Mariners Infielders: Can they turn two?

On the left side of the infield, the Mariners believe they’re as good as any team in baseball with Gold Glove third baseman Adrian Beltre and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. On the right side, they’re in good hands with first baseman Richie Sexson and second baseman Jose Lopez.

It’s how they meet in the middle — the double play combination of Betancourt and Lopez — that is so important to the infield’s success. That’s been a focus at spring training.

“These are two guys who’ve actually learned how to play at the major league level. They didn’t play much in the minor leagues,” manager John McLaren said. “It’s a hard thing to learn to play baseball at the major league level because there’s so much at stake. In the minor leagues, you encourage guys to do certain things knowing that they might fail. When you fail in the major leagues in a crucial situation with everything at stake, it’s a tough way to learn and it’s tough for the ballclub to go through that.

“These guys have made great progress and they’re getting better all the time.”

Adrian Beltre

Third Base

If defensive excellence was the only criterion for winning a Gold Glove, Beltre would have several by now. Offense does make a difference and Beltre, who loosened up at the plate in 2007, finally won a Gold Glove. He’s a human vacuum at third, routinely sucking in hard-hit balls with his soft hands. Those he can’t get a glove on, he knocks down fearlessly with his body. Then there’s the arm, strong enough to throw out runners from his knees from behind the bag. “He can throw from any angle, has a strong arm, is fearless, is so agile and has quick feet,” McLaren said.

Yuniesky Betancourt


He’s so good, sometimes he’s bad. That’s been Betancourt’s up-and-down existence in his two full seasons in the major leagues. He’s capable of turning almost certain hits into outs, ranging deep behind the bag or into the hole to cut off a ball headed toward the outfield, then using his arm strength make a strong throw. Betancourt also has had a tendency to clunk the routine play — hence, his team-high 23 errors last year. However, he made just four errors after the All-Star break, when he posted a .987 fielding percentage, best among AL shortstops in the second half last year.

Richie Sexson

First Base

Sexson’s job is to drive in runs, and all the attention will fall on that part of his game as he strives for a rebound season in 2008. Still, Sexson is a solid defender, finishing second among American League first basemen with a .998 fielding percentage. His range isn’t great, but he usually grabs the balls he gets to and, at 6 feet 8 inches, he’s a big target for the other infielders.

Man on the spot: Jose Lopez

Second Base

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi delivered a strong message in December when he said the club needs more consistency out of the second base position.

He didn’t name Jose Lopez specifically, but the insinuation was there. The Mariners, Bavasi said, needed to improve either with the personnel on hand (Lopez) or by getting someone else.

Lopez’s 2007 season was difficult on and off the field. His brother died in a traffic accident near home in Venezuela, and he seemed distracted during the season. His batting average plunged from .284 before the All-Star break to .213 after, his RBI from 47 before the break to 15 after.

“(Concentration) was a little problem for me last year, missing RBI with runners on base,” he said. “With less than two outs, you’ve got to move the runners.”

In the field Lopez played well most of the season, committing eight errors (half of his 2006 total) and just four of those from April through August. Infield coach Sam Perlozzo worked with him at spring training on his range and pivots at second base.

“He’s a young ballplayer who made the All-Star team two years ago,” McLaren said. “Our main focus with him is to get him to where he plays a good solid year the whole year.”

— Kirby Arnold

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