Lineup stability Mariners' greatest priority

Lineup stability Mariners' greatest priority

Lineup stability Mariners' greatest priority
SEATTLE -- With a young roster lacking an established middle-of-the-order veteran slugger, the Mariners knew there'd be some growing pains this season.

But as Seattle heads into the second half after hitting the All-Star break with a 36-51 record, it will continue looking for more growth and less pain as players like Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero complete their first full Major League seasons.

Club breakdowns
First-half highlights

"This second half is going to be the time to determine if your season was good or bad," said the 22-year-old Montero, one of Seattle's numerous young pieces of a puzzle that is still being put together. "It's not how you start, it's how you end. That's how I think. So I'm just going to keep working hard and do a better job as a hitter and catcher, too."

The Mariners have seen successful spurts from all their young players, but the roller-coaster ride has had more dips than hoped for in a first half that ended Sunday with a 2-1, 13-inning loss in Oakland that summarized the offensive frustrations.

"You have to be honest with what has and hasn't happened here," manager Eric Wedge said. "And obviously from an offensive standpoint, that's the No. 1 area we've got to get better and be more consistent.

"They've got to come back ready to be a much better and more balanced ballclub in the second half."

The Mariners hit just .195 in 41 games at Safeco Field prior to the All-Star break, but have been among the better American League teams in batting average, home runs and scoring on the road. In addition to solving that riddle, Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik are looking at the second half as an opportunity to establish exactly which players are going to be part of the future.

This second half doesn't figure to be quite as much of a constant roster audition as Wedge underwent in his first year in Seattle, but the skipper acknowledged some growing frustration in the last few days and said change could come if the team decides some of the youngsters need time in Triple-A to regain their confidence.

First-half awards
MVP: KYLE SEAGER Leads the Mariners with 52 RBIs and 21 doubles and ranks second with 10 HRs while playing a strong third base in first full season.
Cy Young: FELIX HERNANDEZ Three-time All-Star doing his thing again as one of MLB's premier aces.
Rookie: LUCAS LUETGE Pleasant surprise as a Rule 5 Draft pick who quickly emerged as a shutdown lefty specialist.
Top reliever: TOM WILHELMSEN Moved into closer's role in June and has been rock solid all year.

"I've got some thoughts, and Jack and I have been talking," Wedge said. "Ultimately, whatever we decide to do -- if anything -- we're doing it for the right reasons and not just being emotional about it. We've got a strong vision for what type of club we want to be and we'll keep working to get to that."

Zduriencik feels the bullpen has been one area that has solidified itself with the emergence of Tom Wilhelmsen in the closing role and left-handed setup men Charlie Furbush and Rule 5 rookie Lucas Luetge.

"That's been fabulous," Zduriencik said. "Other guys have done a nice job there, too, even Oliver Perez coming in and doing what he's done lately. We're going to be able to add to that as well. We've got some nice pieces we like in our Minor League system. Stephen Pryor could be part of that and a few other guys, so that's a really good thing."

Zduriencik is also optimistic about rookie starter Erasmo Ramirez and the group of young pitching prospects in the Minors being able to fill out the rotation behind All-Star Felix Hernandez and veteran lefty Jason Vargas in the future. But the big question remains an offense that struggled mightily at Safeco Field in the first half after showing signs of progress on the road.

Players to watch in second half
JESUS MONTERO Key offseason acquisition has had just one RBI since June 1.
DUSTIN ACKLEY One of baseball's top young talents looking to live up to billing after slow start.
FRANKLIN GUTIERREZ Was just beginning to look like his old self again when concussion knocked him out.

"We've been happy with what Michael Saunders has done," Zduriencik said. "I think Montero has been probably what you'd expect from a rookie. He's been up and down. I think Seager has had the same. He's been good and some streaks where he's been real good, but it's still a learning experience.

"We're happy with what Casper Wells has done since he's come back. I still think some of these other guys -- like [Justin] Smoak and Ackley -- are going to have to work a little and come through this thing. This is the big leagues and they get it every day now. But they're talented kids and we'll see as we move forward."

Injuries to Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez haven't helped the offensive production, but both could be back soon. Gutierrez is expected back shortly after the All-Star break after a concussion short-circuited his return from a torn pectoral muscle.

Carp has begun a 20-day rehab stint in Tacoma as he returns a second time from a shoulder injury that occurred on Opening Day and is focusing now on playing first base and designated hitter.

"It's unfortunate what happened with Guti because it looked like he'd come back and was a nice fit for us, giving us the right-handed bat we needed and obviously the experience and defense that he brings to the table," Zduriencik said. "You'd like to get him and Carp healthy.

"And I'd like to see all these guys continue to build. Now that they've been in the big leagues, a lot of these guys, for one full season, now they have a chance to continue to grow. They're together now, they're a team and you'd like to see them come back out in the second half ready to prove a point."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.