SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: What went into Mariners’ decision to keep Ichiro, option Heredia

Apr 22, 2018, 3:04 PM
Guillermo Heredia was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners on Sunday. (AP)...
Guillermo Heredia was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma by the Mariners on Sunday. (AP)
(AP)

ARLINGTON, Texas – A bit of a surprise announcement Sunday morning as the Mariners optioned Guillermo Heredia to Tacoma to make room for Erasmo Ramirez on the 25-man roster. The five-man outfield is now a four-man outfield and yes, it includes Ichiro.

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“We’d looked at a lot of different options,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said when asked about the move. “The first option was maybe look at a pitcher (to option to the minor leagues), but based on where that’s gone the last couple of days with our starting pitching and how much we have relied on the bullpen it really wasn’t an option. Looking at the upcoming schedule really did play into it. We have seven consecutive right-handed starters after today. Trying to manage the roster is what we are trying to do.”

The move clearly had nothing to do with Heredia’s performance. While it has been tough to ascertain just exactly what his role in 2018 would be – left field was either Ben Gamel’s or more of a platoon position depending on what day you asked – Heredia had established himself at the very least as a late innings defensive replacement and right-handed bat. He played in 16 of the Mariners’ 19 games entering Sunday, starting seven and coming in as a replacement in nine.

“Heredia will be back,” Servais said. “He is a good player, we love the way he plays, the way he goes about it. Again, it’s about managing all of the pieces and that is the decision we have made.”

Roster crunch or no roster crunch, the move Sunday only seems to be postponing the inevitable. A four-man bench was never a part of the plan, and running with it the first three weeks of the season was a luxury that was afforded only by the early schedule and injury to Ramirez not making a fifth starting pitcher necessary from the get-go. Even if the Mariners’ starters were giving good innings – and they have not been, averaging just over five innings per start – general manager Jerry Dipoto built the staff with the intention of going with an eight-man bullpen and using the relievers more after the first two times through the rotation. That has not changed.

Dipoto has pointed to Ichiro’s record last year as a pinch hitter and the intangibles of what he brings in the clubhouse as the strengths that landed him on his radar when Gamel was injured.

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The clubhouse influence is real. Spend any time around the club and you see Ichiro interacting warmly with teammates, veterans and young players alike. When Heredia, who is also a very popular teammate, made his trip around the clubhouse to say his goodbyes Sunday morning, he stopped at Ichiro’s locker for a hug and a few words. To Heredia’s credit, and not unexpectedly, he was his bright, cheery self before he headed out for his flight to join the Rainiers.

If there was an extra spot on the roster for a pinch hitter and occasional starter who is always a good influence, Ichiro would fill it beautifully. With just three spots, however, it is hard to argue that Heredia’s skill set isn’t a better fit. And unless the Mariners are planning to play some kind of wacky roster roulette for the remainder of the season, it very well could be what we see in the not-too-distant future.

“G’s a pro,” Servais said. “An absolute professional. He knows he will be back very soon.”

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