Mariners have higher expectations
Wedge: It's about expectations, performance and production
Biting his lip became part of what Wedge decided he needed to do during the 2011 season, especially with a roster that included so much youth and inexperience.
Year 2, there won't be any holding back. Wedge his players to perform this season, and if they don't, they're going to hear from him.
"No one's going to take away what we've already established here. But ultimately, it is a different message this year. It's about expectations," said Wedge, whose team finished 67-95 a year ago. "It's not just about breaking kids in, although we're probably going to do some of that this year. Not as much as last year. It's about expectations, performance and production. Performance and production lead to wins."
For Wedge, those increased expectations are pointed primarily at the Mariners' offense. A year ago, it was among the worst in baseball history since the implementation of the designated hitter. If the Mariners are to improve, the hitters have to do better.
The pitching staff is solid, led by ace Felix Hernandez. Even with an offseason trade that sent All-Star Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees, the arms are OK. But ultimately it's the offense where the majority of Seattle's questions lie after the team hit just .233 and scored a mere 556 runs, by far the lowest total in the American League.
Among the question marks headed into Wednesday's season opener against the A's in Tokyo:
n Can Ichiro Suzuki successfully make the transition from being one of the best leadoff hitters in recent history to batting third, where his slap-hitting style of the past won't fly?
n Will Chone Figgins finally prove worthy of the $36 million, four-year deal he signed before the 2010 season? He'll try to restart his career with another opportunity as an everyday player, and he'll get the initial shot at taking over the leadoff spot.
n Will Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp be able to carry their impressive debuts from 2011 into their sophomore campaigns?
n And will Jesus Montero, the centerpiece of the January trade with the Yankees, handle the expectations of being the Seattle's power-hitting offensive savior despite just a handful of major-league games?
"I feel this should be the year we really take a significant step forward offensively. I'll be very disappointed if we don't," Wedge said. "I don't really worry about that, because I'm very confident we will do that. That's how confident I am in our young people. That's how confident I am in our plan, that's how confident I am in the foundation we have here. That's the faith I have in our kids individually. I've as much as told them that."
Because of the early start to the season -- the rest other MLB teams don't open the season until next week -- Wedge tried to ram home the point of taking the offseason seriously. In January, he brought many of his young, expected everyday starters to Seattle to view for himself just how their offseason training was going.
"I had never heard of anything like that," Seattle shortstop Brendan Ryan said. "It was good to rub shoulders again and get reacquainted and it was a heads-up."
The switch at the top of the batting order will face the most scrutiny at the start of the season. Suzuki hasn't hit anywhere but first since arriving in the majors in 2001. Anticipating the move, he made subtle changes in his batting stance this spring. The goal is less slap and more power in the No. 3 spot.
Moving Suzuki could give Figgins a final chance to back up the massive contract he signed. Sandwiched between them is likely to be Ackley, with some combo of Montero, Justin Smoak and Carp following Suzuki.
One of the potential solutions to Seattle's offensive problems was the hoped-for return of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez to the form he showed in 2009, when he hit 18 homers and batted .283 with the Mariners. But Gutierrez is likely to miss the first month of the regular season with a pectoral injury.
Gutierrez's early absence adds more flux to the Mariners' outfield. Michael Saunders and Casper Wells will likely get chunks of time in center field with Gutierrez out. They're also in the mix in left field, where Carp will get the first chance at locking down the position. Carp's bat proved too important during the final three months of 2011 to be absent from the lineup.
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