Davis fights for job

  • Kirby Arnold / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, March 18, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

PEORIA, Ariz. – If anybody needed a good game Thursday, it was Ben Davis.

Challenged by manager Bob Melvin in the offseason to prove he deserves to be the starting catcher by showing leadership qualities and a better bat, Davis has done little of either at spring training.

He’d had just two hits in his first dozen at-bats, riled Melvin with some questionable pitch calls and, on Tuesday, dropped a popup.

Thursday was Davis’ chance to turn things around. He did, to a degree.

His 0-for-2 at the plate wasn’t anything to impress – dropping his average to .143 – but he advanced a runner to third base with a ground ball and threw out two attempted base stealers in a 5-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

“In two at-bats, he struck out one time and got a guy over, which we wanted him to do,” Melvin said. “He threw a couple of guys out and it looked like he was back there working pretty hard.”

That’s a high compliment compared with Melvin’s assessment of Davis two weeks ago, when he criticized the catcher for the pitches he called during a game that Matt Thornton pitched. Thornton had a dominant fastball that day, but Davis continually called for changeups and two of them were hit for home runs.

This week, the Tacoma News Tribune reported that the Mariners are fed up that Davis hasn’t appeared to take his opportunity seriously, and that he’s in jeopardy of not making the team. And even if he does, the pitches will be called from the dugout.

Davis spent plenty of time looking into the Seattle dugout Thursday, especially in the third inning when Gary Bennett led off with a walk.

Was it a sign the Mariners already have pulled the plug on Davis’ privilege to call pitches?

“No. We were giving him signals for throw-overs (to first base), pitchouts and slide steps,” Melvin said. “Not one pitch was called from the dugout.”

Melvin gave Davis credit for handling Freddy Garcia, who struggled with his fastball against the Brewers. Davis had Garcia lean more on his changeup, and he allowed one run in four innings.

“He worked his butt off with Freddy, who didn’t have as good a command with his fastball as he normally does,” Melvin said. “Ben worked him very well.”

Davis also threw out Junior Spivey trying to steal second base in the first inning and Trent Durrington trying to steal third in the fifth.

That’s another big step from early in the spring, when Davis threw a ball into center field trying to throw out a runner.

“It’s a matter of throwing the proper way, getting in position to throw,” Davis said. “The first time this year when I threw the ball into center field, I wasn’t in position to throw. I totally forgot about everything we had worked on. I feel like I’ve been blessed with a pretty good arm, so if I’m in position I feel like I’m going to make a pretty good throw.”

Changeup helps Garcia: Garcia gave up one run and three hits in the four innings he pitched Thursday, continuing his impressive work.

How good was Garcia?

“He didn’t look very good until about the fourth inning,” pitching coach Bryan Price said. “His first two outings, after the first hitter of the game I thought he threw the ball really well. Today it took him a little longer to get in sync.”

This time was just as impressive, however.

Garcia struggled with control of his fastball and slider, so he leaned on his changeup to stop the Brewers.

“Pretty good, huh? I think it was my best pitch today,” Garcia said. “I got a lot of people out with that pitch.”

Garcia allowed a one-out infield single to Spivey in the first inning, doubles to Chris Magruder and Durrington in the second, and pitched around a walk in the third. He finished by retiring the last six Brewers he faced.

“It’s not always going to be easy down here,” Price said. “His first couple of outings he made it look pretty easy and today he was challenged a little bit, and I don’t see that as a bad thing at all. One run in four innings on a day when he does not have his best command is a good sign against a team that is having a good Cactus League season.”

Left-handed compliments: Melvin praised the three left-handed relievers who pitched Thursday: Eddie Guardado, Ron Villone and Mike Myers.

Guardado, in his second outing since experiencing pain in his left knee, gave up two doubles in a scoreless fifth inning.

“It’s his second time out and he’s still feeling his way around, but he threw all his pitches and got through it clean,” Melvin said.

Villone allowed only an infield single in two innings, and picked that runner off first base. He has allowed one run in six innings this spring and has succeeded against left-handed hitters despite having better career numbers against righties.

“He’s doing all the things we’ve asked him to do,” Melvin said. “He’s throwing his breaking ball to the far side to the left-handers. He gets some movement on his fastball and is running balls in on them, throwing good changeups.

“When you’re trying to make a team, sometimes it’s more about ‘I need to show the results and I’m not going to work on anything.’ But he certainly is, and he’s having good results on top of it.”

Myers, who is trying to make the team as a left-handed setup specialist, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning.

Cutdown: The Mariners cut their major league camp to 42 players by sending five players to the minor league camp.

They optioned right-hander Cha Seung Baek, left-handed pitcher Bobby Madritsch and third baseman Justin Leone to Class AAA Tacoma, optioned third baseman Greg Dobbs to Class AA San Antonio and re-assigned catcher Rene Rivera to the minor league camp.

Baek, a 23-year-old Korean, had a 1.42 earned run average in 6 1/3innings with five strikeouts and one walk.

“We took serious notice of him,” Melvin said “The way he focuses on the mound at such a young age, it seems like he blocks everything out and just sees the hitter and catcher, and makes his pitch. His mechanics are borderline flawless. His composure is what really impressed. This is a guy who is a lot closer to the big leagues than I thought coming into camp.”

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