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Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2010, 12:04 a.m.

Who’s on third? Mariners experiment with Lopez playing there

Seattle’s second baseman since 2006 gives different position a try

  • Infielder Chone Figgins fields a groundball while playing second base Tuesday during the teamís spring training workout in Peoria, Ariz.

    Paul Connors / Associated Press

    Infielder Chone Figgins fields a groundball while playing second base Tuesday during the teamís spring training workout in Peoria, Ariz.

PEORIA, Ariz. — How far can Jose Lopez range to get a ground ball? All the way to third base at this point.
The Mariners, looking for the best way to strengthen their defense up the middle and, at the same time, suitably replace Adrian Beltre at third, began their experimentation Tuesday in their first full-squad workout at spring training.
They had Lopez, their regular second baseman since 2006, fielding ground balls at third and Chone Figgins at second in what may — or may not — be a look at their 2010 alignment.
“We’ve said all along that we want to look at different things,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “It’s nothing that is in stone right now. We’re looking to see what our options are.”
The first test was getting Lopez to try it. Two years ago, he resoundly rejected the notion of playing first base on a regular basis. Monday, however, manager Don Wakamatsu asked if he would try third base and Lopez said he’d give his best effort.
“He didn’t say, ‘You’re playing third base,’” Lopez said. “We talked. We’ll see what happens the next couple of days (and in) a couple of games. If we like it, we’ll talk. If we don’t like it, I’m going to stay at second base.”
The Mariners must determine whether Figgins at second base and Lopez at third makes better sense than leaving Lopez at second and Figgins at third, where he has played most of his games as well.
Lopez has made 627 of his 718 career starts at second base and five at third. Figgins has started 540 of 987 career games at third but has played 113 at second, including 42 games there in 2005 with the Angels.
Figgins’ greater range could strengthen the Mariners’ defense up the middle in a tandem with shortstop Jack Wilson.
But it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Would the Mariners be just as well off leaving Lopez at second base, figuring first baseman Casey Kotchman’s greater range on that side of the diamond eliminates some of the ground he must cover? And with Figgins at third, would his range do the same for Wilson at shortstop, allowing the Mariners more opportunity to pinch their infielders up the middle?
At this point, the Mariners must know whether Lopez is able to handle third base.
There’s more to it than catching a hard smash to his left or his right and making the long throw to first base.
He must prove he can make the long run down the left-field line to catch popups and also charge toward the plate to field bunts and slow rollers.
“There are so many factors, you really don’t know it’s the right way to go until you see it,” Wakamatsu said.
The throw across the diamond was the biggest difference Lopez mentioned Tuesday.
“It’s a way different throw to first base,” he said. “But it’s no big deal. We’ll see what happens the next couple of days (as) my arm gets in shape. Taking ground balls in batting practice is no big deal.
“Figgins is a good guy, and he’s quick. He’s got the range that we need. I’ve got a better arm than Figgins at third base, especially with a diving catch. I’ll wait for the games and see how I feel.”
The Mariners told Figgins when he signed in December that he would know what position he’d play by spring training. It may take a few days longer because of the Lopez experiment, but there’s also an adjustment for Figgins at second base.
“The toughest thing is making the pivot on the double play, and I need a lot of work on it,” Figgins said. “If you’re going to be there, you have to make that play seem routine. You have to be comfortable, so I’ll probably do a lot of extra work after practice.”
New third-base coach Mike Brumley, who’s responsible for the infield defense, said Lopez looked good in his first workout at third.
“He has nice hands and looked comfortable at the position,” Brumley said. “He got a lot of work at second as well. I think he will rep out in both spots and as he gets more comfortable, the workload will change until it’s decided which way the plans are going to go.”
The most important factor at this point is that Lopez is willing. Still to be determined is whether he’s able.
“If we don’t like it, we tried,” he said.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog
Story tags » Mariners

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