M's quiet bats could mean season starts with a distant thud

So far in spring training, Seattle batters have hit a soft patch.
So far in spring training, Seattle batters have hit a soft patch.

Seattle bats have been clattering as the Mariners move toward the final week of spring training. The racket, however, has less to do with ball contact than the sound you hear when a batter throws his weapon back into the rack unused.

The from-night-one announcer Dave Niehaus, an optimist by necessity given a franchise that didn't post a winning season until its 15th year, refers to "batters" as "hitters," which is only true part of the time. Such was the case Wednesday (March 24), when the M's managed just four hits in 32 at-bats, a .125 clip during a 2-1 loss to San Diego.

Four solid extra-base gappers by regulars? Actually, two of the four came from backup catchers not expected to be on the opening-day roster. A third was courtesy of a pitcher, which might be a useful outcome if the M's played in the National League, where pitchers bat (or "hit," as Niehaus prefers).

The only base hit from an everyday player (or at least those days and nights when he isn't ejected, as he has been twice this spring) came from Milton Bradley.

Spring batting averages of presumed first-game starters include a few good omens. Bradley (left field) is hitting .296; Casey Kotchman (first base) is at .342, and Jose Lopez (third base) is .275. Ichiro, a slow starter during past seasons, is hitting .255 but the right-fielder is the least of team worries. Center-fielder Franklin Gutierrez, with a conspicuous add-on of muscle this season, is hitting just .212, same as second-baseman Chone Figgins. Ken Griffey Jr., the designated hitter, is not . . . hitting much, with four in 24 at-bats.

Fans no doubt imagine that the 8-12 M's will start to show better plate performance as the squad is pared down and the April 5 opener approaches. A slow start on offense could be a disaster given that the first 10 games are against division competition.

More foreboding is the fact that the initial seven outings are on the road, seldom promising territory for Seattle batters, much less Seattle hitters.


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