M’s deserve a few free passes

  • By Kirby Arnold / Herald writer
  • Saturday, April 14, 2007 9:00pm
  • Sports

If a team ever deserves a break from criticism the next couple of weeks, it’s the Seattle Mariners.

What they experienced on their first road trip basically plowed under any consistency, rhythm, feel and whatever else it is that makes a pitcher confident on the mound and a hitter comfortable in the box.

Snowed-out four straight days in Cleveland, then rained out Thursday after playing twice in Boston, the Mariners came home to Safeco Field this weekend feeling as awkward as a golfer about to tee off for the first time all year.

Jarrod Washburn, Friday’s starter, joked that he prepared to face three different teams for the same start.

“I said the other day that you almost have to give some of these guys a pass on their next start, and that’s even more true now,” manager Mike Hargrove said after Thursday’s rainout in Boston. “Washburn, Batista, Ramirez, Weaver – this just hasn’t helped any of them.”

Before anyone says those guys need a lot of help even in the best conditions, let’s give them a chance. The last thing I want is to be a Mariners – or Hargrove – apologist, but in this case they deserve a few free passes.

After the Mariners looked flat in a 14-3 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday, the “Hargrove Hot Seat” talk stirred up again, proof that it only takes one game to rile those folks.

Give it a rest.

What happened on the road may affect the Mariners into the next month. If they’re pitching poorly and hitting this badly by May 15, then it’ll be time to turn up the heat.

There’s no way a team can take five days off and be sharp on the sixth, so we’ll let that explain the Mariners’ .187 team batting average entering this weekend, worst in the major leagues. No way a long, angular guy like Jeff Weaver can go nearly two weeks without pitching and then have a feel for the strike zone.

If you’re a golfer, you know.

Take two weeks off – no fair going to the driving range; Weaver didn’t get to throw on the side while he waited for the weather to clear in Cleveland – and be thankful there’s such a thing as a mulligan.

Weaver got no mulligans Tuesday in Boston, just an early exit and the hope that he’ll be better next time out with regular preparation.

How to explain Felix Hernandez’s dominance in his one-hitter on Wednesday? After all, he hadn’t pitched in eight days. Unlike Weaver, Hernandez was able to do the side work that’s so important to a pitcher between starts. That, along with a 99 mph fastball, tend to solve all kinds of mechanical problems.

Nobody else in the Mariners’ rotation has the sheer power to overcome a lack of touch with their finesse pitches, so before things get better, they could be ugly.

There’s also been some heavy criticism of the schedule-makers for trying to play baseball in Cleveland in early April. Well, somebody’s got to play there this time of year, and chances are as good that it’ll be cold and miserable as they are it’ll be 70 degrees and sunny.

The biggest blunder is that this was the Mariners’ only scheduled trip to Cleveland and Boston this season. With no return trip (and therefore no decent chance to schedule a double-header or two), the schedule-makers painted the Mariners into a corner.

Already the most-traveled team in baseball, the M’s must find common open dates with the Indians and satisfy players association requirements to make up the four games lost in Cleveland. The game against the Red Sox already has been re-scheduled for May 3, originally an open date before the Mariners begin a weekend series at New York, and has even impacted the home schedule. The May 2 game against the White Sox, originally scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. start, will begin at 12:35 p.m. so the Mariners can fly to Boston that night.

If there’s a positive, it’s that the Mariners will make up the lost games when the weather is warmer. When they return to Boston, they’ll have had nearly three weeks for the pitchers to find their rhythm and the hitters to groove their swings.

That’s a lot easier to do that when it’s not snowing, blowing and bone-chilling cold outside.

Kirby Arnold covers major league baseball for The Herald

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