The day after former closer J.J. Putz goes off on the team's chemistry, M's third baseman arrives at camp under a whirlwind of questions
PEORIA, Ariz. — It was hardly the reception Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre expected when he arrived at spring training a day ahead of his mandatory physical.
Beltre walked smack-dab into a firestorm over comments by former closer J.J. Putz on Sunday that the 2008 Mariners were beset by clubhouse tensions between “team players” and more individualistic ones. As one of the veteran leaders of the club, Beltre was asked to comment about Putz’s take.
“There were some things last year that … some players played differently than how we played and how you’re supposed to play,” Beltre said. “I cannot myself say that [they] are not team players, they might be. But I think probably, it was not the way that probably people should play the game. But it’s something that happened last year. I think this is a new year. We have to look forward and try to make it work.”
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Beltre was asked whether he could play a role in making it work.
“It’s not what I can do,” he said. “It’s whoever was the guys that didn’t play the game right that should join the other guys that want to play and want to do the little things to win.”
Beltre was asked for his definition of what it meant to play “the right way” in baseball.
“My understanding is, you do the little things,” he said. “If you have a man at second, you move him over. Give up the at-bat. If you’re losing by two or three runs, don’t go up there and hack. Because if you hit a home run, you’re still going to lose by a run.
“Play the situation game. If you know you’re winning by two or three runs and they have men at first and second and you’re sure the guy is going to score at home plate, don’t throw home because you can try to cut the other guy off. Just the little things you can.
“Take a walk if you need it. If you need a guy on base, bunt if you can run. Just the little things like that, where the team can see that you’re playing to help a team win. Not just numbers or your stats and stuff.”
Beltre insisted he did not have “an issue” with any player. Several team sources previously have indicated there have been tensions between Beltre and leadoff hitter Ichiro.
Putz indicated on Sunday that while he respected Ichiro’s hitting, he did not think the Japanese star was doing as much as he could in other areas. Beltre was asked whether he included Ichiro among those players not playing the game the right way.
“I don’t single out anybody,” he said. “You’re never going to hear that out of my mouth. I think that it’s wrong to single out your teammate. If I’m a good teammate, I’m going to support everybody here. Even if he is, or he’s not [playing the right way] I’m not going to tell you. Because I think that should be addressed in the clubhouse, not outside.”
Beltre added that he thought the media was blowing the clubhouse tensions out of proportion. Putz said on Sunday that he thought the tensions were a big deal and that the team would have a hard time moving forward unless “they hold everyone accountable equally, or some guys just get special treatment, like it’s been in the past.”
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said Monday that he was not caught off-guard by Putz’s comments. Wakamatsu said he had done his homework before interviewing for the job; he had spoken to players and knew of the clubhouse tensions.
When asked about any Beltre-Ichiro tension, he replied: “I’ve heard a lot of rumblings. Again, I don’t want to comment on anything in the past. There are a lot of new guys here. And I just want to focus on creating an environment where maybe we bring a lot of that favoritism closer to equality.”
He added: “When I get both those guys in camp, we’ll see if we have a problem. But for now, I don’t foresee anything.”
Wakamatsu said he had “a great conversation” with Beltre by phone in the offseason and that he’ll be looking toward veteran players to show leadership traits that younger ones can look up to.
Beltre said he still can’t understand why the 2008 Mariners, a team he thought could win the division, lost 101 games. He expects some personal improvement this year, coming off thumb surgery and anticipating playing pain-free for the first time in years.
He would dearly love to represent the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic but isn’t sure the Mariners want him there.
“I want to make sure that I’m good enough to play first,” he said. “I think I’m good enough to play. I’m always good enough to play. But I think they’re interested in my surgery and how it’s going to turn out. That’s understandable. … I haven’t really shown them how I can play, so it’s going to be an interesting week.”
It already has been.
• The Mariners finally reached agreement with No. 1 draft pick Josh Fields on Monday when he agreed to a $1.75 million signing bonus. Fields had been seeking $2 million, while the Mariners had been offering $1.5 million.
“I realized that there was a business to it and that to get things done was going to take some time,” said Fields, a reliever drafted last June out of the University of Georgia. Fields will be invited to major-league camp, but almost certainly will begin his career in the minors to make up for his inactivity most of the past year.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or email@example.com