Junior debuts in field for Mariners
Career center fielder begins switch to left in Cactus League action
PEORIA, Ariz. -- From a defensive standpoint, Ken Griffey Jr. batted 1.000 on Thursday night.Playing in the field for the first time during Spring Training, and stationed in left for just the fourth time in his Major League career, Griffey routinely caught the two fly balls hit in his direction, and momentarily bobbled one of the two balls that came to him on the ground.
The Mariners' eventual 10-8 Cactus League victory against the Padres was six batters old when, with runners on first and third bases and one out, Griffey got his first fielding chance. He glided over to the line to catch a towering fly ball hit by Edgar Gonzalez. Griffey conceded the run and threw to second base, holding the runner, Cliff Floyd, at first.Afterwards, Griffey said the most difficult play he had during the four innings he played was "the ground ball that nearly took my ankle off." That would have been the ball Padres catcher Eliezer Alfonzo lined into left field for a two-run single in the first inning. Griffey recovered the ball quickly and Alfonzo stayed at first base. Griffey covered all the basics associated with a position that's considered the easiest in the outfield to play. Explaining his thought process with runners on the corners and one out in the first inning, he said, "If it's too deep, throw it to second. If it's not, try to throw it to the cutoff man. I have played there before." But not since Aug. 23, 2002, in a Reds game against the Astros in Houston. And the last time he played the position in a Mariners uniform was on Sept. 26, 1998, in a game against the Rangers at Safeco Field. It was the next-to-last game of that season and Junior made the rounds, playing center field, left field, right field and first base. "I thought he looked fine out there," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "I thought he showed some arm strength. He said he felt good." Griffey, well aware of what lies ahead of him during the regular season, has been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the Peoria Sports Complex practice fields during batting practice. When he's not in the designated-hitter spot, he'll be in left field. The first ball hit in the game would have caused Griffey to hustle over to the line. But the rocket off the bat of Padres left fielder Scott Hairston was snagged by third baseman Adrian Beltre. The force of the ball nearly knocked him over. Griffey and Beltre exchanged smiles after the play. "I was appreciative of the effort, when he almost got decapitated and caught it," Griffey said. The game plan going forward is for Griffey to handle the DH duties in Friday's home game against the Brewers, return to left field on Saturday afternoon against the Athletics at Peoria Stadium and take two days off when the Mariners play road games against the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., and Dodgers in Phoenix. Meanwhile, the stroke that has generated more than 600 home runs and a future spot in the Hall of Fame remains a work in progress. He went 0-for-3 and broke two bats. "My timing's a little off, that's it," said Griffey, batting .118 this spring. "With guys on first and third [in the third inning], I was trying to get a sacrifice fly, hit the ball in the outfield somewhere. It just got in on me." The fly ball went into shallow right field, too shallow to score Franklin Gutierrez from third base. "It's getting better," Griffey said. "It's just a matter of repetition." And better bats, perhaps? "That's just old wood," Griffey said. "You try to use up all your old wood. You don't want to break your good stuff before Opening Day. You want to use last year's models while your timing is still a little bit off." Mariners starter Ryan Rowland-Smith was a little bit off in the first inning and surrendered five runs on five hits. He regrouped, held the Padres to one run over the next three innings and Seattle stormed back to pull out the win. "I liked the way we came back," Wakamatsu said. Right fielder Mike Wilson hit a two-run home run -- his third in the past two games -- shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt had two hits and Russell Branyan went 3-for-4 and swiped second and third bases during a decisive four-run rally in the fifth inning Padres right-hander Mike Demark was taking around 1.6 seconds to throw a pitch, which made it easier on Branyan. But he was astute enough to pick it up and take advantage. "If we can teach these guys not to be afraid, we're headed in the right direction," Wakamatsu said of Branyan's surprising sprint around the bases that ended when he scored on a wild throw to third base.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.