Progress

Apr 28, 2011, 6:21 PM | Updated: Apr 29, 2011, 8:04 am

 

Olivo-Smoak-4282
The hits are finally falling for Miguel Olivo, right, while Justin Smoak, left, has continued his hot hitting since rejoining the team following a stint on the bereavement list. (AP)

Enjoyable road trip so far and I am not just talking about the Coney Dogs. I have found myself having to practice saying things like “extra base hit” and “three-run homer” and “runs score.” Still having a hard time saying “heads up base running,” but I think we have progress.

So if you are keeping track at home, the Mariners have swept the Tigers and won seven of 11 since Eric Wedge let them have it in a closed door meeting following the loss in Kansas City. What has happened since then?

A lot. We have seen Justin Smoak leave the team then return and keep up a 10-game hitting streak, hitting three home runs.

We have seen the top of the order, Ichiro and Chone Figgins, start to drive in runs with more regularity. Yes, I know Ichiro was leading the team with a gaudy batting average with RISP, but he only had nine RBIs. A good amount of hits with runners in scoring position had not resulted in actual runs. There is a difference. In the past three days, he has driven in three and Figgins has driven in four. These two need to be more than just table setters because the one-two spot in the lineup is getting more opportunities with runners in scoring position than any other spots in the lineup. Good stuff.

We saw Michael Pineda strike out nine today in six innings. Let me repeat that. He struck out nine! Good grief! Imagine what could happen when he figures out how to get them to put the ball in play and get them out quicker. That is just plain fun.

Miguel Olivo. What can I say? He is going to be streaky because he always has been, but the hits are finally falling and it couldn’t come at a better time. He has needed this and the team has needed this. It isn’t blind luck either. Wedge had some pretty high praise for him following Wednesday’s game. Of his at bat in the 5th inning off Justin Verlander that resulted in an RBI sac fly, Wedge said:

“Without a doubt that sac fly was the best at bat he has had all year, arguably, one of the best at bats as a team we have had all year. That fired me up. When you talk about sticking your nose in there in that situation, fighting through an at bat against a very good pitcher and not just hitting a sac fly, but to deep right field? That was a hell of an at bat.

“You hear me talking about the type of at bats that I want us to have? That’s it. That epitomizes everything we are talking about right there.”

Not bad.

Of course, there is still some bad. Jack Cust is still struggling and quite frankly, it is becoming alarming to watch him strike out looking. He seems to have lost any aggressiveness he may have had at the plate and it appears he is losing both position in the lineup and playing time.

Milton Bradley has been hitless for over a week and has only driven in one run. Franklin Gutierrez is coming back and that could make for an interesting situation at the LF/DH positions.

David Aardsma had a stumble in his rehab assignment, but the pen is holding its own in his absence. Brandon League is 5-for-5 in save opportunities and David Pauley and Jamey Wright have proven themselves to be go-to guys in long and short situations. The pen is becoming less of a worry.

Felix is Felix. Not end of the year Felix, but very close to the same Felix we have seen in the first month of the last two seasons. Erik Bedard made a fine showing last night, but I still take him game by game. He showed what he can be. I have no idea what we will see his next time out. Doug Fister is adjusting to a new pitch mix and making progress while Jason Vargas is Jason Vargas. Sure would be nice to see him get some run support the next time out.

Three days in Boston could be rough, but over the last week, this club has shown what it is capable of. More enjoyable baseball than what we had been watching. It could go the other way as well. My feeling on this year has always been that the second half would be better than the first. There will be ups and downs as systems are learned, youngsters settle in, players get healthy or hurt. But the last week was a good week. If this is a team in development then hopefully there will be more to come.

I’m in Boston now. Time to go find a lobster.

Date Starting Pitcher
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