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How Michael Morse’s return affects Mariners’ outfield

By Shannon Drayer

For the past three weeks the number one question I have received on Twitter, the blog and via email has been who will go when Michael Morse returns. It is a question I couldn’t answer as there were too many possibilities that far out. We didn’t know when he would return and often things happen. Injuries can occur and sometimes you don’t have to make a move as that move is made for you.

Well, that did not happen and Jason Bay was designated for assignment Monday morning. Morse will join the team in Boston. What happens next will be interesting.

Mired in a post-All-Star Break slump, Raul Ibanez may play less frequently in the outfield now that Michael Morse has returned from the disabled list. (AP)

The outfield will be made up of Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Morse, Raul Ibanez and a fifth outfielder. I don’t think we are going to see that guy very much. It is crucial to “the plan” going forward that the Mariners learn if Ackley can be an everyday outfielder. Ditto for Saunders. Both most likely need to have a strong finish offensively to lock down starting positions for next year.

Playing both Ackley and Saunders on a consistent basis will mean cutting the playing time of Morse and Ibanez, who has been slumping of late. While Ibanez was on fire heading into the break, since then he is hitting .121/.256/.182/.438 with just two extra-base hits. This could be just a hiccup.

Manager Eric Wedge was paid off in spades for the patience he showed with Ibanez in April. Interestingly enough, he saw it coming. He saw the bat speed. Hopefully acting manager Robby Thompson knows the same cues and can make a good judgment on whether or not this is just a little slump or more of a trend, or an indication that more days off are needed. Ibanez has not hit a home run since his two-homer game July 12. His 11-game homerless streak is his longest of the season.

With their limitations of Morse and Ibanez in the field along with the fact that Ackley does not play right, the alignments we could see most likely would be, from left to right, Ibanez or Morse/Ackley/Saunders, Ibanez/Saunders/Morse or Ackley/Saunders/Morse. Ibanez/Ackley/Morse or Ibanez in right field at some point is possible, but I think they would try to stay away from both scenarios.

Morse and Ibanez could get some at-bats at DH as well as we saw Sunday when Justin Smoak sat and Kendrys Morales played first. It will be a juggling act but it will allow Wedge/Thompson to go with the hotter hand as well as get guys rest. Most importantly, it will allow them the chance to get another right-handed bat into the lineup.

Now all this goes out the window if there is a trade. There has been interest in Morse and there were scouts watching him during his rehab assignment in Tacoma, but one told me he is inclined to believe that the Mariners will not move him. There is always a chance Morales or Ibanez are moved as well. We shall see.

One thing is for sure, with Morse coming back we will see the end of the the everyday lineup we briefly saw shortly after the break. This may not be a bad thing, however.

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