McLaren hopes to make good use of bench players

PEORIA, Ariz. — The Seattle Mariners would love to re-create 2001 all over again.

OK, winning 116 games is a stretch, especially for a team that won 88 last year and has a hard time explaining how they did it given their negative run differential.

But one aspect of the 2001 team that Mariners manager John McLaren would like to duplicate is the impact the bench players had on that team.

Former manager Lou Piniella used versatile veteran players like Mark McLemore and Stan Javier, rotating them into the lineup regularly at various positions. It kept them sharp and allowed the starters to get regular rest.

McLaren hopes to use that formula this year, even with a group of starters known to be belligerent about taking a day off.

“I don’t like guys on the bench just sitting around,” McLaren said. “We’ve got to use them and keep them sharp. Sometimes the regulars don’t understand because they want to play.”

McLaren already has talked with third baseman Adrian Beltre, who fights to stay in the lineup even when he’s hurt, and he’s pleased in how catcher Kenji Johjima remained fresh most of last season even though Johjima’s stated goal is to play every game.

“It’s too late to give somebody an off day at the end of August and first of September because fatigue has already set in and the off day doesn’t do anything for them,” McLaren said. “You’ve got to give them the off days in May and June in order for them to stay strong over the course of a long season.”

To do it, McLaren will need versatility on the bench, and that likely will play into his roster decisions.

Miguel Cairo can play every infield position, Willie Bloomquist all of the outfield spots and Mike Morse can play first base, third base, shortstop and the corner outfield positions. Jeremy Reed also plays every outfield position and gives the M’s a left-handed bat, and Greg Norton plays first and the corner outfield spots, although his greatest value is as a pinch-hitter.

McLaren plans to use center fielder Ichiro Suzuki like he did last year, playing him at DH in order to get him off his feet but keep his bat in the lineup.

He’ll use his catchers like last year, when backup Jamie Burke started 34 games, many of them day games after night games.

And he’ll look at pitcher-hitter matchups to make lineup decisions, giving a player a day off if he would face a pitcher who has given him trouble.

“Most of them don’t want the day off no matter what the matchup is,” McLaren said. “But for me that’s the perfect time to give them an off day.”

Free singers: The Mariners have subjected themselves to some Brooks and Dunn from pitcher Roy Corcoran, a little “Rocky Top” from Tennessee grad R.A. Dickey and a couple of dirty jokes from a coach during the talent show portion of their morning meetings.

Monday, the stars were a quartet of catchers — Rob Johnson, Jeff Clement, Jamie Burke and Adam Moore — who twisted the lyrics of “Me and God” by Josh Turner and sang an ode to one of their favorite people, catching instructor Roger Hansen. It went a little something like this:

“Some people like to say we’re like two peas in a pod”

“Me and Rog”

“I am weak but he is strong”

“Me and Rog”

“He forgives me when I am wrong”

“Me and Rog”

“He’s the one I lean on when life gets hard”

“Me and Rog”

(chorus) “He’s my daddy”

“He’s my friend”

“The beginning and the end”

“We’re a team”

“Me and Rog”

In previous meetings, McLaren has selected an unlucky player to introduce himself and perform a song or a joke. Early Monday morning, however, he was walking through the back of the clubhouse and realized the four catchers had put together a routine.

“They had been in the back rehearsing,” McLaren said.

The skipper said he will add a new twist for today’s meeting.

“Now when I choose them, they’ll either sing a song, tell a joke or explain the most embarrassing moment of their life,” McLaren said.

Of note: Position players officially report today for physicals, although most have been here for days working out on their own. The first full-squad workout is Wednesday. … McLaren said pitchers would throw live batting practice to the hitters on Thursday. “It gives them the feel of being on the mound and throwing to hitters for the first time,” McLaren said.

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com

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