Seattle Mariners interim manager Robby Thompson just isn’t manager material.
Now I don’t know a thing about Thompson other than that he is the team’s bench coach under normal circumstances, but with skipper Eric Wedge recovering from what doctors are now saying is a mild stroke, managerial duties were granted to Thompson.
The interim manager was given the lineup that Wedge had drawn up for Monday’s game before he was taken to the hospital, and Thompson wisely used the same lineup on Tuesday. But based on the squad that was put out on the field Wednesday afternoon at Safeco Field, you wouldn’t think Thompson had a clue that his team was in the middle of a potentially season-changing winning streak.
Thompson rolled out a lineup that was missing three starters who have played crucial roles in the team’s win streak (Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Raul Ibanez), and in their places were three reserves (Jason Bay, Endy Chavez, Henry Blanco) who combined to sport an anemic .235 batting average.
Like clockwork, the trio of reserves combined to go 0-for-10 on Wednesday.
As if that didn’t put Seattle at enough of a disadvantage, Thompson pulled starter Joe Saunders with two outs in the fifth inning after his pitcher allowed two batters to reach base with Seattle trailing 4-1.
Pulling Saunders wasn’t the bad move. The bad move was who Thompson chose to relieve his starter. Hector Noesi, who owns a career 4-15 record and a 5.31 ERA, entered the game and promptly walked the first batter he faced before giving up a grand slam to the Cleveland Indians‘ Michael Bourn to give them an 8-1 lead. It was just Bourn’s 24th home run of his seven-year career.
Cleveland went on to win the game 10-1, snapping the Mariners’ eight-game win streak.
These are the kind of decisions that get managers fired. Or in Thompson’s case, never hired as an actual manager.
How Thompson could bench three starters during an eight-game win streak is beyond me. And if you are going to hinder your offense by resting three starters, how about holding off until Thursday when your All-Star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma is on the mound against the Minnesota Twins, a much less potent offense than that of the Indians?
How he could call on his mop-up long reliever in a three-run game in the fifth is equally bewildering. Now it’s possible that Thompson had talked to Wedge earlier in the day and may have had a say in the lineup changes, but not an in-game decision like this pitching change. This one falls squarely on Thompson.
Look, I’m not saying the outcome of Wednesday’s game would have been any different if Thompson hadn’t tinkered with the lineup or Noesi had been left in the bullpen. The win streak would have probably ended today anyway, as the six everyday starters that were in the lineup managed just two total hits while the inconsistent Joe Saunders was due for a bad outing.
But if you’re a Mariners fan like me, wouldn’t you have wanted the M’s streak to end with the same fully-loaded lineup that got them to this point?
The recent news that Wedge won’t be with the team for at least another week means Thompson will be at the helm for another seven or eight pivotal games. Thompson has found himself essentially auditioning for clubs that may be looking for a new skipper at the season’s end, including these Mariners.
He has an opportunity here to not just show the rest of baseball that it’s not just the Mariners that are evolving from a perennial basement-dweller into a competitive team, but that he himself is growing from bench coach into manager material.
His decisions on Wednesday may have shown that he’s still far from the latter.