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December 6, 2006

Mike Hargrove


Q. Assuming you haven't had a chance to play with the lineup?
MIKE HARGROVE: I really haven't. To an extent, I did a little bit last night but not anything that I'll be ready to talk about. You know, there's time for that. We're really focused right now on trying to improve our rotation, and that's been pretty much where the energy has been.

Q. Have you played with your rotation as it is now?
MIKE HARGROVE: Not for very long.

Q. If the season started today, who your rotation would be, it's kind of tough to come up with, right?
MIKE HARGROVE: Well, I mean, yeah. The way it is right now -- and there's no reason to -- there really is no reason to even name that because I'll be shocked if it's not different. We've got Hernandez and Washburn and Baek and Woods and Feierabend, Pineiro, and we'll see where it goes from there.

Q. Are you pretty sure Pineiro will be back?
MIKE HARGROVE: I'm going to let you ask Bill that.

Q. Is Felix ready to become the ace of the staff?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think he's -- you know, yeah, I think he could be. I think the fact that he's 20 years old maybe precludes that from happening anytime soon. He certainly has the stuff for it. The way he finished the season last year, points in that direction.
We've been in contact with Felix, especially the last probably ten days, quite a bit, and I talked to Chávie, he had talked to him a couple times and he was working out, working hard. His weight is down, he's really -- maybe even more importantly, mentally he's really pointing to the start of the season having a good year, and a lot of times when guys that have that level of ability and talent, obviously the mental side of the equation is probably the most important, and he seems to be ready to come in and have a good year. So that's good. So can he be the No. 1? His talent says he can.

Q. What are his limitations?
MIKE HARGROVE: Bill and I haven't really talked about that. I think he ended up with 203 innings, somewhere in there. We were trying to hold him around 200, and that includes Spring Training innings. That will be increased. How much? 210, 215 probably.

Q. Did you have a sense that Adrian really more or less kind of turned the corner in the second half last year? How important was that move in the lineup up to No. 2 for him and what did we see in the second half?
MIKE HARGROVE: Yeah, I think that Adrian -- it looked like he really started buying into what he had been working on since Spring Training, really since last winter. You know, he's a much more efficient hitter. You know, he didn't swing at pitches out of the strike zone nearly as often, used the whole field, drove the ball to right center field more consistently than he had. All those are things that him and Jeff worked on. His power numbers were pretty consistent with what he had done the year before.
You know, I think as far as the move in the lineup, did it help? The numbers say it did. Is that just coincidence? I don't know. A lot of times where a person hits in the lineup, if he's comfortable with that or excited about that, then that kind of translates into better production.
You know, he did a good job for us. Really, especially the second half, that was good to see. Hopefully he can come into Spring Training and do that from day one.

Q. We talked about the improvement that you guys made year to year last season. What's the biggest difference between a team jumping from let's say 70 to 80 wins and then jumping from 80 to 90 wins?
MIKE HARGROVE: What's going to be the biggest difference?

Q. Yeah.
MIKE HARGROVE: I think that being able to assemble a starting rotation that will give us innings and take the pressure off our bullpen some. We feel like with J.J. we have one of the best closers in the game obviously. Given that we've got the people to get to J.J. with Mateo and Sherrill and looks like John Huber may fit that bill for us and Soriano and Mark Lowe when he gets back healthy, we feel real good about that.
But the whole truism that defensive pitching wins in the big leagues holds true, and defensively we think that we're good. We just need to improve our starting rotation and get more consistent, good outings and innings from them. If we do that, with the addition again to help our offense, that should make us better. How much better, we'll see.
You know, we're excited about what's gone on so far.

Q. Forgive me if this is old news, but is Ichiro your center fielder going into the season?
MIKE HARGROVE: Going into the season, yeah.

Q. How much of a difference does that make for you, having him in center instead of having him in right?
MIKE HARGROVE: I don't necessarily understand what you're asking.

Q. Does it give you more options and does it free up your --
MIKE HARGROVE: Well, it gives us a chance to bring a bigger bat like Guillen into the fold, which I think makes a big impact on the club, so it does that. I think we're real fortunate that Ichiro can play right field and be a Gold Glove and play center field and be a Gold Glove there, too. And with his offense he makes us better no matter where he plays.
But I think that him playing center field really showcases his abilities because he went a long way in both directions last year when he played center field to make plays on balls. It gives us another big arm out there. Guillen has got -- obviously coming back off the surgery, but we feel like his arm will be sound, and if it's like it was, that gives us a big arm in center and a big arm in right, which can only help.

Q. There's been a lot of talk about Sexson, maybe being traded, maybe not. Assuming that he's here, what do you need to see from him in terms of improvement? I know he struck out a lot last year.
MIKE HARGROVE: Richie ended up with 32, 33 homeruns, over 100 runs? His run production was awfully good. Obviously you'd like to see him hit 40 and drive in 160 and hit .300, but we just need Richie to do what he does, and if he does that, then we're fine. Richie has always been a high strikeout guy, we knew that when we got him.
It seemed like the last half of the year, and I'd have to look at the numbers, but it seems like the last month, month and a half of the season he struck out less, and I know that the strikeouts bother him. I know that he doesn't like that, which is to his credit because there are a lot of big power hitters that don't care about strikeouts. Richie does, so that's good.
But what improvement do we need to see out of him? We just need to see him do what he does. His average years are pretty decent offensive years.

Q. This time last year one of the questions was about clubhouse leadership and veterans. Are you still looking for that?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think everybody still looks for that. That kind of begs the question which comes first, the egg or the chicken. You know, you get into a winning atmosphere or a winning mode and you see leaders start to emerge more readily and easily than they do just going in and saying, okay, we want you to be a leader in this clubhouse. I think that we have several leaders in the club and in the clubhouse, and as time has gone on, they've emerged more and more. We've been able to identify the guys that really are those guys.

Q. Is it more difficult to have a leader with so many different nationalities in a clubhouse?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think that's a legitimate question. I think the one common theme is they all play baseball and they all want to win. No matter what language you speak or no matter what culture you're from, you still can lead by example or whether it's a more out-in-front kind of leader. But I don't think culture and language -- once they get with each other and once they get used to each other, I don't think that that has an impact as much as you might think.

Q. You guys didn't take an awful lot of walks last year as hitters. How much of that contributed in your mind to your struggles at times offensively? Is it reasonable to think that young players like Betancourt and Lopez will eventually gain a keener eye as they get older? Is that typically what you've seen?
MIKE HARGROVE: You know, personally, my style, the way I play and the way I would like to see it, I personally believe that hitters that hit deep in the count are more productive and better hitters. But there are certain hitters that don't have the ability to hit deep in the count, and they don't. And they don't have the plan to hit deep in the count.
You take Ichiro -- I'm not saying they don't have the ability to hit deep in the count, but his average on first pitches is phenomenal. I say, Ichiro, I want you deep in the count and I want you walking more, and now all of a sudden instead of hitting .350 he hits .310. He's less productive because he's trying to get deep in the count and he's passing up pitches that normally he swings and hits hard and is productive with.
I think -- can younger players become those type of hitters? Yeah, they can. I don't know that Betancourt or Lopez are those types of guys. You know, I don't. Is it important that they hit deep in the count? Not if they are productive otherwise. But if it's not, yeah, it is important.
You know, taking a lot of pitches -- the one thing about taking a lot of pitches and getting a lot of walks, you take pitches and you end up running up the pitch count with a pitcher where he has 120 pitches by the sixth, seventh inning and you're into the bullpen and in most clubs their bullpen is a lot less effective than their starting pitchers, especially taking pitches early in the ballgame. I'm not going to sit here and say I want all our guys to hit deep in the count and see a minimum of four pitches or five pitches per at-bat. I'm just not going to do that because sometimes it doesn't fit the style of those individuals.

Q. It's a little unfair because you don't know what your roster is going to be exactly going into Spring Training, but what jobs do you see open?
MIKE HARGROVE: You know, that's a real difficult question to answer right now. I think once we leave here and get closer to Spring Training, we'll have a better idea, but I don't -- I can't answer that with any certainty right now.

Q. You put Johjima in the third spot at the end of the season. Do you consider starting next season with a lineup with Johjima in the middle?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think Johjima proved to everybody that he is a middle-of-the-order hitter. Jo was our best hitter batting average-wise with runners in scoring position, and I think that deserves a look at hitting in the middle of the order.
Now, it's easy to say that sitting here on December the 6th. You know, it depends on how the club settles in, who we're able to bring in and the different types of hitters. But Jo is certainly an important part of our offense, and he did a good job for us offensively. He did a good job defensively. He did a good job as he got used to the American game, and he became one of the better catchers in the American League.

Q. You talked about the walks with Lopez and Betancourt, but defensively, what did they learn last year, and do they have a chance to become more of an elite shortstop and second baseman?
MIKE HARGROVE: What did they learn last year? I think that they learned how to play 162 games. I think they learned how to play from February through September. Now we've just got to get them to learn how to play into October. Every young player has to learn that.
You know, given their ages, Betancourt is 24, Lopez is 22, 23, they're still real young guys, and as we went along during the season, especially with Betancourt, we saw lapses defensively, and they were mental lapses. What he got to, he caught. He's awfully, awfully good defensively. But there were times when he would let down mentally and get himself into a bad position fielding a ball and not make the play that we know and he knows that he can. But those are things that they both can do to improve.
Obviously we would like to see Lopey have better range, and as he gets used to playing second base we'll see that more. But yeah, I think they have a chance to be real special.

Q. Could either one of those guys be No. 2?
MIKE HARGROVE: They could be. I would say sitting here right today probably Lopez more so than Betancourt, but please don't write that in indelible ink. Lopez started out the season hitting 2 and did a good job for us.

Q. He drove in a lot of runs in the first two months. Is he an RBI guy?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think what we saw as much as anything is Lopey get tired mentally as the season wore along, and that gets back to my previous answer about learning to play on an everyday basis for 162 games. Can he drive it? Yeah, Lopey is a good offensive player and has the potential to be even better.

Q. Your bullpen suffered a lot of fatalities at the end of the season. What are the reports that you're getting? I know Lowe might be back again at the start, but what are you hearing on Soriano?
MIKE HARGROVE: Soriano is fine. He's throwing in the Dominican. I think he has six or seven more outings, but he's throwing fine. He has no negative effects from the concussion; he's over that. He's not showing any signs of being a little gun-shy on the mound, which is good. We wanted to get that out of the way as early as we could. Mateo is fine and throwing over in the Dominican. Everybody is fine. Sean Green I believe is going down to Puerto Rico. In fact, I think he went down the 1st of December to Rafael Chávez' ballclub and he's going to pitch there so he's over his pull. Everybody is fine as far as I know.

Q. We talked about José Guillen the other day and you said everybody deserves a chance to have a fresh start. But your team has invested a considerable amount of money for a guy who's onto his eighth team in nine seasons. I wonder what type of homework the organization did on him just to convince you that you guys could succeed where other teams haven't succeeded?
MIKE HARGROVE: Called and talked to a lot of people. To get an extensive answer in that regard, you'd need to ask Bill that question because they have done that. I plan on calling Frank Robinson at some point and talking to him because José enjoyed playing for Frank. We talked to a lot of people that were either with José last year or had been with him in the past, and to a man they've said that the guy is a good player and that when he's healthy and things -- he could be real special offensively. That didn't even speak for his defense, which we feel is good, too.
There was nothing there to make us really shy away from him. You know, in sitting down and talking to him, Bill met with him -- I don't remember when it was. He recently had dinner with him and came away favorably impressed. Again, Bill can answer this better than I can. I know the conversation I had with him when he was in town I think it was Sunday, I had probably a 30-, 45-minute private conversation with him.
It's easy to say all the right things, it really is. You sit down and it's easy to say the right things. But a lot of times people lie with their eyes, and he didn't do that. I got no sense of that. So I think he's real committed to having a good year and helping this ballclub be as good as it can be.
The homework was done. If that was the thrust of your question, the homework was done. Yeah, there was extensive work in that regard.

Q. I figured there would be since you're the guy who has to deal with him?
MIKE HARGROVE: Oh, yeah, pretty much. I'm looking forward to it, I am.

Q. Has there ever been an instance where you had to tell a general manager, "I don't want this guy"?
MIKE HARGROVE: Sure. He doesn't listen to me very often (laughter). There have been times where I said, "What were you thinking?"

Q. How confident are you in the front office's ability to give you the rotation you need? You've been part of the discussions and you've had your input. Nothing has happened yet. Do you think it will happen?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think it will happen, yes. You know, I think that our people do as good a job as anybody I've been around in evaluating talent and in expending the effort to apply that talent. Given this market, everybody is kind of scratching their head and wondering where it's going to go and still trying to do the right thing. But I'm confident something will happen, yes.

Q. Is Seattle a tough sell now after three losing seasons?
MIKE HARGROVE: No. I think that people see what we've got going on and the direction it's going, and so no, it's not a tough sell at all. Plus the city and the stadium help.
You know, the people in baseball can see the progress that's been made and the progress that is being made, and so no, it's not a tough sell at all.

Q. One guy we haven't mentioned here at all today is Raul. He's a left fielder but he was also --
MIKE HARGROVE: Unless you can play left field.

Q. You don't want to see that, you really don't. Where does he fit, 3, 4, 5? You moved him around some where you needed him to be.
MIKE HARGROVE: You know, he hit third last year, he hit fourth last year. He hit fourth most of the time. I don't necessarily see moving him a whole lot away from where he was last year. Is he a 4 hitter? He was last year. The lineup seemed to work better with him hitting there than hitting fifth behind Richie. Like I said, I really have not played with the lineup that much to give you a definitive answer. But I can say that Raul will be hitting somewhere in the middle of the order.

Q. Is Guillen a possible cleanup bat?
MIKE HARGROVE: Guillen, no. As we sit here now, I really haven't thought of him that way.

Q. You like to take a lineup and put it out there. Getting Guillen is sort of -- he's a guy you can put right in the lineup every day. Is he your type of guy in that sense?
MIKE HARGROVE: Yes, I believe that when people know the roles and the roles are defined and you stay with that, they have the best chance to be productive. I think that sometimes you get to playing with a lineup too much and moving people around, you hit third two days and then the next day you're hitting seventh and then the next day hitting second, I think that takes away a person's ability to absolutely totally concentrate on what they're trying to do on the field.
Having said that, I don't mind moving the lineup around, but if I had my preferences, my preference would be to make out a lineup and have that lineup play in that spot 80, 85 percent of the time. I think they have a better chance to be productive that way.

Q. This is probably the first time in four or five years that you have the same hitting coach coming back. What impact do you think that will have?
MIKE HARGROVE: First of all, I think Jeff Pentland is very good at what he does. No matter what your reputation is in other places, you really -- it's not necessarily a sell job, you just have to -- the players need to see what it is you're teaching and how you teach it and how consistent you are with it to buy into it.
And I think that that's what we saw a lot with Jeff this year. As we went along, we saw certain players getting better offensively, they had better swings, better approaches at the plate, had a better idea of how to hit certain pitchers, and I think that had a lot to do with Jeff's teaching and his preparation.
So what impact does that have? I think that it will only get better and more consistent with Jeff coming back. There's a lot of things that he's started that take time, and it's a continuation of that that I think will be the right thing.

Q. Kenji showed no signs of wearing down the second half of last year. We've talked about how he hit with runners in scoring position after the break. Were you satisfied that you were able to get him enough time off? You talked about that early in the year and it looks like you made a conscious effort to do more of that. Would you like to give him a little more break?
MIKE HARGROVE: I think given his choice, he'd play every game, every inning. That's what he wants to do. I think that's admirable, I really do.
I think early in the season, there are enough off days and there are enough rainouts that giving a guy a day off like a Sunday day game after a Saturday night game is not that -- on the importance meter it's not a ten. You can get by with -- as the season goes along, I think as you get deeper in the season, in July and August, then you need to kind of start giving -- especially your catcher, days off, which we did. And I think that he responded real well to it.
Did I get a little nervous? There was one time they kept flashing up on the board that Kenji had caught more innings than anybody in baseball, and I couldn't figure out if the scoreboard operator was trying to give me a subtle hint that he needed a day off or not. He responded well. He had a good season. It didn't look like he got worn down.
I'll tell you what I did see, especially in August, is that when I did give him a day off, he came back a little stronger and was able to sustain it. I think had we not given him the days off, you would have seen him wear down, especially late in the season.

Q. We saw some highlights on him. Was there one play that you looked at him that he did catch a ball where you said why did he do that or how did he do that that really stands out?
MIKE HARGROVE: No, no. He got hit at the plate really hard one time, and I said to myself, I'm glad that wasn't me (laughter), but I didn't -- no, I didn't see that.

Q. You've had three straight losses the last part of the season. What is your confidence level that you can change that?
MIKE HARGROVE: You know, I really don't know how to answer that question. You know, I'm going to sit here and tell you that I have every confidence in the world and feel good about that we will change that, but I think that's what people expect to hear. Deep down inside, I really believe that what we're doing is the right thing.
How soon it's going to go the direction we want it to, to the extent that we want it to, who knows. But it's going the right direction. I mean, we've gone from losing 99 games to losing 91 that one year. We lost 84 last year, so it's going the right direction. And sometimes the steps you take are dramatic. You don't go from a last place finish like Atlanta and Minnesota did in '87, from last to first. Most generally they're baby steps, and that's what it's been for us so far.
That doesn't mean that at some point in time the light won't come on and all of a sudden we just see dramatic improvement. We'd love for that to happen.
But as long as it keeps going the right direction, then I think we're doing the right thing. A lot of times when you get a dramatic turnaround like that in a short period of time, it doesn't last very long. So yeah, I believe in what we're doing if that's what you're asking. I believe in what we're doing, in the direction we're going. I believe in what our front office is doing, and I have every confidence that we'll get this turned around.

Q. How good is the division?
MIKE HARGROVE: How good is it? We'll see after we leave here. The Rangers signed Padilla, the Angels signed Matthews. We'll see how it goes.

Q. Are you hoping Zito goes to another league?
MIKE HARGROVE: Mars (laughter). Sure. I hope he gets signed outside our division. I hope he goes somewhere else. He's pretty good.

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