Mariners manager Eric Wedge has spent the past three seasons running interference for his continually-rebuilding, often-losing ballclub.
He’s taken the shots, deflected the heat and stood fast in his pledge that the team’s youth, slimmed-down payrolls and last-place finishes would eventually lead somewhere better. But on Wednesday, realizing he’s been left to fend for himself in the court of public opinion, Wedge expressed frustration.
Wedge is disappointed at how the Mariners have remained silent about his contract status, effectively rendering him a lame duck in his own clubhouse.
“It’s tough,’’ Wedge said. “I feel like I’m hanging out there.’’
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Wedge made the comments when reporters asked him about his status before the Mariners defeated the Kansas City Royals, 6-0, at Safeco Field on Wednesday night. A crowd of 15,347 saw Hisashi Iwakuma close out a stellar sophomore campaign by allowing just four hits over eight scoreless innings, while Mike Zunino had a pair of homers and Michael Saunders added a solo blast.
Iwakuma finishes with a record of 14-6, a 2.66 earned-run average, 2192
3 innings pitched and a scoreless-innings streak of 23.
But Wedge is finishing on a much more somber note. He said the team’s refusal to address his status is making things awkward with young players he and his staff are trying to have discussions with about their future in the organization.
“It is difficult,’’ Wedge said. “We shouldn’t be in this situation. But you man up. You handle it. That’s what you do. When you’re leading men, the men want to know who and what they’re being led by and if they’re going to be around tomorrow. So, it does change the dynamic. But I knew that a long time ago. This has not just started. It’s been this way for quite a while and it gets to be in the way.’’
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik is coming back in 2014 and said Tuesday he’ll speak with Wedge and his staff right at season’s end. He’ll then make his decision on what will happen with the manager’s job.
Sources within the organization have said there’s been internal concern expressed about the stroke Wedge suffered in late July, causing him to miss a month in the dugout. Wedge said Wednesday that he feels great and his health should not be an issue at this stage.
“That would be unfair,’’ he said. “Because it’s been very clear to me from all the doctors that I’m going to be 100 percent. I’m going to have to get into the offseason and then I’ll be fine.’’
As far as the team’s poor record, just 70-89 this season and 212-271 since he took over in 2011, he said that’s the price to be paid when you keep going young.
“The big league club was in bad shape when I got here,’’ he said. “That was told to me directly. We righted the ship. We won six more games the first year. We shored-up our system and won eight more games last year. Came in here this year and felt like we were going to do better.
“Things changed in a hurry.’’
Injuries and nonperformance by key players Michael Morse, Jesus Montero, Franklin Gutierrez, Dustin Ackley, and Brendan Ryan helped devastate the team’s plans, primarily up the middle.
“That’s a quick change at key positions,’’ Wedge said. “So, you bring young kids up. So, you take a step backwards to move two steps forward and that’s what we did.’’
Wedge maintained that he still has confidence in the younger players the Mariners have now flooded their roster with, but said it’s unrealistic to expect them to win right away. He likes the direction the team is headed in and noted that the Mariners were winning at a good clip in July before his stroke.
“I still felt like, before I got sick, that we were ramping up,’’ he said. “If you look at what we were starting to do, some of the series we were playing and wins we were having, it was all coming together nicely. And then I got sick and was gone for a month. It’s not like I left marching orders. Robby (Thompson) and everybody did a great job, but the program was disrupted. It’s unfortunate and it’s been tough ever since.’’
That said, he feels the team acquitted itself well in September despite losing a number of close games to contenders. He understands the frustration of fans who point out the team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001 and is enduring a fourth consecutive losing season.
“I didn’t get here 12 years ago,’’ he said. “I didn’t get here six years ago. I got here less than three years ago. So, this is what we’re doing. This is what we’re committed to. And you’ve got to have strength. You’ve got to have conviction.’’
And right now, nobody is showing much commitment or conviction toward keeping Wedge. Despite the way his situation has been handled, he’d like to stay and remains passionate about the team and players he’s spent three seasons trying to “coach up’’ and meld into solid big leaguers.
“If somebody else is sitting in this seat tomorrow,’’ he said, “they’re going to be in a decent situation moving forward.’’
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @gbakermariners