. The last thing he wants to see Taylor do is make changes.
“Just keep that confidence, that drive out there to not sit back and say, ‘I have got to be careful,’ ” Woodward said. “That’s the last thing I want him to think out there, because that’s when mistakes can snowball.”
He has yet to see any kind of snowball effect. Taylor has brushed off the errors and resumed playing a level of defense that has saved runs in his short time with the Mariners.
“We are playing some important games. It’s really good for him and I am actually glad in some ways that he was able to fail and get over it early and still play eight innings of good defense after that,” Woodward said. “That says a lot about a guy because that was the biggest game thus far in our season.”
Woodward has familiarity with Taylor, having worked with him last year as the Mariners’ minor-league infield coordinator. He has seen enough in Taylor to believe that the Mariners could have something special at shortstop.
“He uses his brain more than anybody I have ever seen at such a young age,” Woodward said. “He has got that special ability where he can process a lot of information. You watch him get jumps out there, he probably gets the best jumps from anybody I have seen and we have watched (Baltimore’s J.J.) Hardy and some other good shortstops, and he was better in my eyes in getting reads, understanding the situation and moving himself. That’s all I can ask. Next step is just experience, building on hopefully success and we get rolling here.”
Mariners not rushing Saunders
Michael Saunders is 2-for-9 with two walks since returning to Triple-A Tacoma Friday. While I had thought there was a good chance we could see him in Philadelphia, it sounds like McClendon wants to see a good bit more before making that move.
“He’s been out quite a while,” McClendon said. “He needs at-bats. Most hitters think they can get three games’ worth of at-bats and say, ‘I’m ready to play.’ I don’t know that anybody can be ready in three games. I wish there was a switch you can turn on and be that good but it doesn’t work that way. You get yourself back in a groove and get your timing.”
That timing is key, and McClendon said that they were not in the position to have a player try and find it at the big-league level. Saunders has to be full-go and comfortable at the plate before he returns.
“We are in a race. There’s 40 games left and I’m proud to be in this position,” McClendon said. “But there are no projects this time of the year. We have to be mark-on. We have to be right with everything we do. So when he gets back here he has to contribute.”
Just how and where he contributes remains to be seen. I asked McClendon if he envisioned the same role for Saunders as he had when he went out.
“I don’t know,” he answered. That’s a great question but I just don’t know. We are 11 games over and our guys are playing well. Do you upset your apple cart? I don’t know. I don’t have that answer. That’s a tough decision but a good decision because we are in it.”
• Felix Hernandez appeared to be moving around okay in the clubhouse this morning after getting hit in the hip with a comebacker last night. McClendon again said he didn’t believe there were any further problems and that Felix’s next start is not in jeopardy.
• A great sight in the clubhouse this morning. The two clubhouses in Detroit are connected by a long hallway that runs from end to end of each one. As I was waiting for my Woodward interview, I saw a Tigers clubbie and Victor Martinez’s son, who looked to be about 8 or 9, walking from the Tigers’ side to the Mariners’ side. The younger Martinez was carrying a Styrofoam box that contained two breakfast burritos. The clubbie led the kid into the locker portion of the clubhouse and straight to Austin Jackson.
Think Jackson isn’t popular here? I was told it was the first time the younger Martinez had ever been in the visiting clubhouse. The two embraced and chatted for a few seconds before Martinez headed back. On his way he ran into McClendon, who also got a hug. McClendon took Martinez to general manager Jack Zduriencik, who was in the office and introduced him as his next big slugger.
“A switch hitter!” he said.
His dad is a free agent at the end of the year, by the way.