By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
HOUSTON — Robert Andino getting a start at shortstop on Wednesday wasn’t much of a surprise. Brendan Ryan had started the last two games and continued to struggle at the plate.
But it got more surprising after Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge casually mentioned that Andino will be staying in the lineup.
“I’ve actually talked to both Robert and Brendan and I’m going to give Andino an opportunity to play a little bit more,” Wedge said.
How much more?
“I’m going to take it day by day, week by week, month by month,” Wedge said. “I’m going to give Robert a chance to play and see where he takes it.”
Andino went 1-for-4 on his first day as a starter with an RBI. He also struck out, grounded into a double play and walked.
It’s similar to the decision Wedge made with Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach at catcher. There is no starter and no backup. He just plays them both. But with this, it’s clear that Andino is going to get the bulk of the playing time in the foreseeable future. And Wedge made that clear to both players.
“I wanted to be upfront with both those guys,” he said. “I had very strong conversations with both of those guys because of the responsibility that goes along with playing more, with Andino. Of course, with Brendan, it was what I feel he needs to do to get to where he needs to go.”
The decision is somewhat surprising since Andino (6-for-34 with 12 strikeouts) isn’t hitting that much better than Ryan (8-for-56 with 14 strikeouts) this season. Over their career, and by most measures, they are essentially the same hitter. The main difference is that Ryan is an elite defensive player and Andino is about average.
So how much will the team take a hit without a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop?
“Well that’s up to Mr. Andino,” Wedge said. “He’s capable of being a pretty good shortstop.”
It seems as though Ryan’s anemic hitting and flawed hitting approach might have finally taken its toll on Wedge.
“You can’t expect change by doing the same thing every day,” Wedge said. “You’ve got to change your habits. You have to change the way you go about doing things. This is going to give him a chance to work with Dave Hansen and take a step back and hopefully take two steps forward. It’s up to him.”
The Mariners simply couldn’t do this last year because they had Munenori Kawasaki as the backup, and Wedge wasn’t going to play him every day.
“We stuck with him (Ryan) last year because we felt we’d give him every opportunity, quite frankly, we had an opportunity to give him every opportunity,” Wedge said.
Ryan is a passionate player, who often beats himself up for his lack of offensive production. Wedge has seen it before.
“It’s the mental side,” Wedge said. “It’s definitely the way with him, whether it be positively or negatively. And that leads to the fundamental. It is what it is.”
There is a chance that Andino will show what many baseball people had felt all along — he’s not an every day shortstop.
In a week or two, the Mariners might then have to go back to Ryan or look to Class AAA Tacoma and possibly Carlos Triunfel, who is hitting .321 with one homer and 8 RBI and a .351 OBP and .476 slugging percentage and is on the 40-man roster. Or Nick Franklin, who is hitting .325 with five homers and 19 RBI with a .494 OBP and a .500 slugging percentage and is not on the 40-man roster. Brad Miller, who is playing well at Class AA Jackson, is a Wedge favorite, but is also not on the roster, and is a little raw.
Saunders may have rehab stint
Michael Saunders played catch again and took batting practice, and seems close to returning to the Mariners. He is eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list on Friday.
But it seems likely his first action could be with the Tacoma Rainiers on a rehab assignment.
“Saunders definitely is headed in the right direction,” Wedge said Wednesday. “He had a real good day today playing catch. We’ll go home tomorrow and let the doctors look at him again and potentially send him out as early as Friday. We want him to play for a couple days and hopefully get him back, whether it be this weekend or it could be as late as Monday.”
Wedge wants Saunders to get his timing back and some game experience before returning to the big league club.
“I think he needs to play for a couple days,” Wedge said. “He might DH the first day or two, but I do need to get him in the field at least one day, because when he comes back, he’s going to be playing center field.”
The Mariners could use him. They have been forced to play Raul Ibanez in the outfield far more than Wedge wanted. Saunders will take over in center for the injured Franklin Gutierrez, who went on the DL on Tuesday.
“We’ve definitely missed him,” Wedge said of Saunders. “He’s a big part of this club. If you look at what he’s ended up being here, there’s a level of toughness he brings, a level of leadership for our younger kids. And being a complete player, his skill set is a big difference-maker for us, especially with Gutierrez out.”