Mariners Insider

Zduriencik puts struggling Mariners on notice: `Guys aren’t on scholarship’

Post by Bob Dutton / The News Tribune on May 7, 2015 at 1:16 pm with 8 Comments »
May 7, 2015 1:16 pm
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik (shown here earlier this year in a news conference) has a simple message for his struggling club: "If you’re underperforming, you’d better figure out why." (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik (shown here earlier this year in a news conference) has a simple message for his struggling club: “If you’re underperforming, you’d better figure out why.” (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

How early is too late?

That question gnaws at Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik as he watches his club, a trendy preseason pick as a World Series contender, free-fall its way through the season’s opening weeks.

Zduriencik doesn’t hold to the game’s long-held protocol that a club must play 40 or 50 games in order to make any legitimate overall assessment.

“I just think it’s an ongoing evaluation,” he said. “I’ll look at 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 games. It’s always ongoing to figure out exactly where you’re at, and what your club is doing.”

And, yes, Zduriencik has concerns after watching a club he still views as having postseason-level talent lurch along at 11-17 while settling into last place in the American League West Division.

What’s gone wrong?

“I even said in the wintertime,” Zduriencik recalled, “that as high as the expectations were, it’s really all about players producing. So no matter what your history is, you have to come out and live up to your potential.”

And that’s just not happening.

It’s hard to identify anyone beyond long-time staff ace Felix Hernandez and right fielder Nelson Cruz, the club’s big off-season acquisition, playing at or above anticipated levels.

The Mariners, despite adding Cruz, rank 13th among the 15 American League clubs in scoring. A pitching staff that led the league last year with a 3.17 ERA currently ranks 10th with a 4.31 mark.

And a bullpen that last season protected slim leads with fierce tenacity is currently cratering with three walk-off losses in the last seven games.

The growing debate is this: Are the Mariners simply laboring through a tough stretch? Or are they experiencing a very mean regression to the norm after last season’s surprising success.

“We’ve proved that we can perform,” Zduriencik asserted. “A year ago, our pitching was very good. Some of those guys aren’t performing to that level.

“We’ve added to our offense (in the off-season), but some guys have started a little bit slow. All right. That’s understandable. I think you have to be patient and understand that happens.”

But that patience is fraying quickly.

The Mariners shook up their underperforming bullpen earlier in the week by demoting Yoervis Medina and Tyler Olson to Triple-A Tacoma. They also recalled Chris Taylor to replace Brad Miller as the starting shortstop.

“We made a couple of moves the other day,” Zduriencik said, “because we thought they were the right thing to do at the time. And we’ll continue to look at it.”

Trades are possible. So is a further use of the Tacoma shuttle.

“You always have to have your antennae up,” Zduriencik said, “but what I’d like for this club to do is for these players to get better, for these players to perform.”

“If you’re underperforming, you’d better figure out why. It’s a nice club. I don’t think anybody disagrees, but there have been parts of it that have let us down. It’s time to tighten the belt, and let’s get rolling.”

Make no mistake: Zduriencik is putting this on the players. Figure it out, and figure it out soon, or expect further changes.

“I still believe this is a good ballclub,” he said, “and I do think we’re going to get it turned around. But we’ve said this for a long time: Guys aren’t on scholarship. Guys have to produce.

“If you believe you’re a good ballclub, and I think these players believe they are, then you have to produce.”

 

PLANS FOR HULTZEN

Danny Hultzen
Danny Hultzen

The go-slow plan with left-hander Danny Hultzen, a former first-round pick, isn’t likely to change any time soon in his recovery from major shoulder surgery.

Hultzen worked 3 1/3 innings for Double-A Jackson on May 1 and, after skipping a cycle, is tentatively scheduled to pitch again May 11 for the Generals vs. Biloxi.

“I still want to be cautious,” Zduriencik said. “We’re not going to rush him. We’re not going to push him. He won’t go more than four innings for a little bit.

“We may even decide to have him only go three (innings) a couple of times just to get him into a routine on the mound.”

Hultzen’s outing on May 1 was his first in a real game since pitching two innings on Sept. 1, 2013 for Triple-A Tacoma. He underwent surgery a month later.

“That was a big test,” Zduriencik said. “He had to evaluate himself in a different environment from when he was throwing against instructional league kids or minor-leaguers in spring training.”

Hultzen, 25, was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft and was 14-8 with a 2.82 ERA in 32 minor-league starts prior to undergoing surgery. But he’s pitched just 39 innings since Sept. 3, 2012.

“When he feels good,” Zduriencik said, “he may be able to take it and run with it for a while. We’re not pushing it. We’re not trying to amp it up. There’s no time frame on it. What happens, happens.”

The Mariners’ goal all along has been to get Hultzen as healthy as possible for 2016 — in large part because he will be out of options. That means he can’t be sent back to the minors without clearing waivers.

 

Tom Paciorek's 1981 Topps baseball card.
Tom Paciorek’s 1981 Topps baseball card.

LOOKING BACK

It was 34 years ago Friday — May 8, 1981 — that Tom Paciorek hit the first of his walk-off homers on successive nights that powered the Mariners to victories over the New York Yankees at the Kingdome.

Paciorek’s first walk-off winner came while leading off the ninth inning against Rudy May and produced a 3-2 victory.

One night later, he hit a three-run shot with two outs against Ron Davis in a 6-5 victory in front of a crowd of 51,903 on Bat Night.

 

 

 

SHORT HOPS

The Angels’ successive walk-off victories Tuesday and Wednesday marked the first time they accomplished that since May 29-30, 2010 — yep, against the Mariners…Only two of the Mariners’ 28 games have been decided by more than three runs. Both were losses started by Taijuan Walker…The Mariners have suffered five walk-off losses, which is tied with Pittsburgh for the most in the majors.

 

ON TAP

The Mariners open a nine-game homestand at 7:10 p.m. Friday with a tough assignment in the first of three weekend games against Oakland at Safeco Field: A’s ace Sonny Gray (4-0, 1.67).

Right-hander Taijuan Walker (1-3, 8.74) will start for the Mariners. You can see the game on Root Sports and hear it on 710 ESPN.

 

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. Coach81 says:

    A solid start by Walker tonight would be a nice sign of things turning around. Not holding my breath. How long until Iwakuma is back?

    If Miller is going to be a super utility guy moving forward, then Dustin Ackley no longer has a place on this team. Miller and Weeks can platoon in LF, and when Jackson comes back, Ruggiano and Smith can go back to platooning in RF, and Cruz can DH at least 50% of the time. No matter what anyone says, he is not an above-average outfielder.

    When Wilhelmsen comes back, either Leone or Farquhar heads back to Tacoma.

    If Mike Zunino can’t get it going with the bat then his defensive ability doesn’t matter. Backup catcher are supposed to be elit defenders. Starting catchers need to hit their weight, at a minimum.

  2. Rex97443 says:

    What a clown. If he’s gauging this years performance solely on what happened last year then it’s time to get another gm who is willing to embrace some analytics to actually project what might happen in the future. So what’s he going to do, seriously? He won’t get anything of value for his underperforming players. Trade Zunino? Don’t think so. Ackley? He might get a low level prospect at best, the only advantage to that is roster flexibility, since Ackley is out of options. These are his drafted and acquired players that aren’t doing the job, so maybe the first move should be bringing in someone else to gm this thing.

  3. quilcene says:

    What about Smith? Carson has given up two games in the last week- they are out of focus- is this the same BP coach we had last year? Mike Rijos- the pen looks out of focus, and or, Zunino isn’t calling the right pitch’s if they are leaving it up to him.

    Something isn’t right.

  4. quilcene says:

    There is a long list of GM’s who would have drafted Ackley and Zunino had we not- most likely in the pick right after ours.

  5. alaskafan says:

    Zduriencik has failed, the Mariners aren’t going anywhere. Another sad season. Cruz has been great.

  6. Rex97443 says:

    I know others would have drafted Ackley and Zunino, but you have to wonder if some of the problem was rushing them up like the m’s did, especially Zunino. He’s got bad habits at the plate now.

  7. Rex is spot on.
    Zunino spent parts of 2 seasons in the minors, and hit .227 at AAA before being promoted to the majors.
    Yadier Molina, who came up as a defensive catcher, spent parts of 4 seasons in the minors, and hit .302 at AAA before being promoted to the majors.
    Buster Posey, as high as draft pick as Zunino, spent parts of 3 seasons in the minors, and hit .310 at AAA before being promoted to the majors. However, he hit just .118. He was returned to AAA at the start of 2010, where he hit .349 before being called up again.
    Zunino and Ackley may have talent, but the M’s have no process to develop it.

  8. “If he’s gauging this years performance solely on what happened last year then it’s time to get another gm who is willing to embrace some analytics to actually project what might happen in the future. So what’s he going to do, seriously?”

    There are no statistics to gage future performance, analytics or traditional or anything else. All you can do is look at past performance and if it was good, hope it carries on into the future, or if it was bad, hope there is somehow some improvement that takes place.

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