It’s time for the Mariners to take action

Jul 2, 2012, 10:09 PM | Updated: Jul 3, 2012, 11:29 am

By Mike Salk

The Mariners had a big win at home Monday night. The bats came alive late and the bullpen continued its dominance.

And while we should all celebrate the win, we shouldn’t let it obscure some of the basic problems that need to be addressed.

Of the nine hits in the game, eight came from veterans like Miguel Olivo, John Jaso and Chone Figgins or from Casper Wells. Olivo and Figgins are not likely part of the future. Wells and Jaso are currently not part of the problem.

Eric Wedge has tried shuffling the order. He’s tried sitting down struggling players. He’s shown confidence in the young players and called them out after particularly ugly performances.

It’s time to take the next step.

It’s time to send some players down to Tacoma.

Personally, I’d start with Dustin Ackley. The second overall pick in the 2009 draft likely still has a bright future in the big leagues and most baseball folks that see him still believe he has All-Star years ahead of him.

But .240/.321/.338 isn’t enough. It’s time to send the message both to him and to his young teammates that those numbers are not acceptable in the big leagues for a player that has the skills to do much better.

A trip to Tacoma might be good for infielders Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, who both hit under .225 in June. (AP)

Wedge has said that Ackley has worked hard and those good habits have served him well. If he thought Ackley wasn’t busting his hump to get better, he’d have sent him down weeks ago. I agree with that, but I think that eventually the results must trump the process.

I’m not sure I’d stop with Ackley. Kyle Seager hit the skids in June, hitting just .204/.288/.398 in that month. Yes, he had a hot start to this season, but his spot on the major league roster shouldn’t exactly be etched in stone.

Nor should Jesus Montero’s spot.

The young catcher has a lot on his plate – trying to manage a young pitching staff while learning the toughest position on the field and still maintaining the bat that made him a top prospect isn’t easy. Doing it at 22 years old is even tougher. His numbers have dropped in every month this season.

I love the idea of playing the young kids this year and I’m much more willing to watch them struggle short term than I was to watch veterans like Mike Sweeney, Yuniesky Betancourt, Jose Lopez, Jack Cust or Ryan Langerhans, all of whom had no future on this team.

But playing the young kids doesn’t mean giving them carte blanche. Yes, you have to give them some room to fail and they’ll likely be inconsistent. But there also should be a time to say “enough is enough.”

I think that time is now.

Wedge has been around the block before and has had some experience developing young players in Cleveland. In 2005, he was faced with a struggling Jhonny Peralta, hitting just .189 before a brief uptick and then bottoming out again at .204. Wedge opted to keep Peralta in the big leagues and was rewarded. In less than a month, Peralta raised his average 70 points, ultimately getting over .300 before the end of the year.

Wedge’s strategy worked, but there was one huge difference: Peralta bottomed out on May 5. By July 3, he was hitting .283/.336/.495.

Wedge’s patience was rewarded that time. But would he have let Peralta go for another two months at that pace?

To answer a few of your questions:

Why not send down Justin Smoak?

Two reasons. One, they have already done it. They sent him down in 2010 when he struggled. Second, these may be the final few months to evaluate Smoak on an everyday basis before potentially looking to improve that position in the offseason. Ackley, Montero and Seager are likely in your starting lineup next year regardless of how they play.

Who do you bring up?

I’m really not that concerned with that. Maybe it’s Carlos Peguero. Maybe Luis Jimenez. Maybe Alex Liddi or Luis Rodriguez. I think it’s more about who you send down than who you bring up. Maybe one of those call-ups catches lightning in a bottle and earns himself a spot on the big club. Maybe they get sent right back in a few weeks. Either way, the message would be sent to the current major leaguers.

How can they learn to hit major league pitching in Tacoma?

They can’t. But that’s OK. There is more to the development process than just learning to hit big leaguers. Accountability matters. And maybe remembering how to crush the ball again helps them regain some confidence. It has sure worked for Casper Wells, who hit .325 in June after his stint in Tacoma and continues to come up with big hits.

Look, I hope I’m wrong here and these guys can work their way out of their struggles here in Seattle. I hope Ackley’s long blast in the eighth gets him moving in the right direction again. But I believe the best way to get him and the other young players going is to let them spend a few weeks flying commercial and staying in cheaper hotels.

Wedge sent the message on Friday that everyone was on notice, that success will come whether the current group is part of it or not. Since then, the team is 2-1. They’ve come up with some big hits late. Maybe that is the start of the turnaround they need. Maybe his message was received. If so, you can wipe out every word above.

I’m still bullish on the long-term success of this group. They have what should be a good young nucleus and the right skipper on the bench.

But to keep them moving forward, a step back might be necessary. I think the time to act is now.

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It’s time for the Mariners to take action