One pitch may have been a mistake, but both balls were equally punished.
The belt-high, center-cut, 85 mph, 3-and-1 fastball from Detroit starting pitcher Adam Wilk last night wasn't exactly what you would call a quality pitch, but the 2-and-1, sinking fastball at 92 below the knees the night before from righty Collin Balester was. No matter, as Alex Liddi hit them both 400-plus feet into the seats in left center field against the Tigers, giving the Mariners offense a big shot in the arm with his bat.
His five hits and two home runs the last two games have been just one part of the Mariners 30 hits and 16 runs in the contests, but Liddi's contributions shouldn't be overlooked. He is showing himself to be deserving of more at bats, and certainly deserving of a longer -- and more frequent -- look at the big league level.
This certainly isn't to suggest that Liddi has magically become a perfect ballplayer now. In fact, the last two nights he has three strikeouts to go along with the hits and homers, but Alex Liddi is showing that his power can play at the big league level consistently. The 6-foot-4 slugger with the well-documented Italian roots now has slugged five home runs and nine extra base hits in 22 major league games dating back to last September. Yes, he has 25 strikeouts to go along with those numbers in just 64 at bats, but giving him a chance to get acclimated at the big league level -- as the club did last year with big power/big strikeout guy Carlos Peguero -- could yield some results as his power potential is intriguing.
Liddi struck out 170 times last year at Triple-A Tacoma, where he also hit 32 doubles and 30 homers, but his splits show that his strikeout rate went down from once every 3.47 plate appearances in the first half to once every 3.97 in the second half. Neither number screams success, and for all the extra base power he showed Liddi did still hit .259 in the Pacific Coast League where the league average was .286, but going back to last September and following the 23-year-old forward to today, he is starting to show some signs of growing as a ballplayer.
Liddi struggled badly in Winter Ball and was sent home, but Mariners personnel that I spoke with said that he was physically exhausted from a long year of ball. That seems to have been the case, as he came to Major League Spring Training and hit well enough to be named the Peoria Sports Complex's Rookie of the Year for his efforts in the desert, showing improved plate discipline and a new willingness to go the other way. Even so, heading to Japan for the start of the wierd early season that was for the M's, Liddi looked like the odd man out for a roster spot. But when Mike Carp went down after the first game of the Japan Opening Series with a shoulder injury, Liddi may have earned an early reprieve from demotion. But Manager Eric Wedge still only found two starts for Alex through Seattle's first 14 games. He's now started four of the club's last five and has hit .438/.500/.875 in those contests with two walks and a double to go along with his two home runs.
With young Kyle Seager and veteran Chone Figgins seeing most of the time at third base in the early going this year, and with third base prospects Vinnie Catricala and Francisco Martinez breathing down his neck from the minor league level, Liddi may have to find a way to steal at bats from current big leaguers like Brendan Ryan, Carp (when he returns to health) and even Justin Smoak to get himself a big enough chance to prove his value to the Mariners early in 2012.
As the Times' Geoff Baker wrote tonight in his post-game article, Wedge realizes that he needs to get Liddi in the lineup more, and perhaps it's time to tinker a bit with that lineup by moving Seager to shortstop for a few games here and there. Kyle has played some short for the M's in the past, and while he isn't great there, he certainly is serviceable from time-to-time...especially when it means the Mariners get all of their hottest hitters in the lineup at the same time.
Despite the popular opinion that Liddi is an ideal platoon candidate, he has actually had stronger overall production against right-handers last season and this season. That is Minor League and Major League numbers. He can hit righties, he just needs a chance. Too many players get pigeon-holed early in their careers and never get a chance to show their true worth. Former Seattle slugger Russell Branyan is an excellent example of that. And what he accomplished in Seattle is an excellent example of the good that can come out of giving a guy like that a shot at consistent playing time.
Alex Liddi may still fall on his face as word gets around the league not to challenge him with fastballs, but he also may prove to continue to adjust as the league adjusts and be able to provide this anemic offense with some punch from the right side. The only way to know which outcome it will be is to get him in the lineup regularly.
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