The struggling Mariners named former Seattle star Edgar Martinez as the team’s hitting coach Saturday, replacing Howard Johnson.
The greatest hitter in Mariners history has been asked to fix the worst-hitting team in baseball.
On Saturday afternoon, the organization announced that Edgar Martinez had been named the major-league hitting coach, while Howard Johnson, who had served in that capacity for the last two seasons, was being reassigned to a minor-league position.
“For the last three years, I’ve wanted to get back into the game, obviously I wanted to do it with the Mariners because I played my whole career with them,” Martinez said. “I do think this is the right time. I haven’t seen so much talent on the Mariners for a long time. I think we have the right talent, the right manager and coaching staff. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Edgar Martinez bio
MLB career: 2,247 hits and a career .312 batting average in 18 seasons, all with the Mariners.
Notable: Hit the winning double in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS vs. the Yankees at the Kingdome. ... Is the Mariners’ all-time leader in games played (2,055), extra-base hits (838), doubles (514), RBI (1,261), walks (1,283), runs (1,219) and total bases (3,718).
The opportunity came as the Mariners slog their way through yet another anemic offensive season, despite roster additions that were intended to improve that area.
“It just wasn’t happening for us,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said in small news conference before Saturday’s game at Safeco Field. “I think if you look at the numbers alone, that explains it.”
Looking at those numbers should come with a required warning. They rank somewhere between abysmal and absurd.
As a team, the Mariners have a .233 batting average that ranks 30th, or last, in the majors. They are averaging 3.36 runs, which is last in the American League. Their batting average of .213 with runners in scoring position was also the worst in the AL. It doesn’t stop there. Seattle also has the second-worst on-base percentage (.295) and slugging percentage (.375) and the second-most strikeouts (559) in the AL.
“We were disappointed in how the offense was performing,” Zdurienick said. “We all clearly believe that this is a better offensive club than what we were producing.”
The additions of Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith and recently Mark Trumbo were expected to supplement Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Austin Jackson and Logan Morrison while players like Brad Miller, Dustin Ackley and Mike Zunino were supposed to show continued growth as hitters.
Instead, there has been massive failure. And it cost Johnson his job. Zduriencik met with McClendon about the need for a change, and they agreed upon it.
“HoJo is a good friend of mine and it’s a very difficult thing to do to sit across the table and tell a friend of yours that you are changing his life in a certain way,” McClendon said. “That’s never any fun. The fact is we haven’t performed up to our capabilities probably for a season and a half. I certainly think this club is better than what it has shown from an offensive standpoint.”
It’s how it works in baseball and lately for the Mariners — players don’t produce, the hitting coach loses his job.
“It’s unfortunate that a good man lost his job,” said Willie Bloomquist. “He worked extremely hard with us and was great at what he did. Based on our performance or lack thereof, it’s why he’s gone. From a player’s standpoint, I take that personally and I think the rest of the hitters should as well. Someone lost their job because we weren’t performing they way are supposed to.”
So now Martinez becomes the sixth hitting coach in Zduriencik’s seven-year tenure. Can he succeed where so many others apparently “failed?”
“I think you look at Edgar’s history and how he became the hitter he became and the things he had to do, I think he has a unique insight into the intricacies of hitting,” Zduriencik said. “I think his demeanor will have a real calming effect on our ballclub. I think it’s the right time to be here.”
McClendon has talked hitting with Martinez on numerous occasions in the past. He found some shared beliefs.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” McClendon said. “I think we share some of the same philosophies, particularly the mental side, the positive aspects of hitting that we like to convey. In my talks, I think he’s going to be right on to what we need.”
Martinez, 52, has never been a full-time hitting coach on any level. He’s served as special instructor at spring training and has worked extensively with minor-league players. But the obligations needed to be a full-time coach was something he couldn’t commit to after retiring from playing in 2005.
“I knew at some point I wanted to get back into the game,” Martinez said. “In 2005, on opening day, I had a baby in my arms watching the game. Now it’s the right time. I really missed the game over all those years. I’m excited about being part of the organization again.”
Though his experience as a hitting coach may be limited, his résumé as a hitter is impeccable. Martinez had a lifetime batting average of .312 to with go with a .933 OPS with 309 home runs and 1,261 runs batted in. He won American League batting titles in 1992 and 1995. Major League Baseball re-named the Designated Hitter of the Year Award the Edgar Martinez Award.
“Guys around here certainly know who Edgar Martinez is, and we are going to listen to what he has to say,” Bloomquist said.
Martinez didn’t waste any time getting started. Before meeting with the media, he spent a half-hour in the cage working with catcher Mike Zunino.
“I went down there to get some early work in, and he was down there,” Zunino said. “He explained what he liked to do, and he explained his thought process on hitting and how much he likes working off the tee to fine-tune your swing and develop a repetitive swing. We did 20 minutes off a tee with him putting a baseball in places I didn’t think I could get to and hit line drives off them. It was pretty good, and I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Andy Van Slyke, who served as assistant hitting coach to Johnson, will no longer work in that role and focus only on outfield coaching. McClendon admitted that the hitting coach position is so time-consuming that an assistant is needed. But the plan is to let Martinez have full voice over that aspect initially to build a foundation.
“I want to allow him to get his footprint,” McClendon said. “As we move forward, he’ll certainly get some help in that respect. Maybe it’s just someone doing the soft tossing for him. It is a very demanding job, and in some respects you need an assistant. As we move forward, we’ll make that decision.”