General manager Jack Zduriencik was at a cold and wet Cheney Stadium on Thursday night to watch the Rainiers play. With Jeremy Bonderman starting on mound and his opt out date of June 1 approaching and the Mariners back end of the rotation struggling, Zduriencik was particularly in interested in seeing the veteran right-hander pitch.
He also had a few comments about the decision to send down Jesus Montero. Zduriencik and Mariners manager Eric Wedge met with Montero to deliver the news. Montero, who was in uniform on Thursday and had a pinch-hit appearance – flying out to left, was obviously upset and surprised.
“It had to be explained to him,” Zduriencik said. “Eric and I sat in there together and we explained that sometimes you have to take step backward to take two steps forward. We appreciate his effort. He’s done an awful lot to try and become a catcher. He’s worked very hard at it.”
But Montero isn’t going to be a full-time catcher anymore. He will catch maybe one or twice a week to give Mike Zunino a break. But the rest of the time he will DH and play first.
“He’s going to be playing a lot of first base,” Zduriencik said. “In the long run, when you view the organization, presently and in the future, certainly in the future, it would be better for him to have more versatility.”
Montero is hitting .208 (21-for-101) with just five extra base hits and nine RBI. He has 21 strikeouts out and just eight walks with a .264 on-base percentage and a .327 slugging percentage. He lost his job as the starting catcher about three weeks into the season and his approach at the plate didn’t seem to be getting better at the big league level.
“The issue was (the catching) was probably affecting him offensively,” Zduriencik said. “What he was brought here for was to be an offensive component to what we are doing. We all believe that he will be. I think we’ve seen really good things out of him. But this day in and day out responsibility to become a catcher, may not be in his best interest or our best interests. So what we wanted to do is to expand his horizons and give him the opportunity to play elsewhere and let him concentrate on being the offensive guy we think he can be.”
Still for a player of Montero’s promise and his status as part of the foundation for the organization, it’s a significant change.
“We aren’t down on him,” Zduriencik said. “We aren’t disappointed in him. But it is a reality of a young player going to the big leagues at a young age with great expectations. All of the sudden you look up and you find out this is tough, this is the big leagues. So he comes down here to Tacoma and gets himself in the groove. He gets his swing back. And he fixes some things.”
This isn’t likely to be a brief stint in Triple A. Barring injury at the big league level, Montero will be there until figure things out offensively – it’s where his value is as a player. The Mariners aren’t looking for just numbers, but a process and approach that leads to numbers.
“There’s no time frame on how long this takes – it’s not in a month in from now, a week from now or three months from now, we are just going to let it play out,” Zduriencik said.
Also of note, Zduriencik - as he said in an interview on ESPN 710 - reiterated that Aaron Harang would likely make his next start with the Mariners despite his recent struggles. He isn’t ready to just discard a starting pitcher with major league experience particularly with uncertainty at the Triple A level. Bonderman didn’t look sharp at all on Thursday night, giving up eights runs on 11 hits in five innings to Nashville – the worst hitting team in the PCL. Hector Noesi is still Hector Noesi. Blake Beavan could be a serviceable option.