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Mariners Notebook: Dipoto on Winker, Raleigh, hitting with runners on

Jun 24, 2022, 12:19 AM
Mariners Jesse Winker...
Jesse Winker hits an RBI double against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday. (AP Photo/John Hefti)
(AP Photo/John Hefti)

The Mariners’ offense will take some much-needed good vibes into their series in Anaheim, hoping to build off a sweep in Oakland where Seattle outscored the A’s a combined 19-3 – and yes, you may want to take that with a grain of salt after Thursday’s 2-1 win where A’s starter Frankie Montas took a no-hitter and shutout into the eighth inning.

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A big theme to this season has been Seattle’s troubles bringing runners on base home, and it’s something the front office and coaching staff certainly wants to see turned around. But as general manager and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto explained during his weekly Seattle Sports interview, there’s a fine line between helping and causing more pressure.

“We can’t just walk in the middle of the room and say, ‘Guys, start getting a hit with runners on second or third base.’ It’s just not that easy,” he said to Mike Salk on The Jerry Dipoto Show.

The Mariners have put a lot of thought into how they can help their hitters perform better with runners on, though.

“In a broader perspective, we talked through the ways that we’re struggling to score runs and how we can message to a team that has a good process,” Dipoto said. “Our swing decisions are excellent. Our ability to get on base is very good. We’re creating all kinds of opportunities. … So we had a 90-minute session just as recently as Tuesday morning with coaches and staff – ‘How can we change our messaging in order to achieve this without it creating tension?’ Because if you create tension, it’s only going to get worse. And so far, so good.”

Seeing the Mariners put up eight runs on Tuesday and nine runs on Wednesday seemed like a good sign.

“Whatever messaging has come from that, and I don’t want to dig in the weeds on it because then it creates more tension, I think so far it seems to have hit the mark,” Dipoto said, “and a lot of the results that we’ve seen in the last few days, especially the direction in which we’re hitting the ball, is very encouraging. Maybe we’ve scratched out something that can be helpful, at least for a little while.”

Here are a couple more things Dipoto said about the offense on Thursday.

A promising step for Jesse Winker

Perhaps no player in the Mariners’ lineup needed a few good days more than Winker, a 2021 All-Star who has failed to produce the same way he did for the Reds since joining the M’s in spring training.

Well, he had exactly that in the first two games in Oakland, going 4 for 8 with two homers, a double, two walks and five RBIs.

Dipoto spoke about Winker’s struggles and the promising sign left by his start to Seattle’s current road trip.

“There was a roughly five-ish-year story told from 2017 to the point where we acquired him where his performance was just phenomenal, and we got something very different than that for a little bit. It takes players time. The transition from the only organization you’ve ever known to a new spot in Seattle, the difference in the ballparks, a new clubhouse full of teammates – you never know what’s going on in somebody else’s life.

“What I’ve seen with Jesse these last couple of days is just simply that the swing is a lot easier. He’s not trying to create bat speed, he’s just going out there and whipping it. And it’s showed up and I think his at-bats throughout this series have been great.”

The fact that Winker has managed to lead the American League in walks even though hits haven’t been falling is something that has kept Dipoto hopeful Winker could eventually get on track.

“From a process standpoint, he does lead the league in walks. When you do as good a job as Jesse does of managing the strike zone, even when you’re not hitting the way you’re used to hitting, you have a good couple of days and all of a sudden you wake up on Thursday morning and you’ve got an OPS that’s about league average, which is shocking when you think about some of the struggles he’s had. But when you take your walks, it doesn’t take a lot to get back to your water level. Hopefully this is the start of his climb.”

Winker wears his personality on his sleeve, as Mariners fans were able to tell right away. He clearly has fun playing the game, which may be odd for some to see while he and the team has struggled. Dipoto believes that’s something that will pay off for Winker, though.

“He’s a quirky, fun, personable guy, and that might not play as well when you’re not hitting, but you still have to be you because my guess is that… part of that personality was what allowed him to become the hitter he’s always been and you can’t leave it behind,” Dipoto said. “It’s not like a shirt that you can take off and leave on the bed – your personality’s with you, you wear it. I like Jesse. I think he doesn’t allow it to get to him, but you see it these last couple of months, it’s been boiling under the skin, and I think that’s where you get the sense that he is caught in between. You know he’s struggling, he knows he’s struggling, he’s in a new environment and he’s trying to recreate a personality that just is what it is. You just have to let it go and be yourself, and maybe that’s what’s happened in these last couple of days – he’s just letting it go.”

Cal Raleigh’s emergence

A bright spot this Mariners season has been catcher Cal Raleigh’s performance at the plate, especially in the power department. His nine home runs are tied for second among all catchers in MLB, and his .793 OPS is impressive considering his dismal start to the year that resulted in a quick trip to Triple-A.

Dipoto shared his insight on Raleigh, including why he didn’t take off right away after being called up to the big leagues for the first time last summer.

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“This is the version of Cal that we had hoped for, or believed and evaluated along the way, and we’re seeing it now. This is Cal getting comfortable, and I’ve tried to think through the reasons why, and you (Salk) and I have talked through – over the course of the last year, especially – some of the difficulties for young players transitioning to the major league level right now. But this was Cal Raleigh throughout his minor league development. This was Cal Raleigh in college. Why it took a little longer to get to Cal Raleigh as a big leaguer, I’m not entirely sure, but he’s now been in the big leagues for about a year.

“Over the course of that year, he went through a three-man rotation behind the plate, he was experiencing longer delays in between opportunities, plate appearances – his reps were just slower. That can’t be easy for a guy who’s just generally played every day, and right now with (Tom Murphy) on the (injured list), it gave Cal a little bit of runway and he took it and he made the position his own. Really, he showed up and showed us who we always thought he was going to be, including what I think now are developing on-field leadership skills where he’s taking control of the game in ways that we hadn’t seen in the months prior.”

You can hear the full Jerry Dipoto Show in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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