Lloyd McClendon remains a mystery. Sure, he had a rough stretch as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager in the early 2000’s, but that team was in serious rebuilding mode. He was a hitting coach for a team that sported the first triple crown winner in decades with 2 American League Championships to boot.
Then, on November 5th, 2013, Lloyd McClendon was named the new manager of the Seattle Mariners.
Fans weren’t necessarily thrilled about the hiring, but then again Seattle has yet to become a desirable destination for Major League managers. No one really knew what to expect from the second time skipper. Would he be a Sweet Lou: Throwing bases and turning cherry red and fighting for everything– important and unimportant– during the course of a game and a season? Or would he be like the resigned Eric Wedge: remaining quiet behind an array of facial hair stylings, twitching facially while making no decisive moves with the team?
Not a month into the season I can’t tell you exactly what kind of manager McClendon is.
The first week of Spring Training he vehemently defending Robinson Cano against accusations of being a lazy runner down the first base line on routine ground outs.
He named Dustin Ackley his leftfielder in Spring Training. Why? Because that’s where the skipper said he wanted him to play.
McClendon looked to be a player’s manager, defending his boys, giving them opportunities to play, and showing them the confidence and the patience they needed to succeed.
Then a few befuddling things started to rise to the surface. Abraham Almonte– a fast but unproven centerfielder– was given the leadoff role day one of Spring Training and holds it today, 25 days into the season. He didn’t hit during the spring, and is now tied with Justin Upton for the MLB lead in strikeouts. The MLB LEAD, from a leadoff hitter… yet there are no signs of McClendon moving the young, unproven player out of such a crucial position in the lineup.
Brad Miller, who handily won the shortstop job with a torrid spring, has been floundering during the season but remains in the 2-hole. He is striking out more than 25% of his at-bats.
And let’s not get started on the bullpen. McClendon has been treating Tom Wilhelmsen– affectionately called Choke by some– like a sure-fire thing and 8th inning setup man. Did he not watch film? Has he not seen scouting reports? Even the most casual of Mariners fans has seen the Bartender implode and lose all of his moxie and confidence over the last two seasons.
Why isn’t Danny Farquhar the 8th inning guy? Since when did he get relegated to a low-pressure situational reliever?
No, the injuries to the rotation aren’t McClendon’s fault, how could they be? (Unless…) However, he must have had a hand in putting Hector Noesi on the Opening Day 25-man roster. I don’t know what else needs to be said about that.
Even just a few days ago McClendon said he wanted to keep Ackley and catcher Mike Zunino at the bottom of the lineup for the whole season. Because he thought that was something they needed. Then, days later, he moved Ackley up to the 2-hole as if his previous words meant nothing.
What I can’t seem to figure out, is his game. His M.O. With a manager you want consistency– even if that consistency is Ozzie Guillen crazy. As long as you know what you’re getting.
But so far this season we, as Mariners fans, don’t know what we are getting. Is McClendon simply being cryptic while his plans and his influence are working their magic behind closed doors? Or is he lost and uncertain and unfit to be managing a rebuilding ballclub?
My best guess is that he falls somewhere in the middle. But after an 8-game losing streak, including 6 losses against two of the worst teams in baseball, I am not interested in playing the guessing game with McClendon’s approach.
Whether he knows what he’s doing or not, he better get his act together soon so the team can follow suit.
We knew this was going to be a brutal and formative April. And if it gets any worse from here, this team will be left for dead by the many fans who were so hopeful and excited after the first week of baseball.
But, hey, it’s a long long season.