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Original Issue

3 Seattle Mariners Same old story: Hitters to spare, but hurting on the mound with no relief in sight

On the day of the Mariners' Fan Fest at their training site in
Peoria, Ariz., booths were set up in the stands so groups of
players could sign autographs between practice drills. In an
especially cruel bit of scheduling the Mariners pitchers put
down their gloves and picked up their pens just as centerfielder
Ken Griffey Jr. and shortstop Alex Rodriguez started taking
their batting practice cuts. Thus, the pitching staff was
largely ignored as fans who'd lined up for autographs turned
their backs on lefthander Jeff Fassero and his mates to gape at
the power display by the Seattle superstars.

That neatly sums up the choice presented to Mariners faithful in
recent seasons: Would you rather watch Fassero serve up a gopher
ball, or watch Griffey rip one? The disparity between Seattle's
offensive prowess and its often-offensive pitching has been, and
will most likely continue to be, the team's fatal flaw. The
Mariners finished nine games under .500 last season despite
leading the majors with 234 homers. With a staff ERA of 4.93,
Seattle was 9-49 in games in which it scored three runs or less
and had fewer saves (31) than every other American League team
except Tampa Bay (28).

"Our lineup is packed with unbelievable power and
punch--unfortunately that's not what wins games," says catcher
Dan Wilson. "Our downfall in the past has been our pitching. So
it would be a huge lift for this team if we can get our pitchers
to take charge this year and do a little more."

The lineup features Griffey (56 homers in '98); Rodriguez (42
homers and 46 stolen bases to become, at 23, the third 40-40 man
in baseball history); designated hitter Edgar Martinez (100 RBIs
for a team-record fourth straight season and named the league's
top DH for the third time in four years); and rightfielder Jay
Buhner (15 homers in 72 games despite spending two months on the
disabled list with an injury to the patellar tendon in his left
knee). With a crew like that, the Mariners' pitching staff needs
to be only average for the team to have a shot at the West
Division crown.

Manager Lou Piniella says this is the most talented group of
every-day players he's had in his 12-year managerial career, and
that includes his 1990 Reds team that won the World Series.
Consequently, he is not alarmed that nobody is picking his team
to win the division. "Most people will pick us to finish third,
and that's understandable," Piniella says. "But I'll tell you,
we're not going to finish third. We're going to finish on top.
We don't want to just move into a new park [SAFECO Field, which
is scheduled to open on July 15]. We want to move into a new
park as a first-place team."

To accomplish that, the Mariners will not only have to improve
their pitching, but their fielding as well. They committed 125
errors last year (85 before the All-Star break), the
third-highest total in the American League, including a
league-worst 32 by third baseman Russ Davis, who during the
off-season went through a rigorous regimen boxers use to improve
their footwork.

But the worst news is that the team doesn't have a No. 1 starter
to replace the departed Randy Johnson. The top two candidates
are Fassero, who was 13-12 last year but is throwing his
split-fingered fastball without pain following off-season
surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow, and righthander
Jamie Moyer, who has a superb changeup and excellent control (42
walks in 234 1/3 innings). Both, however, are 36. After Fassero
and Moyer, Seattle's starting rotation gets cloudy, as in Ken
Cloude, who had the highest ERA (6.37) of any major league
pitcher with more than 150 innings of work last year.

To bolster a bullpen that blew 21 saves last year, the Mariners
signed closer Jose Mesa, who hasn't dominated hitters since
blowing Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with the Indians.
Seattle officials, though, believe Mesa will benefit from a
change of scenery; last year the 32-year-old righthander had a
7.02 ERA at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, but a 2.98 ERA elsewhere.
Mark Leiter, who saved 23 games for the Phillies in '98, gives
Piniella another closer option. "If the bullpen can hold its
own--and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't--this team will
do well," says Leiter, who also blew 12 save chances in '98. "If
the pitching improves, how could anyone look at this team and
think it's not going to do some damage?"

If the pitching doesn't get better, the damage could be
permanent. Griffey and Rodriguez will be free agents after the
2000 season, and both have said that they won't re-sign with
Seattle unless the club demonstrates a serious commitment to
building a World Series contender. Which means bringing in a
pitcher as good as, say, the Big Unit.

Griffey finished his workout early on the day of the Fan Fest in
Peoria. As he made his way off the field, he stopped to
high-five Moyer's young sons, Dillon and Hutton, who were
waiting for their father. Then he turned to the Mariners'
pitchers, who were running sprints, and yelled, "Goodbye
pitchers, y'all can keep working at it, but I'm outta here."

One day soon, that could be the refrain that will haunt Seattle
for years.


COLOR PHOTO: RON VESELY The front office is key to the Mariners' future: If moves aren't made to turn the team into a contender, stars Rodriguez (right) and Griffey could leave the club.


By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 76-85 (third in AL West)

HOME RUNS 234 (1)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .273 (7)
ERA 4.93 (11)
FIELDING PCT. .979 (12)

Roaring Twenties

On Sept. 25, 1998, at age 28 years and 10 months, Ken Griffey
Jr. became the youngest player to accumulate 350 career home
runs. At 29, Griffey has 52 more homers than Hank Aaron, the
alltime leader, had at that age, and 112 more than Babe Ruth had
at 29. Griffey needs 30 homers this season to set the major
league record for most home runs before turning 30; that mark is
held by Jimmie Foxx. Griffey already has more homers than Aaron
had at 30.


Ken Griffey Jr. 350* ? ?
Jimmie Foxx 343 379 534
Eddie Mathews 338 370 512
Mickey Mantle 320 374 536
Mel Ott 306 342 511


Juan Gonzalez 301* ? ?
Hank Aaron 298 342 755
Frank Robinson 287 314 586
Harmon Killebrew 285 311 573
Ralph Kiner 257 294 369

*Total entering the 1999 season. Griffey turns 30 on Nov. 21;
Gonzalez on Oct. 16.

Next Up...

Second baseman Carlos Guillen made a splash with the Mariners
last summer after being obtained from the Astros as part of the
Randy Johnson trade. The 23-year-old switch-hitter was batting
.333 in 39 at bats when he tripped over a sprinkler head on
Sept. 17 at Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum and suffered a
season-ending injury to his left knee. Seattle believes the
speedy, slick-fielding Guillen--who says he is fully recovered
from off-season surgery--will solve two chronic Mariners
weaknesses: the lack of a true leadoff hitter and poor defense
at second base, where the team hasn't had a skilled gloveman
since Harold Reynolds in the early '90s.

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Lou Piniella (seventh season with Seattle)


2B Carlos Guillen (R)* S-R 138 .279 13 55 4
SS Alex Rodriguez R 1 .310 42 124 46
CF Ken Griffey Jr. L 4 .284 56 146 20
DH Edgar Martinez R 36 .322 29 102 1
1B David Segui S-L 75 .305 19 84 3
RF Jay Buhner R 85 .242 15 45 0
LF Butch Huskey[1] R 155 .252 13 59 7
3B Russ Davis R 147 .259 20 82 4
C Dan Wilson R 179 .252 9 44 2


OF John Mabry[1] L-R 282 .249 9 46 0
C Tom Lampkin[1] L-R 299 .231 6 28 3
IF David Bell[#] R 302 .273 10 49 0
OF Matt Mieske[1] R 337 .299 1 12 0


LH Jamie Moyer 42 15 9 6.9 1.18 3.53
LH Jeff Fassero 79 13 12 7.0 1.29 3.97
RH Ken Cloude 185 8 10 5.2 1.72 6.37
LH John Halama (R) 187 1 1 5.4 1.55 5.85
RH Freddy Garcia (R)* 223 4 1 6.7 1.23 3.64


RH Jose Mesa[1][#] 107 8 7 1 1.52 4.57
RH Mark Leiter[1] 152 7 5 23 1.29 3.55
RH Jose Paniagua 236 2 0 1 0.91 2.05
RH Bobby Ayala 322 1 10 8 1.67 7.29
RH Mac Suzuki 337 1 2 0 1.86 7.18
RH Bill Swift 259 11 9 0 1.62 5.85

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per
inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154) *Triple
A stats [#]Combined AL and NL stats