Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 4/19/15
Almonte Sent out, Lineup Shuffled Again Despite a relatively potent punch in Robinson Cano and Corey Hart batting in the 3 and 4 holes respectively, the Seattle Mariners have continued to struggle getting guys on base in front of those two guys consistently. Centerfielder Abraham Almonte, had been batting in the leadoff spot the vast majority of the time.  Late last week M’s skipper, LLoyd McClendon, dropped him in the lineup to the 9 hole due to his struggles.  A misplayed fly ball later and Abraham now finds himself back in AAA. A quick check of Almonte’s numbers and you can see that Abraham really left Lloyd McClendon no choice but to send him out.  In 27 games the switch-hitting centerfielder only managed to bat .198 (21-106) with a staggering 40 strikeouts. If you project that strikeout number for the year it means that Almonte was on pace to strikeout over 150 times on the season.  That’s just not something you can have in a leadoff guy. Does that mean the M’s are closing the door on their centerfielder of the future? I doubt it. Almonte only got 100 ABs this season.  He’s going to go down to AAA to find his swing again.  I suspect he’ll return before the season is out. Batting in the 2 hole has been an entire collection of guys this season for the M’s.   The names include Willie Bloomquist, Brad Miller, Stefen Romero, Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, and Michael Saunders. Michael Saunders is getting the nod Collectively, these guys have managed a .176 batting average on the season batting in the 2-hole.  That’s not exactly what you’d call “setting the table” for the heart of your order. The Changes With Almonte out it appears Michael Saunders is getting the nod in the leadoff role at the plate.  He’s led off the past 5 games since Almonte was demoted to the 9-hole and he has responded well with 10 hits in those 5 games raising his season average to .274. The Mariners have also recalled OF James Jones from Tacoma.  I’d look for Jones to get playing time in Center and Saunders in Right.  Saunders will see time in Center as well but I think Jones will be there more than Saunders will. Saunders seems to have a lock on the leadoff batting spot.  The struggle for the M’s will be to find a guy who can hit 2nd consistently and ideally who is NOT left handed given that Saunders bats from the left and Cano bats from the left.  I seriously doubt McClendon wants to start his lineup card with 3 straight lefties. That doesn’t leave a lot of names on the roster to consider.  Romero bats right handed but so far he has hit .167 while in the 2 spot.  The guy that deserves a shot is catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino is the only righty left on the roster who hasn’t had a shot at the 2 hole so, why not? Well, there a couple of reasons.  First of all, he’s a catcher which means he isn’t the greatest threat out there on the base paths which is something you normally want in the top part of your lineup. Second, while he’s been solid as a hitter so far for the M’s, he’s still an extremely young major league hitter.  In his entire major league career Zunino only has 250 ABs and thanks to a plethora of injuries at catcher in 2013 he only has a 100 more ABs in the minors than he does the show. Zunino barely has his feet wet as a pro ball player and he’s a starting catcher.  Dare the M’s further ramp up the pressure on their young catcher and ask him to bat in a much more important spot in the lineup? I say yes. Everything the Mariners have asked Zunino to do so far in his young career he has responded well to.  He came up before he was really ready and he has hit well anyway.  He’s been a gem behind the plate blocking pitches and managing the pitching staff too. Give the man a chance.  The M’s could hardly do worse than they have been.
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