In May, the Mariners finished with a 16-14 record, their first month over .500 since July 2013. They've outscored their opponents 127-113 with James Jones in the lineup, and won three games under the direction of Roenis Elias. If they're capable of this much without prospects like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, or sometime-power hitter Corey Hart, the hope is that they'll find even more success when the DL has been purged of its sick and injured.
At the beginning of this month, I ran a poll to gauge the general feelings toward Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik. Over 80% of readers expressed disapproval or uncertainty concerning management, leaving a slight margin of 17% who believed the team was on the right track.
Granted, April was a tough month. The M's were hot out of the gate, but faded fast, losing several pitchers to injuries and struggling to work out the kinks in the lineup. (Abraham Almonte's astronomical strikeout rate comes to mind here.) Given another month, however, things are looking up -- or if not up, at least showing signs of progress. Let's take a look at how the M's management style has shifted over the last few weeks.
In early May, I worried that the biggest challenge facing Jack Zduriencik was finding consistency in a constantly broken rotation. Not only did Walker and Paxton face lengthy rehab stints, but Hisashi Iwakuma had been missing for several weeks with a sprained finger on his throwing hand. It seemed like every time a replacement was brought up, he too succumbed to an unexpected setback.
This month, little has changed. Iwakuma was reinstated into the rotation, displaying flashes of his pre-injury dominance with consecutive eight-inning shutouts. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton were not recalled, as previously expected, due to slow progress with Walker's rehab in Tacoma and a relapsed shoulder inflammation for Paxton. The days between Felix Hernandez's starts seemed to drag, especially with Brandon Maurer's mid-month collapse.
Except for his involvement in the decision to demote Maurer, Jack Z has been fairly tight-lipped about the M's struggles this month. It can be assumed that he's focusing more of his attention on the upcoming draft, with his first-round pick rumored to be Alex Jackson, a young catcher from San Diego. However, with no clear solution for the Mariners' rotation and multiple holes in the lineup, Zduriencik will be forced to take action sooner rather than later. One of the biggest questions facing him, if Internet hype can be believed, is the acquisition of Kendrys Morales, who will be more attractive to prospective teams after the draft ends this weekend.
When we last examined Lloyd McClendon's managerial skills, the skipper had a lot of positive things to say about the team. He seemed to be well-liked by his players, who appreciated a more laid-back approach and felt that they were getting a champion and supporter in McClendon, rather than someone who might harp on their failures or nitpick their techniques. My main concern with McClendon was his experimental approach to the M's hitting struggles, especially when it came to leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte.
In May, we saw a bit more fire and brimstone from Lloyd, who was ejected for the first time (and later, the second time) since May 23, 2012 after berating Astros' catcher Jason Castro for taking too many trips to the mound in order to allow reliever Jose Cisneros additional warm-up time. Later in the month, following a few bitter losses, McClendon fired some underhanded comments about Houston's "average" pitching. When he was ejected in a 2-0 shutout against the Rays, this time for arguing a check swing, Lloyd chucked his cap into the field, then recovered it and fired it into the stands before exiting the field.
Thankfully, his temper has been directed away from the team, despite a few blown games and poor performances. McClendon gave the Mariners a 50-game ultimatum, expecting that he would get a clear picture of the team's strengths and weaknesses after playing out the small sample size. When 50 games were up, he made the following comments to the Seattle Times:
"I learned a long time ago that you are never as good as you think you are and you are never as bad as you think you are, you're usually somewhere in the middle," McClendon said. "After 50 games, we are somewhere in the middle. I like where we are."
While McClendon seems vaguely positive about the direction of the team, he is leaving lots of room for improvement. One thing the skipper got right this month was Abraham Almonte's replacement as a leadoff hitter. Following the outfielder's demotion, Michael Saunders and James Jones traded leadoff duties, each performing well above expectations. It's also to his credit that Lloyd abandoned his "If I can play the outfield, anyone can play the outfield" mantra, with particular regard to Nick Franklin, who was recalled when Corey Hart suffered a nasty hamstring strain.
Looking to the month ahead, McClendon seems more focused on strengthening the rotation. With Felix and Iwakuma the only solid locks on the pitching staff, there's plenty of room to improve. Whether or not Elias will continue his dominant outings or Walker and Paxton's arms can be salvaged still remains to be seen.
Your turn: Do you feel confident in Zduriencik and McClendon's managing strategies, or do you see areas that still need improvement? If you were manager for a day, what's the first thing you would change?