M’s can hit, but can they pitch?

  • By John Sleeper / Herald columnist
  • Saturday, April 2, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

SEATTLE – If the Mariners’ off-season acquisitions do one thing, it is that Seattle’s woeful offensive numbers of 2004 won’t reappear.

In losing 99 games last season, the Mariners came up last in the American League in runs scored, RBI, slugging percentage and home runs.

It cost the Mariners $114 million to bring Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson to Seattle, but they got their biggest 1-2 punch guys since Griffey and A-Rod.

It’s a move. A good one. But to contend again, they’ll either need to make more moves or wait until their young pitchers mature.

But the power is there.

Last season, Beltre hit 48 homers at Dodger Stadium, a park notorious for favoring pitchers. He should have little difficulty adjusting to Safeco Field.

Sexson can hit balls out of the county.

The signings had to make Ichiro Suzuki smile. The increased run producers in the middle of the lineup can only mean better run-scoring potential for the game’s best leadoff hitter.

Ditto for the M’s beleaguered pitchers, who seldom were able to work with a lead last year. They should get better run support.

Lose 99 games and heads fall. Manager Bob Melvin and most of his coaching staff took the fall for management’s neglect. Players who performed so gloriously for the past 10 years got old together and probably remained with the club a year too long.

So it will be Mike Hargrove’s responsibility to right the ship. Hargrove is the disciplinarian and details man that Melvin wasn’t and it has showed in spring training. Hargrove led the Cleveland Indians to five straight American league Central titles and AL pennants in 1995 and 1997. He had less success in his four years in Baltimore, where it was reported that he’d lost control of the clubhouse at the end of his tenure.

Just as important to the Mariners was the hiring of hitting coach Don Baylor, whose task it is to turn around an offense that became almost laughingly stagnant a year ago.

Seattle has great hopes that second baseman Bret Boone can bounce back from a dismal 2004. Laser eye surgery in the off-season, he said, has allowed him to see the ball better.

The infield in general takes a step up. Third baseman Beltre and newly acquired shortstop Pokey Reese are excellent glovemen, although Reese has had injury problems. He has played in just 133 games in the last two seasons. Should he be unavailable, 21-year-old Jose Lopez probably will step in.

Boone is solid at second and the 6-foot-8 Sexson is a big target for infield throws at first base.

Miguel Olivo will get a full shot at catcher. Should he falter, Dan Wilson is an experienced backup.

The state of the outfield largely depends on the fortunes of Jeremy Reed, acquired, with Olivo, in the Freddy Garcia trade with the White Sox. Center field is his job to lose. If he pans out, Randy Winn probably will platoon in left with Raul Ibanez, who could hit 20 home runs. Then again, Winn is the object of trade rumors as well.

For all of the offensive power the Mariners bought, pitching is a concern. Jamie Moyer, 42, has had a good spring, but is coming off a year in which his ERA ballooned to 5.21. Joel Pineiro missed the last two months of the 2004 season with a sore elbow and has had shoulder problems in the spring. Aaron Sele signed a minor league contract and fought hard all spring for a roster spot. He may be a surprise starter.

Gil Meche, Ryan Franklin and Bobby Madritsch all have enjoyed solid springs in the late going.

The trouble with Seattle’s starting pitching is the lack of an “ace” in the true sense of the word. The Mariners have a lot of what would be third, fourth and fifth starters on other teams, but the days of Randy Johnson are long gone.

The relief pitchers have similar questions. Closer Eddie Guardado had knee and arm problems last season and struggled this spring. Shigetosi Hasagawa is coming off a forgettable season. Jeff Nelson returns, with his wicked slider, but Rafael Soriano will miss much of the season with elbow surgery.

The Mariners still have questions to answer. They threw a ton of money to improve offensive production, but little attention was paid to pitching.

A repeat of last season isn’t likely, but neither is a pennant. The Mariners have, however, cut into the rebuilding process significantly.

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