Don’t expect to see big changes in M’s lineup soon
By Shannon Drayer
Update: It would appear we have a new player in the mix and it will be very interesting to see how he is used. Nick Franklin is on his way to join the team with the corresponding move expected to be Logan Morrison to the DL.
ARLINGTON, Texas – There was no new news about Taijuan Walker after Tuesday’s game, and I generally operate under the assumption that no news is no news. We should know more on Wednesday.
To add to the bad shoulder news day, Blake Beavan was not able to get loose during the Mariners’ 5-0 loss to the Rangers and had to exit after the fourth inning. Again, we should know more about his condition Wednesday but he was hopeful that with some treatment over the next few days he will be able to make the Sunday start. Let’s hope so because the Mariners don’t seem to have any other options on the 40-man roster and few who are not on it.
My best guess would be if Beavan can’t go we could see James Gillheeney added to the roster for the start. Gillheeney got the emergency start in Tacoma tonight and threw five innings of one-run ball.
Moving on from the pitching update. During Lloyd McClendon’s pre-game meeting with the media I asked him a number of questions about the lineup, starting with why Dustin Ackley was sitting for the second time in three days. With Ackley actually hitting lefties better than righties so far this season, I didn’t think this was a match-up thing. I’m not convinced it was despite the answer McClendon gave me.
“I just woke up and said I’m not going to play him against this guy, that’s all,” he answered.
He then went on to point out that the Mariners were in a long stretch of games and that he saw this as the only opportunity to get him a break. Still odd considering that he didn’t play Sunday. It turns out we could see this a little more than we are accustomed to. On Monday, McClendon said that he believed one of the reasons why Kyle Seager struggled in the second half of last year was because he played too much. He started in 160 games that year. This year McClendon would like to see him in around 150. Ackley falls into the same category.
“If we’re going to be a productive team, we’d like to see those guys go 150, 155, until they get to the point where they’ve matured physically and they got those man muscles. I think that’s just the smart thing to do,” McClendon said.
There is something else McClendon would like to do to help take care of some of his younger players. With Ackley and Mike Zunino – who he said he believes will be a run producer for this club – he plans to keep them low in the batting order.
“I don’t foresee that (moving Zunino up) happening this year, and I think the same for Ackley as well,” he said. “I think both of those guys will be real, real good players in the big leagues and I think both of them are going to be capable of producing runs, but I like where they are right now. We just need to let them mature, let them play a little bit and have some success.”
I am going to guess a lot of you are not going to like this approach, but think about it. Think about what we have seen the last three years. We have seen lineups so devoid of any dependable run producers that the manager at the time would feel forced to go with the hot hand regardless of experience.
McClendon is a hitting coach at heart. That hat was not left in Detroit. He still thinks like a hitting coach and in his mind it would appear that the right thing to do with some of his young hitters is put them in one place and let them worry about that and that only.
It’s kind of like telling Ackley at the beginning of spring that he would play only left field. He could have been an option in center but McClendon wanted him to have one focus and to know that is all he would have to worry about this year.
With Zunino, he has so much on his plate in handling the pitching staff and learning the league, so why not take the pressure off and keep him low? Especially since you have older young players and veterans who were brought in to handle the middle of the order.
You may wonder why are Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller at the top of the order then, since they have less experience than Ackley. I think the simple answer is they profile better in those roles.
Almonte has the skills to be a leadoff hitter – can he step up in the role? He’s being given the opportunity. Miller has speed and is more of an aggressive hitter who should be able to handle the demands at two. I think McClendon ultimately believes that Ackley will perform better in a role where he doesn’t have to execute situationally as much. I think he would rather see him swing the bat.
The Ackley at the top of the order in 2012 experiment didn’t go well. In 440 PA’s he hit .233/.296/.355 as the leadoff hitter and .215/.284/.289 hitting second in 148 PAs. The success that he had last year came with the majority of his at bats coming at 7,8,9 in the order. One thing to keep in mind is there are no guarantees that Ackley and Zunino will hit the same in different spots in the order.
The hitter in the lineup with the least experience is carrying some of the loftier expectations from the skipper. Stefen Romero has all of 16 big league plate appearances yet McClendon has hit him fifth. How is he different from the others?
“I look at his numbers in the minor leagues, and he’s proven that he can drive in runs and I think when he’s given ample opportunities, I think he’s going to be a big-time run producer,” McClendon said. “And I think he’s more than just a utility player. As we sit now, the way our club is designed right now, people are going to have to pick and choose their spots and I think this guy has got a very high ceiling, and I think he’s got a great chance at being a really good player.”
Not the easiest thing to do – be a rookie who is thrust into an important part of the lineup – but McClendon has been keeping a close eye on Romero and believes he can handle it.
“It’s the hardest job in baseball. It’s hard from a mental standpoint. And I’m constantly talking to him and encouraging him, making sure he understands where he is and why he’s where he is right now and just to keep grinding it out,” he said.
McClendon was very clear on his thinking behind the lineups we have seen and could see in the future. That doesn’t mean that we absolutely won’t see a hitter moved up or down. In the end it is his lineup to do with what he feels is right for both the game at hand and the long-term future or development of the players in that lineup. If he makes changes it will be because he’s the manager.
Or as he put it, “Because I have got the pencil.”