By Shannon Drayer
On Tuesday I asked some of my colleagues here in Houston just how long could Eric Wedge stick with a sub .200-hitting Brendan Ryan. Surely he couldn’t go a second year below the Mendoza line and keep his starting position, could he?
Apparently the answer was less than 24 hours more. Before Wednesday’s game against the Astros, Wedge announced in his meeting with the media that Ryan was heading to the bench. Robert Andino is being given a shot to take over the starting job at shortstop.
“I am going to give Andino an opportunity to play a little more,” Wedge said in his office after talking to both players. “What I am going to do is take it day by day, week by week, month by month. I am going to give Robert a chance to play and see where he takes it.”
While Andino is only hitting .161 in limited at-bats, Wedge said that he liked what he saw from him both in the cage and spring training. He was not happy with what he saw from Andino as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night, however.
Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan is hitting .143 with no extra-base hits. (AP)
“Hell, when I send him out there to pinch-hit, though, I don’t send him out there to take,” he said of Andino’s four-pitch strikeout in which he didn’t take the bat off his shoulder. “I don’t like that, but if he is going to play in the middle of the diamond, if he is going to play regularly for us, he needs to go out there and have a focused approach every day that allows him to be the player I feel he can be.”
This move, of course, is more about Ryan. Beyond the .143 average there had to be major concern that he was showing no signs of pulling out of the massive slide. There is little question that he has been given every opportunity to work things out at this level as a starter.
“We stuck with him last year because we felt like we were going to give him every opportunity, and quite frankly we had an opportunity to give him every opportunity, but you can’t expect change by doing the same thing every day,” Wedge said. “You have got to change your habits. You have got to change the way you go about doing things. It is as simple as that.”
Ryan will work with hitting coach Dave Hansen to try to get to where he needs to be offensively. He was given a very specific approach to take to the plate this spring but it is clear he strayed from that in the regular season. And there lies the problem – Ryan is a guy that can change his approach not just at-bat to at-bat, but from pitch to pitch. He is also a guy that battles with the mental side of the game as well. This is a guy I have seen get mad at himself during batting practice.
The problem is he can take that to the field as well. April 13 against Texas is a perfect example. In the fifth inning he struck out on a 3-2 slider from Alexi Ogando. Next inning he booted a grounder from Ian Kinsler that led to a run. It seemed clear that he took his offensive struggles to the field. That can’t happen.
This move, however, isn’t punishment. While the position belongs to Andino for now, the hope is that Ryan will figure things out, according to Wedge.
“This is going to give him a chance to take a step back to hopefully take two steps forward,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for him, it’s an opportunity for Andino to go out there and take it. He doesn’t have to go out there and get four hits today, he just has to go out there and be a good big-league player and let the rest take care of itself.”
So after a year of letting things play out and getting young players experience, we have our first in-season competition with the position players. Andino has a chance to “take it.” If he falters and Wedge likes what he sees with the work Ryan puts in, he could get another opportunity. Some of you have asked why not Carlos Triunfel or Nick Franklin? Well, for starters, there isn’t a roster spot for them. Both Ryan and Andino are out of options. I would also have to believe that the organization does not believe either Triunfel or Franklin is ready to be called up either. This is important.
While there has been a cry for several players from the minors to come up and replace under-performing members of the 25-man roster, in my opinion this would be a mistake. I believe that part of the problem now is there are players on this roster that were rushed to the big leagues. Justin Smoak without question is one of them. You could argue that Dustin Ackley and to a lesser extent Jesus Montero are two more. Do you want to continue to make that mistake? That to me would be the biggest mistake this organization could make at this time.
So will there be more moves? When Wedge was talking with Rick Rizzs for the pregame show about the progress he has seen with Smoak and Ackley, he pointed out that they were not his biggest source of concern right now.
“If anybody needs to be talked to it is our veteran guys right now,” he said. “They are not getting it done, quite frankly. We need to get all of these guys going. Morse, Morales, Ibanez, Andino. We have a lot of things we are working on.”
Again, until there are young players ready to step in, those jobs would appear to be safe. At some point, however, one or more of Franklin, Triunfel, Stefan Romero and Brad Miller will knock on that door. If that were to happen today, it would swing open easily.
News and notes
• Michael Saunders will head out on a rehab assignment before returning from the disabled list. Wedge said that he wanted to give Saunders an opportunity to see live pitching and get his timing down before returning. He could begin the assignment as soon as Friday. Expect to see him DH for one or two games, play the field at least once and then hopefully rejoin the big club.
• Hisashi Iwakuma did have blister problems once again Tuesday night but will make his next start. After that Wedge said he will juggle the rotation to give him a few extra days off to get the finger healed once and for all.
• The numbers are in and the bomb hit by Kendrys Morales Tuesday came in at 443 feet, according to hittrackeronline.com. It clocked 109.1 mph off the bat.