By Shannon Drayer
Jack Zduriencik is on this road trip, which is no surprise seeing that he grew up just 50 miles from Pittsburgh in New Castle, Pa. I spoke with him Tuesday about coming home and he shared memories about going to the last game at Forbes Field (he actually got a “0” from the old scoreboard) and cheering for Bill Mazeroski as a kid.
That interview ran in Tuesday’s pregame show. For Wednesday’s show we talked about the team.
Zduriencik likes what he has seen from the club in the last three series and hopes that the early struggles have been put behind them.
“I think we just started off slow,” Zduriencik said. “Put some injuries in there, guys we were really counting on, it didn’t help. But these are all things that tie into the complete season.”
Jack Zduriencik wants to see more consistency from the back end of the M’s rotation, where Aaron Harang (pictured) and Brandon Maurer have had their early struggles. (AP)
Zduriencik said he’s seen progress in some of his young hitters, including Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and Kyle Seager. With their bats coming around, the next area he would like to see improvement from is the starting pitching. Those not named Felix or Iwakuma, of course.
“I would like to get more consistency out of the back end of the rotation,” he answered when I asked what was most fixable. “I think as we see these guys continue to get consistent, and we’re going to get reinforcements. When (Stephen) Pryor gets back that’s going to help us quite a bit. We’ve got (Josh) Kinney down below, we’ve got Erasmo Ramirez, who’s now throwing again.
“We have got a bunch of young kids who at some point in time will be in position to help us.”
Injuries aside, how does he determine when any of those players would be of help at the big-league level?
“All they have to do is continue to progress,” Zduriencik answered. “We need to get Danny (Hultzen) back on the mound, which is what he is about to do shortly. (Mike) Zunino, we have been impressed with what he has done despite his recent struggles. He’s handled it very well. Nick Franklin has been terrific. These guys have to continue to play. Opportunities will be there – they always are, and when they are, they have to be ready. For the guys up here it is a challenge for them to continue to play good baseball.”
And if they don’t meet that challenge, we could see one of the young players. Unlike last year, the clock is ticking for those who have not shown the progress that is expected of them. That said, there is still a lot of learning going on at the major-league level for the Mariners, according to Zduriencik.
“In a perfect world you would like maybe for guys to spend a little more time in the minor leagues,” he acknowledged. “The game has changed somewhat, every club has guys at the big-league level slightly sooner than you would like them to.”
“(For them) it is just about understanding the day-in, day-out struggle of being a big leaguer. This is a very difficult game. Maturity, being comfortable as a big-league player, being able to look yourself in the mirror and know you belong, and figuring out pitchers. It’s an ongoing process for a young player to develop into a big leaguer, and I think we have seen some good signs recently.”
While the good signs are certainly welcome, they are not the end goal.
“No one is going to sit here and say we are over the hump,” he said. “It’s a challenge every single day. It’s big-league baseball. The other clubs are going to be good. And the schedule early was tough but where we are at right now, we are progressing. The organization is in really good shape with what we have right around the corner, how young we are at the big-league level. I am looking for really good things as we move forward.”
His contribution to those good things is putting the best team he can out on the field. It is an interesting balance as the players at the big-league level and in Tacoma are his players, all important to this organization’s future success. What is best for the team today? What is best for the players? What is best for the future? All of these things would seem to play into any move, but according to Zduriencik, sometimes it is much simpler than that.
“Things happen,” he said. “It’s the old adage in baseball and it is so true. Things just have a tendency to work out. When you are trying to get better every day, whatever that is, we will do.”