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Seattle general manager Hal Keller has made some bad trades (see Caudill, Bill) and no one has ever accused him of being a workaholic, except when it comes to crossword puzzles. Keller, who was farm director for the Mariners from 1979 until he became G.M. in 1983, is responsible for Seattle's having the class of the American League rookies last year in first baseman Alvin Davis and pitcher Mark Langston.
Davis, last year's AL Rookie of the Year (27 homers, 116 RBIs, .284), will be at first, and Dave Henderson, who hit .353 in the second half of '84, will be in center, but the other positions are fill-in-the-blanks—at least until Keller's kids grow up. Last month, as Keller watched the Mariners play the Angels, he pondered both the future of his club and 97 Across (10 letters, clue: "R & R for sailors"). "Players like Harold Reynolds, Darnell Coles, Jim Presley and Ivan Calderon have proven their credentials at the minor league level," says Keller, filling in PUGET SOUND, "and at some point shortly we have to make up our minds who will be Mariners for some number of years." Directly above PUGET SOUND, he filled in 89 Across (six letters, clue: "Apex") with APOGEE.
The best scramble for a job occurred at second base, where Reynolds, 24, tried without success to take away the starting spot from 30-year-old Jack Perconte, who blossomed as a lead-off man last year (.294, 93 runs, 29 stolen bases). Reynolds has better hands and range than Perconte and is a proven lead-off hitter himself (.296, 94 runs, 37 stolen bases at Salt Lake City in '84).
"Coming in, I knew Jack was going to play somewhere in the big leagues," Reynolds says. "With me just getting started, I had to show I could play and maybe force a trade for Jack, or force them to trade me." Reynolds hit .270 throughout the spring to Perconte's .273. Perconte was rumored to be going to Baltimore for a pitcher, but nothing materialized.
At third, the battle pitted Coles, 22, who was handed the job a year ago only to injure his left wrist, against Presley, 23, who replaced him in June and hit 10 homers, six of them in September. Presley won the job outright in the exhibitions, but that fight may not yet be over. Calderon, 23, who hit .365 at Salt Lake City last season, will back up veteran Al Cowens in rightfield for the time being. Left will be shared by the useful Barry Bonnell and the swift Phil Bradley. As for the DH, the Mariners are hoping dearly for a comeback from once fearsome Gorman Thomas.
All the different choices don't bother new manager Chuck Cottier, a light-hitting infielder in his playing days. "It's not just nine guys playing 162 games," says Cottier. "If it was, then I'd be selling newspapers."
There were few spots available on the pitching staff, though. Olympian Billy Swift, who impressed everyone with his slider and control, couldn't break into the starting rotation. The Mariners are counting on improvements from starters Matt Young and Mike Moore. Moore (7-17, 4.97 ERA) must learn to throw more than a fastball, while Young (6-8, 5.72) needs a healthier body. Last week he was briefly hospitalized with a ruptured blood vessel in his esophagus. Young was so troubled by back and finger miseries in '84 that he changed his license plate from STRYKK to ICEDARM.
Langston, who was 17-10 and led the league in strikeouts with 204, was also first in walks (118), as was the team (619). Result: a license plate that reads NO WALKS. Seattle had one string of 41 innings this spring in which its pitchers gave up only two passes. In eight years, the apogee of baseball's Puget Sounders is 76 wins, in 1982. Anything above that this year would be a SUCCESS.
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