With a .393 win percentage, the Mariners likely would have to play .600 baseball going forward to land a postseason spot. “We haven’t hit on all cylinders yet,” Zduriencik says.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jack Zduriencik stood in front of the visitors’ dugout at Angel Stadium. He’d watched reliever Tom Wilhelmsen throw a simulated game in his recovery from an elbow injury. He’d chatted with manager Lloyd McClendon and checked his constantly chirping cellphone at least 20 times.
It was a Wednesday afternoon filled with possibility.
But hours later from the opposing general manager suite, Zduriencik watched the team he’d constructed — one with postseason expectations — lose on a walkoff hit for the second consecutive night. It was the Mariners’ sixth loss in their past seven games, dropping them to 11-17 this season and in last place in the American League West.
Oakland @ Mariners, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
Even before Wednesday night’s loss, the slow start — which has included inconsistent play in all facets — was growing worrisome.
Though 134 games remain, the Mariners have yet to play up to their capabilities.
With a .393 win percentage, they likely would have to play .600 baseball going forward to land a postseason spot. It’s not impossible, but it would require more than the two- or three-game stretches of clean, competent baseball they have displayed. What if the Mariners hadn’t gotten the ridiculous offensive production of Nelson Cruz (14 home runs) and the 5-0 start from Felix Hernandez?
Zduriencik searched his mind trying to encompass his thoughts on the first 30 days of the season.
“I think you’ve seen some really good individual performances with Nelly being the player of the month and Felix pitching like a Cy Young winner right now,” he said. “We’ve got some guys off to slow starts. I think we’ve kicked ourselves a few times by some fundamental mistakes that we’ve made, whether it be running the bases or defensive issues. Clubs go through that. I have a lot confidence that this is a pretty good group. This is a pretty good team. They really believe they are good team. We haven’t hit on all cylinders yet.”
The Mariners aren’t alone in the category of projected playoff teams that are struggling. The Nationals — the consensus World Series pick — are 14-15 and in third place in the NL East. The Pirates, a favorite in the NL Central, are 13-15 and in fourth place. The Indians, a supposed contender in the AL Central, sit at 10-17 and last in their division.
But the errors of others don’t lessen the Mariners’ struggles.
“Nobody’s panicking,” Zduriencik said. “But you can look at the back of a guy’s baseball card, look at a guy’s history, look at a guy’s potential, bottom line, it’s still about performance.”
There have been issues throughout the roster. It’s why the Mariners have made changes in the past week.
By the numbers
Mariners’ record, last in AL West
Team batting average, 23rd in MLB
Team ERA, 22nd in MLB
Number of Mariners hitting .250 or lower (only three hitting better than .250)
“We’ll continue to look at anything we think will help us going forward, and I think what we did the other day will help us,” Zduriencik said.
One of those changes was moving Brad Miller from the starting-shortstop position to a utility role.
We aren’t pointing fingers. All players have to perform at some point in time, they have to figure out how to make that happen. They’ve got a lot of talent, so it’s about them performing.” - Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik
“You can make the argument he’s one of the best athletes on the club,” Zduriencik said. “There are a lot of things that Brad Miller can do. And one of them is hit. We think he’s going to be a really fine major-league hitter. But we have two guys that can play that position. In Brad’s case, we are just trying to do what we think is best for the ballclub. He did a nice job at shortstop, but he’s such a good athlete that his versatility serving this club at this point in time might be a really good thing for us, so that’s what we are looking for.”
The previous infielder to make a midseason switch to outfield for the Mariners was Dustin Ackley. The former No. 2 overall pick has gone from promising prospect to unexplainable enigma. Much like in 2014, Ackley is in an early-season slump.
“The hardest thing to ever figure out is when a talented player struggles,” Zduriencik said. “There are so many reasons why it happens. And sometimes they don’t’ even have the answers. But the thing is that you have to continue to play.
“It’s a six-month season, and you can’t give up, you can’t quit.”
Ackley is hitting .182 with a .580 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).
“He needs to figure it out,” Zduriencik said. “He needs to be a contributor to this ballclub. There’s nothing more that I want to see than him get it started immediately. There’s not a lot you can do. You can be patient and give him the opportunity to perform and hope his ability reaches the potential that we’ve seen in spurts, that we’ve seen in runs.”
And if not?
“There’s always a point when you have to look for alternatives, with anything in life, but you also have to be patient and realize that he’s trying as hard as anybody,” Zduriencik said.
There is plenty of individual blame to go around, but the slow start has been a collective failure.
“We aren’t pointing fingers,” Zduriencik said. “All players have to perform at some point in time, they have to figure out how to make that happen. They’ve got a lot of talent, so it’s about them performing.”