SEATTLE – Everybody loves the three-run homer, including a Seattle Mariners team that added some badly needed power to its lineup for this year.
If the first series of the season showed anything, however, it’s that the Mariners will need more out of their offense than the long ball to win consistently. The Mariners scored 10 runs in the three games against the Minnesota Twins, but they scored only four runs that weren’t the result of homers.
If the offense makes a true turnaround from last year, when the Mariners finished last in the American League in runs scored, they must create more opportunities and be more aggressive on the bases by stealing, calling for more hit-and-run plays, stretching singles into doubles and testing outfielders’ arms by taking the extra base.
“We’ve been a base-to-base team here for a while,” second baseman Bret Boone said. “We’ve got a team now that doesn’t have to be base-to-base, and that makes it much better.”
The Mariners, who added home-run punch with Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, also are a more athletic team this year. Ichiro Suzuki and Randy Winn are legitimate base stealers, and everyone except Sexson and Raul Ibanez runs well enough to stretch a single into a double if they dare.
The Mariners played a faster game in the exhibition season as they showed a definite interest in trying to force opposing teams into mistakes. They finished third in the American League with 28 stolen bases and second with 20 triples.
Manager Mike Hargrove pushes that style of play.
“We are going to come off looking stupid sometimes, which we have done this spring,” Hargrove said.
Randy Winn became the first such example Wednesday when he was thrown out trying to steal third base with nobody out and the Mariners trailing by two runs in the fifth inning against the Twins. While such a gamble goes against just about everybody’s baseball book, Hargrove believes there will be rewards to the risks.
“It’s easier to rein guys in than to push them out,” he said. “For every baserunning mistake we make and look stupid, there are going to be four times when we get a runner into scoring position or score a run when we normally wouldn’t have scored.
“If the opposition knows we are going to be aggressive on the bases, then they might start doing things a little different to take themselves out of their game. It’s another way to put pressure on people and I’m willing to put up with some mistakes if we get the rewards for when it does work. You push the envelope to see what you can do.”
Hargrove said there’s a time not to be aggressive, especially with the added power to the lineup that Beltre and Sexson will supply.
“With some of our bombers at the plate, it has to be a doggone sure bet for us to steal a base,” Hargrove said. “We don’t want to take the bat out of their hands.”
That doesn’t mean Hargrove would prefer that Suzuki plant himself on first base and wait for the big boppers behind him to bop.
“Guys that should be stealing bases, I want to steal bases,” he said.
Hargrove wouldn’t say who has the green light to steal, but his two best runners are Suzuki and Winn. Suzuki already has two steals.
“Our lineup isn’t all about power,” Boone said. “We’ve got guys in our lineup who can legitimately steal bases, and it’s not just guys like Ichiro and Randy. Miguel Olivo, that dude’s one of the fastest guys on the team. Pokey Reese can steal a base, Olivo can sneak a base, I can, and so can Beltre and Jeremy Reed.
“We’re not just one-dimensional, and that’s what I like about this team.”