Catch a thief? Johjima hasn’t done so

  • By Kirby Arnold / Herald Writer
  • Saturday, March 17, 2007 9:00pm
  • Sports

PEORIA, Ariz. – The phenomenal defense being played by the Seattle Mariners has shown a troubling flaw.

Opponents are running free on the Mariners, who’ve done little in exhibition games so far to slow them down. Baserunners have been successful on 13 of 14 steal attempts, and starting catcher Kenji Johjima has failed to throw out any of the seven who’ve run on him.

It’s not a new issue with Johjima, who came to the Mariners last year from Japan with a tendency to drop his arm as he released the ball, often causing it to tail into the runner going to second base.

“He’s got a little Thurman Munson in him,” said Mariners bench coach John McLaren, a former catcher. “He throws the ball from a lot of different angles and we’ve stressed to him to get one arm slot and go with it. His footwork is fine. His arm strength is fine. His quickness is fine. We’re working with his arm slot.”

Johjima threw out 22 of the 79 opponents who ran on him last year, allowing the sixth-most steals among American League catchers. Ivan Rodriguez of the Tigers had the best ratio, throwing out 25 of 46.

Johjima’s low arm angle is the biggest problem. Not only do his throws tail away from the bag, they often make for a difficult play by the middle infielders just to keep the ball from sailing into the outfield. On Friday, second baseman Jose Lopez smacked his left wrist against the helmet of Royals baserunner Joey Gaithright when Johjima’s throw curled into the runner.

McLaren said Johjima’s release time is good – 1.89 seconds – and arm strength isn’t an issue.

“Danny Wilson had a similar problem when we first got him from Cincinnati,” McLaren said. “He would try to get rid of the ball so quick that he wouldn’t use the extra arm strength that he had, and he would rush things.”

The challenge for Johjima is that repetition is the best way to make the adjustment, but he must be careful not to wear out his arm before the season begins.

“If you work on it too much, you can really get a sore arm,” McLaren said. “We’re being patient with this, he’s aware of it and it’s going to take a little concentration on his part. It won’t be an overnight thing, but I’m pretty sure he’ll be fine.”

Vidro to hit third: One of the few questions coming into spring training – Who will hit third? – seems to have a clear answer.

It’ll be DH Jose Vidro.

Vidro has occupied that spot in the batting order in nearly every game he has played this month, and manager Mike Hargrove said Saturday that’s where he’ll hit when the regular season begins.

“I’m real comfortable wherever he hits,” Hargrove said. “Right now, three is a pretty good spot for him. He’s a professional hitter. He has a real good knowledge of his ability, of what he can do and what he can’t do. Hitters like that don’t grow on trees.”

Ramirez on track: Horacio Ramirez’s shutout streak ended Saturday when he finally allowed a run in his fourth exhibition outing.

Ramirez became the first Mariners starter to pitch five innings and, in temperatures that reached the mid-90s, his final inning was a struggle. The left-hander gave up two hits and a walk in the fifth inning, including Marlon Byrd’s two-run single.

“I was just falling behind (in the count) on guys,” he said. “I don’t think I was necessarily tired.”

Ramirez probably will get two more exhibition starts.

“I’m real happy with the way I’ve been progressing,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting my arm strength. It’s going to take another start or two, but I’ll be ready to go.”

Of note: Pitcher Mark Lowe, who had a second surgery early in spring training to remove scar tissue from his right elbow, said his range of motion has improved steadily. He hopes to begin throwing after he is examined March 25 by Dr. Lewis Yocum, who performed both operations. Lowe said he wouldn’t be ready to pitch again until July or August. … Willie Bloomquist stole two bases Saturday and is perfect on all five steal attempts this month. Bloomquist, who was batting .500 after a 4-for-4 game Friday, went 0-for-4 Saturday to drop his spring average to .447. … Right-hander Jon Huber, competing for a bullpen job, pitched a scoreless ninth inning Saturday, his third straight outing without giving up a run. He has a 7.50 ERA in six outings. … Left-hander Eric O’Flaherty, who didn’t allow a run in his first three outings, has given up three runs in his past two, including two on Saturday.

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