M’s: Signs are encouraging and troubling

  • By Kirby Arnold / Herald writer
  • Saturday, April 15, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

A dozen games into the season, the Mariners actually have shown signs that they can be competitive. They won two of three from a solid Angels team to open the season, then did the same last week to the Indians on the road.

Problem is, a dozen games aren’t nearly enough to get a true read on a team. Let’s see where the M’s are after 50.

Having said that, the M’s have shown both encouraging and troubling signs in their first two weeks to indicate what we may be dealing with this season.

* Don’t turn your back on this offense. Just when it looked like the Mariners finally got the idea that aggressive baserunning, patience at the plate and good situational hitting actually wins games, they ran into an Oakland pitching staff that shut them down.

Then they pounded some decent Indians pitching for 25 runs in three games.

As I liked to say after every Mike Cameron strikeout, get used to it.

This team has enough young talent to be entertaining every night and, a lot of the time, extremely productive. That same youth will fight bouts of inconsistency – and some difficult nights against good pitching.

But they’ll also have breakout games when Jose Lopez, Jeremy Reed and Yuniesky Betancourt put the ball in play and let the RBI producers like Richie Sexson, Raul Ibanez and Adrian Beltre knock them home.

* Is Adrian Beltre proving that he’s a bust? Two weeks don’t prove anything. Beltre was batting .143 entering the weekend series in Boston, but he’d shown signs of coming out of it with line drives right at opposing fielders.

Those line drives eventually will find the gaps.

* Has Carl Everett done/said anything bizarre? Except for grounding out on the first pitch after the Indians’ Matt Miller had walked two straight hitters, Everett has been a good citizen in the clubhouse.

He did raise a few eyebrows last weekend with a surly response after a reporter asked what made Barry Zito so effective when he shut down the M’s.

“I don’t give credit to pitchers,” Everett said. “They’re going to have to show me time and again that they can do that.”

Uh, Carl, Zito threw the ball down your team’s throats one day after Joe Blanton had done the same thing. To me, that’s time and again.

* What kind of leader has Ichiro Suzuki become? So far, he’s nothing more or less in a leadership role than before, and that’s discouraging.

For all the talk of Suzuki’s rah-rah, follow-me approach with his Japanese teammates last month during the World Baseball Classic, we haven’t seen it with the Mariners. Too bad, because they need it from a position player.

It was disturbing to see last weekend what kind of leader Suzuki isn’t. He was stretching in the outfield one afternoon while coaches worked with five other players on baserunning techniques.

Maybe Suzuki knows everything about reading a pitcher’s pickoff move, getting a good lead and stealing a base. And in his defense, his name wasn’t on the list to take part in the baserunning drills.

But why wasn’t he out there anyway, alongside his teammates working to make himself better? Or, more importantly, why wasn’t he there working to make them better?

This is a team with plenty of young players who need a veteran to exert his influence. When Suzuki stays in the outfield and follows his own daily regimen while teammates work on elements of the game as a group, that’s not leadership.

* What’s wrong with Felix Hernandez? Some say he’ll improve when he fully recovers from the shin splints that caused him to go 14 days without pitching at the end of spring training.

I can live with that reasoning.

I also believe the talk that Hernandez isn’t in the greatest shape, which may have contributed to the shin splints. He reported to spring training softer than the previous year and seemed heavier than the media guide listing of 220 pounds.

Hernandez spent much of his time at spring training running to improve his conditioning, but the pounding on the hard ground in Arizona and the extra weight may have caused the leg pain.

It’s similar to what Freddy Garcia experienced in 2000, his second season with the Mariners. He also came to camp overweight and suffered shin splints, which later became a stress fracture that kept him out about two months.

Kirby Arnold covers the M’s for The Herald

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