A large part of Eric Wedge's appeal to the Mariners was that he had already been where they wanted to go. And this juncture is precisely...
OAKLAND, Calif. — A large part of Eric Wedge’s appeal to the Mariners was that he had already been where they wanted to go. And this juncture is precisely when it took off in Cleveland: the third year of a massive rebuild.
Are the Mariners, in Wedge’s third Seattle season, poised for a similar resurgence as the Indians, who came within one game of the World Series in 2007?
Wedge isn’t ready to go there, not two games into the season, pleasant though they’ve been. But I would be surprised not to see a different manager this year as he pushes toward the breakthrough — harder driving, more aggressive, less tolerant of youthful mistakes. The signs are already there.
“The feeling that’s been created this spring and coming into the season is the feeling that he’s been trying to get from us the last few years, and that’s an expectation to compete and win,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan.
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Wedge has been unwavering in his declarations that the Mariners are heading toward sustained championship play. He’s still singing that tune, though by now fans might be having the same visceral reaction as the 83rd time they heard “Call Me Maybe” on the radio. Until that sentiment is translated into actual victories, they are just words.
“It’s as strong as ever, no doubt about it,” Wedge said of his belief in the Mariners’ blueprint before his team won its second straight game, 7-1 over Oakland. “I don’t have any doubts whatsoever. But I know you have to stick to your program. I guess that’s why I don’t have any doubts, because I can have a bit of control on that. I want to make sure everyone sticks to their guns, keeps doing what they need to be doing, and wins will take care of themselves. But you’ve got to stick to it.”
This has to be the year “the program” yields tangible results, or those declarations will ring hollow. That doesn’t have to mean a championship, but at the end of this season, the Mariners should have pushed beyond the .500 mark (particularly with 19 games against the Astros) and left no doubt that they are positioned to contend strongly in 2014.
I believe Wedge is the right man for the Mariners, who since Lou Piniella left have meandered through manager after manager, none of them able to develop any stability. Just look in the home dugout in Oakland to see Bob Melvin, who was ousted after two seasons with the Mariners — one of which yielded 93 wins — and now is fresh off his second Manager of the Year award.
I’ve always felt that the most important part of a manager’s job is setting the right tone and fostering a cohesive clubhouse. You can quibble with how a lineup is formulated, but studies have shown that batting order doesn’t matter much. You can second-guess strategy, but virtually every manager follows the same tenets. You can question talent evaluation, but that is often an organizational consensus.
No, what a manager must do, ultimately, is get his players to play (admittedly easier when the talent is plentiful). And when a team is building itself up from the ruins Wedge inherited, there are elements of patience, nurturing and “tough love” that are essential to the process. This aspect of the job is where Wedge has stood out.
“One of the things he talks about a lot is trying to get the players to believe as much as he does,” said Kelly Shoppach, who was with Wedge during the Cleveland turnaround. “His intensity and his passion are unwavering.”
“He just handles himself the way a leader should,” Ryan added. “We all respect that about him, and we all want to do well by him.”
Wedge acknowledges the variables are different this year. Young players like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero are no longer wide-eyed rookies, their growing pains to be patiently tolerated. Veterans have been brought in to hasten the growth. And the manager is ready to ask for more.
“You want to be patient, and yet you want to be patient and aggressive at the same time,” he said. “You just can’t be all one or all the other right now. Early on, you can be all patient, and you’ve got to be a little less aggressive. Then you ramp it up a little more and keep going with it. But you still have to make sure your club is in a relaxed, attentive state to where they can go out and perform in kind of a stress-free environment.”
It’s a fine line. It’s called managing. And for Eric Wedge, this is the year that he program must prove that his unflinching faith is well placed.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org