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Tom Verducci
March 27, 2000
They're trying on a new look made for their new park—and trying to forget Junior
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March 27, 2000

1 Seattle Mariners

They're trying on a new look made for their new park—and trying to forget Junior

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by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

1999 record: 79-83 (third in AL West)

Batting average

.269 (10)

Opponents' batting average

.287 (13)

Runs scored

859 (6)

ERA

5.24 (13)

Home runs

244 (1)

Fielding percentage

.981 (8)

The mariners had not opened a training camp without Ken Griffey Jr. since manager Dick Williams was wearing (thank goodness) the uniform. So it was a bizarre moment ripe with coincidence when the team dressed for its first full' workout this spring that Junior, courtesy of a taped cable interview, appeared on the two clubhouse TVs in full view of everyone. That wasn't as odd as the Mariners' reactions: No one paid attention. Players tied their shoelaces, pounded their gloves and scratched themselves as if Griffey wasn't there. Which is precisely the point.

"Time will tell," lefthander Jamie Moyer says about how quickly the Mariners will get over trading their franchise player. "Obviously we'll miss his bat and his defense. But we've improved in other areas."

Says shortstop Alex Rodriguez, "We've got 10, 11 new guys here, so we're still getting to know each other. If we had the same ball club back, it would be a lot harder to get over Junior not being here. These guys never played with him."

The Mariners' makeover began in the second half of last season. It wasn't just that Griffey, his thoughts often drifting to his future whereabouts, wasn't his usual dominating self. ( Griffey hit .255 after the All-Star break.) It was also that the move from the Kingdome to airy, spacious Safeco Field made for a different brand of baseball, like comparing Arena football to the NFL.

In 42 games at Safeco compared with the previous 39 at the Kingdome, runs, homers and doubles all dropped by more than 35%. The Mariners still led the league in home runs for a second straight season—with bubkes to show for it again—but learned they can't try to pound opponents with the long ball when they play half their games in a big park with cool, damp air. It's a stadium that favors pitching and defense.

"One of my first games there, I gave up a hit into the gap and thought, That's an easy double," Moyer says. "But unless you just crush the ball, it won't go through the gap. It was a single. I really saw the effect on our young pitchers. It's like they got to Safeco and relaxed. It showed."

Rookies pitched 43% of Seattle's innings last season. The best of them, righthander Freddy Garcia, won 17 games and could be even better with a full season outdoors. He was 6-4 with a 5.54 ERA in the Kingdome and 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA at Safeco.

Seattle has Garcia and righty Aaron Sele behind Moyer in the rotation—all have won 17 games or more at one time in the majors—as well as lefty John Halama and righties Brett Tomko and Gil Meche, who has all the tools, including a 97-mph heater, to be a No. 1 starter. "I love Freddy," Rodriguez says, "but Meche can be even better. Wow, his stuff is amazing."

In previous seasons Seattle likely would have rushed 6'10" lefthander Ryan Anderson to the big leagues. "Now we can let him pitch in the minors and call him when he's ready," manager Lou Piniella says of the 20-year-old, who was the team's top draft choice in 1997. That time could be in July.

New general manager Pat Gillick signed free agents Arthur Rhodes, a lefty, and Kazuhiro Sasaki, a righty, to fortify the bullpen. Righthander Jose Mesa, who is expected to lose his closer's job to Sasaki eventually, tied the franchise record last year with 33 saves, but in doing so he underscored the vapidity of the save stat: Only seven times did he hold a one-run lead.

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