PEORIA, Ariz. –
For a manager, sitting down to make out the daily lineup isn’t quite as easy as it seems. He must consider who is healthy, who matches up well with the opponent’s starting pitcher, whether that pitcher is right- or left-handed and who is playing well.
Gone are the days of rolling out the same lineup and batting order.
It’s a process of constant experimentation or, as Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon calls it, “tinkering.”
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“Lineups change,” he said. “You try to put the best matchups you can out there. You try to put players in a position to be successful.”
But there is one aspect that won’t be difficult — writing “Robinson Cano” in the third spot of the batting order and going from there.
“Not much tinkering there in the No. 3 spot,” McClendon said with a chuckle.
Unlike his predecessors, McClendon can joke about that situation knowing he has one of the best hitters in the American League to put in that spot.
“Check the book. The numbers don’t lie,” McClendon said. “They stack up year in and year out. He has the ability to hit for power, hit for average, drive in runs. That’s what you want in a No. 3. It’s a combination of maturity and greatness. They see things a little different than most of us.”
Last season, Cano batted third in 110 games for the Yankees. He hit .319 with 29 doubles, 16 homers and 73 runs batted in with an .886 on-base plus slugging percentage in those games. He has hit third 179 games in his career, with a .307 batting average and an .864 OPS.
“We probably have the elite of the elite to put in that spot,” said Mariners hitting coach Howard Johnson.
That hasn’t been the case for the Mariners for almost a decade.
The last established, legitimate No. 3 hitter who was in the lineup on a daily basis and could produce like Cano was Edgar Martinez in 2001 (110 games) or Alex Rodriguez in 2000 (143 games). The last left-handed legitimate No. 3 hitter was Ken Griffey Jr., who appeared in 159 games at that spot in 1999.
“You want a guy in that spot that has power but can still hit for average, someone who can drive in runs and do more things with the bat,” Griffey said.
As Griffey pointed out, batting in the first three spots can mean anywhere from 50 to 75 more plate appearances in a season. Those can really matter.
“You want someone that can do something with those extra plate appearances,” he said.
It’s one of the reasons the Mariners were willing to give Cano a 10-year, $240 million contract.
“I’d just tell him to relax and not put too much pressure on himself,” Griffey said. “Sometimes people think you have to live up to that big contract. He got that money from what he did in the past. He just needs to be himself.”
Since those hallowed days of Griffey, Martinez and Rodriguez, a slew of managers have run through a cavalcade of players at the No. 3 spot, trying different types of hitters in hopes of finding production. It hasn’t happened.
They weren’t as good as Griffey or Martinez or Cano. But few players have their ability.
“It starts with talent,” McClendon said. “We can talk about a lot of things, but a legit No. 3 hitter in your lineup does a lot for you. And we have one. They haven’t had that in a long time here.”
Last season, manager Eric Wedge had five players start a game batting third. The year before, Wedge used six players. In 2011, Wedge tried seven. The last season in which the Mariners didn’t use at least four players in the No. 3 spot was 2005 when Raul Ibanez (89) and Adrian Beltre (53) split the duties. Since, the Mariners have used Jesus Montero, Jose Lopez, Jose Vidro, Kenji Johjima, Yuniesky Betancourt, Russell Branyan and Mike Sweeney, among others.
Not exactly inspiring.
The past two seasons, Kyle Seager has made the most appearances batting third. Last season he batted third 93 times, hitting .221 with 11 homers and 39 RBI with just a .660 OPS in those games. In 2012, he hit third 70 times, hitting .250 with eight homers, 31 RBI and a .709 OPS.
“You have to be very disciplined,” Seager said. “That’s going to be one of those positions in the order where you are going to get pitched differently. If you are ahead in the count, it’s not just a guaranteed fastball right there. They’re going to definitely make you work.”
Yes, Seager has been the team’s best hitter the past two seasons. But it was unfair for a player with less than three full seasons to be thrust into that role.
“I think it was a good experience for me,” Seager said.
It will be different with Cano. He’s an experienced and feared hitter. He understands how to hit in that spot. He’s had success.
“When you mature, you play the game, you learn the situations, you know when they are going to walk you and pitch around you, pitch you away, pitch you in,” Cano said. “I’ve been playing this game eight, nine years. I have an idea of what they are trying to do to me.”
|Mariners’ No. 3 hitters|
|Robinson Cano will step into the role as the Mariners’ No. 3 hitter. It was a job handled in Hall of Fame style during Ken Griffey Jr.’s first tour with the Mariners. A look at the player used most often in the No. 3 spot in the order each year by the Mariners (stats are for the entire season, not just the games the player hit No. 3):|
|1990||Ken Griffey Jr.||597||.300||22||80|
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish