View From the Other Side: Mariner Questions for Jon Shields of Lookout Landing

Otto Greule Jr

The Blue Jays start a 3 game series with the Seattle Mariners tonight.

The Seattle Mariners are having the same sort of start to the season that we are, but of course, they weren't picked to win the World Series.

What they do have is two good starting pitchers, and we get to see both of them, Felix Hernandez (3-2,1.90) tonight and Hisashi Iwakuma (2-1, 1.67). Joe Saunders, starting the last game, hasn't been as good, 2-3, 5.25.

I sent some questions to Jon Shields of Lookout Landing, SB Nations terrific Mariners' site, and here are his answers:

We really could use some middle infield help, how does Brendan Ryan look on defense? He's not hitting at all, is there reason to believe he'll start hitting, at least a little bit? Would the Mariners be looking to trade him?

Brendan Ryan could be on the trade block soon if he isn't already. He's already lost his status as an everyday shortstop as manager Eric Wedge has begun giving more and more playing time to utility infielder Robert Andino, and prospects Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are doing well in the high minors.

Ryan's defense has been a little shaky in the early going as he has flubbed several plays that he usually makes, but he still appears to be capable of being the dynamic fielder he's always been. Offense has continued to be the problem.

This season Ryan is drawing walks but cannot square a ball up to save his life. He's the king of the foul ball and popup, just a fraction of an inch away from being a very good hitter. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe he'll close that gap at age 31. He hit just .194 last season and his line since 2010 is just .219/.287/.292. Ryan's defense can be good enough to deserve a starting role on a bad team, but his spot in the batting order can't be seen as anything other than a black hole.

You've got two Canadians Michael Sanders and Jason Bay, how are they looking?

Michael Saunders spent some time on the disabled list after spraining his shoulder in a collision with the right field wall, but has been otherwise fantastic. Mariner fans had high hopes for him after he resurrected his career in 2012, and now he's establishing himself as one of the most well-rounded players on the team, hitting .286/.333/.500 with good defense and savvy baserunning. Most everyone had written "The Condor" off by 2011, but now he's one of the most celebrated members of the team.

Speaking of writing someone off, many Mariner fans disliked the Jason Bay signing and were flummoxed by their decision to carry him instead of Casper Wells, but Bay has rebounded nicely from a nightmarish stretch with the Mets. The 34-year-old has seen more time than expected due to injuries to the entire Opening Day outfield and used his opportunity to win people over with quality at bats, a .276/.368/.431 line and solid defense. He's not the offensive star he was with the Pirates and Red Sox, but he appears to be a plenty-capable part-time outfielder.

Who's been your biggest surprise? Biggest disappointment?

The Mariners haven't had many pleasant surprises so far this season, so it might have to be Jason Bay. Other than him, continued production from Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager and Hisashi Iwakuma has also been a welcome sight in their "prove it" seasons, but none are catching us completely off guard considering their 2012 performances.

One of the bigger disappointments for the club has to be health derailing the seasons of three of their most important offensive contributors-- Michael Morse, Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders. Morse missed three games after fracturing his pinky but probably should have missed more as he looked hopeless for 10 games following his return; he is just now starting to get back to where he was pre-injury. Gutierrez appeared to finally have a slew of health issues behind him before going down yet again, killing any remaining hope fans might have had that he could finally get back to his 2009-level production.

These injuries didn't blow up the season, but they took the wind out of the sails and helped lead many fans to write off 2013 much earlier than expected.

The trio of former super prospects Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero and Dustin Ackley have also disappointed once again. Smoak (still) looks toast, though Montero and Ackley closed April strong and still inspire a sliver of hope, even if they haven't come close to living up to expectations.

Who is your closer? Do Mariner fans have confidence in him?

Tom Wilhelmsen wrestled the job away from Brandon League last season and is doing well in the closer's role. His command within the strikezone isn't usually on point, but he gets away with it due to a mid-high-90s fastball and gif-worthy curveball. The Mariners haven't had many 9th inning leads to protect in recent years so the ability of the closer has been the least of fans' worries, but Wilhelmsen inspires as much confidence as anyone since J.J. Putz's heyday.

Regardless of his ability to "shut the door," fans love Wilhelmsen for his happy-go-lucky personality and his interesting backstory, which saw him leave baseball for five years before getting a tryout with the Mariners. Wilhelmsen was employed mixing drinks at the time of his tryout and the nickname "The Bartender" has stuck. It especially works now that he's a closer (cue "Closing Time" by Semisonic).

What's going on with Dustin Ackley? When he came up he looked like he was going to be a star, now he's got a .559 OPS.

Ackley looked great in his rookie season before grinding to a halt in 2012. Many expected a big bounceback this season but he looked as bad as ever out of the gate. Ackley's swing has developed in such a way that he is constantly bailing out, cutting off any ability to reach the outside corner. Going back to 2012, he's been a groundout-to-second machine. His lauded batting eye has also gotten him into trouble. It seems as though he has yet to realize that the rulebook strikezone doesn't always match up with the umpire's strikezone, as he's constantly taking borderline pitches for strikes, displaying a disgusted look on his face, and then battling from behind in the count.

Ackley has the physical tools, is an asset in the field, and appears to have an idea of what he's doing at the plate, so I have more confidence in him figuring it out than I do in Smoak and Montero.

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