3 things learned at the Cactus League

Sporting News’ Stan McNeal’s six-day stint in Arizona ended Thursday. Next up: an extended tour of the Florida’s Grapefruit League.

Jose Lopez really could end up at third base.

Jose Lopez might be able to hide his defensive liabilities better at third base.
Jose Lopez might be able to hide his defensive liabilities better at third base.

When the Mariners said they would give Jose Lopez some work at third base in spring training, I figured they were planning for in-season emergencies. Maybe not.

Now I’m thinking the Mariners would like to move Lopez to third because he would do less harm than he did at second (15 errors in 2009). Wherever he is, Lopez will be a defensive liability on a club built around defense and pitching. With first base occupied, third becomes the logical option. At third, Lopez wouldn’t need to range far to his left because the Mariners have Jack Wilson at shortstop.

For more than a week, Lopez has been playing third base and Chone Figgins second in Mariners’ infield drills. When the team began Cactus League play Wednesday, Lopez was at third and Figgins at second. General manager Jack Zduriencik said the club plans to keep them there for at least a couple of weeks, and then will talk seriously about a potential change.

The Mariners know Figgins can excel at second or third, and he said he is fine playing either. He doesn’t want to go back and forth, however, and wants to be sure Lopez is "happy" with the move. "If we’re comfortable, that’s good for the team," Figgins said.

Lopez is not yet comfortable at third but said he is working on it. The Mariners want Lopez somewhere in the lineup because he is their only projected regular other than Ken Griffey Jr. to hit more than 22 homers in a season.

Tim Lincecum rolls with the punches

To say Tim Lincecum had an eventful offseason would be like saying the Yankees have a lot of resources. He won his second NL Cy Young award, made headlines for possession of marijuana and signed a two-year, $23 million contract after making $650,000 in 2009.

After he struggled in his spring training debut Wednesday, I wasn’t sure how he’d handle his post-outing media scrum. Well, I was more than a little impressed.

First, Lincecum signed autographs for at least 15 minutes — no exaggeration, he must have signed 100. He was on one side of the fence and the hounds were on the other. For a while, no one from the team was present to orchestrate the event.

Lincecum was polite and patient as he pumped out the signatures. Then he turned around and saw a dozen media types. He answered all the questions — he really knows how to analyze his mechanics, too — and then sat smiling through a somewhat ridiculous interview with a Japanese TV station. "Tim, I know we asked you this last year, but how is your dog?" "Tim, could you write your motto (Roll with the Punches) on this whiteboard, then look at the camera and read it?"

It is difficult to imagine many players who would sit through such a session, much less a two-time Cy Young winner. Then Lincecum went out and did his running.

An aside: In the middle of his media session, Lincecum was properly awestruck when Ken Griffey Jr. interrupted to introduce himself as he was heading back to the Mariners’ clubhouse. Lincecum grew up in Seattle and never had met the all-time great Mariner. (This, by the way, said something about Griffey, too).

As for Lincecum’s struggles, he wasn’t concerned. He said his release point and his balance were off, which isn’t unusual for this time of year. He says he had the same problems last spring because his delivery has so many moving parts and takes awhile to get tuned properly.

Even so, he wouldn’t have given up three runs and been forced to throw 33 pitches in his lone inning if Aubrey Huff had handled a throw at first and not allowed Ichiro Suzuki to reach. Eric Byrnes added to Lincecum’s workload, too, by fouling off about six consecutive two-strike pitches. Lincecum eventually struck him out with a changeup. "Finally got one down," he said.

The A’s are going to run more often

Oakland’s days of waiting for three-run homers might be history. The A’s led the majors in stolen bases after the All-Star break last season, after ranking 14th in the first half. The more they ran, the more they scored. They finished fourth in the majors in runs after the break, compared to 25th in the first half.

They’re working on bunting, too. Rickey Henderson and bench coach Tye Waller had a few players, including Rajai Davis, out for early work Thursday. Davis had a .360 on-base percentage and stole 41 bases after Oakland picked him up off waivers last April. Henderson believes the speedster could steals 70 bases this season — if he gets on base often enough. Davis had only one bunt hit in 2009.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Sporting News’ Stan McNeal’s six-day stint in Arizona ended Thursday. Next up: an extended tour of the Florida’s Grapefruit League.

Jose Lopez really could end up at third base.

Jose Lopez might be able to hide his defensive liabilities better at third base.
Jose Lopez might be able to hide his defensive liabilities better at third base.

When the Mariners said they would give Jose Lopez some work at third base in spring training, I figured they were planning for in-season emergencies. Maybe not.

Now I’m thinking the Mariners would like to move Lopez to third because he would do less harm than he did at second (15 errors in 2009). Wherever he is, Lopez will be a defensive liability on a club built around defense and pitching. With first base occupied, third becomes the logical option. At third, Lopez wouldn’t need to range far to his left because the Mariners have Jack Wilson at shortstop.

For more than a week, Lopez has been playing third base and Chone Figgins second in Mariners’ infield drills. When the team began Cactus League play Wednesday, Lopez was at third and Figgins at second. General manager Jack Zduriencik said the club plans to keep them there for at least a couple of weeks, and then will talk seriously about a potential change.

The Mariners know Figgins can excel at second or third, and he said he is fine playing either. He doesn’t want to go back and forth, however, and wants to be sure Lopez is "happy" with the move. "If we’re comfortable, that’s good for the team," Figgins said.

Lopez is not yet comfortable at third but said he is working on it. The Mariners want Lopez somewhere in the lineup because he is their only projected regular other than Ken Griffey Jr. to hit more than 22 homers in a season.

Tim Lincecum rolls with the punches

To say Tim Lincecum had an eventful offseason would be like saying the Yankees have a lot of resources. He won his second NL Cy Young award, made headlines for possession of marijuana and signed a two-year, $23 million contract after making $650,000 in 2009.

After he struggled in his spring training debut Wednesday, I wasn’t sure how he’d handle his post-outing media scrum. Well, I was more than a little impressed.

First, Lincecum signed autographs for at least 15 minutes — no exaggeration, he must have signed 100. He was on one side of the fence and the hounds were on the other. For a while, no one from the team was present to orchestrate the event.

Lincecum was polite and patient as he pumped out the signatures. Then he turned around and saw a dozen media types. He answered all the questions — he really knows how to analyze his mechanics, too — and then sat smiling through a somewhat ridiculous interview with a Japanese TV station. "Tim, I know we asked you this last year, but how is your dog?" "Tim, could you write your motto (Roll with the Punches) on this whiteboard, then look at the camera and read it?"

It is difficult to imagine many players who would sit through such a session, much less a two-time Cy Young winner. Then Lincecum went out and did his running.

An aside: In the middle of his media session, Lincecum was properly awestruck when Ken Griffey Jr. interrupted to introduce himself as he was heading back to the Mariners’ clubhouse. Lincecum grew up in Seattle and never had met the all-time great Mariner. (This, by the way, said something about Griffey, too).

As for Lincecum’s struggles, he wasn’t concerned. He said his release point and his balance were off, which isn’t unusual for this time of year. He says he had the same problems last spring because his delivery has so many moving parts and takes awhile to get tuned properly.

Even so, he wouldn’t have given up three runs and been forced to throw 33 pitches in his lone inning if Aubrey Huff had handled a throw at first and not allowed Ichiro Suzuki to reach. Eric Byrnes added to Lincecum’s workload, too, by fouling off about six consecutive two-strike pitches. Lincecum eventually struck him out with a changeup. "Finally got one down," he said.

The A’s are going to run more often

Oakland’s days of waiting for three-run homers might be history. The A’s led the majors in stolen bases after the All-Star break last season, after ranking 14th in the first half. The more they ran, the more they scored. They finished fourth in the majors in runs after the break, compared to 25th in the first half.

They’re working on bunting, too. Rickey Henderson and bench coach Tye Waller had a few players, including Rajai Davis, out for early work Thursday. Davis had a .360 on-base percentage and stole 41 bases after Oakland picked him up off waivers last April. Henderson believes the speedster could steals 70 bases this season — if he gets on base often enough. Davis had only one bunt hit in 2009.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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