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Originally published Monday, April 12, 2010 at 8:41 PM

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Larry Stone

Milton Bradley, Mariners teammates feeling the pressure

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said left fielder Milton Bradley is feeling the pressure to perform. "I think he's found a comfort level with this ballclub, and doesn't want to let his teammates down. A lot of fans don't realize he cares sometimes too much about his performance, and what he's supposed to be bringing to this club."

Seattle Times baseball reporter

The Mariners have so much camaraderie, they're even slumping as a team.

As Jack Wilson said Monday, after yet another acquiescent trip through nine innings by Seattle's slumbering lumber, "We have one guy swinging a hot bat, and that's it. It's tough to win ballgames like that."

The one guy is Franklin Gutierrez, and he managed one of their two hits, a double, against Oakland. Jose Lopez had a single, though the Mariners didn't do anything so audacious as to bunch their hits in the same inning.

Other than those two lonely connections, it was thundering silence against Justin Duchscherer.

The M's are still preaching that it's early, and it is. But to paraphrase Yogi Berra, whose bat they could use, never mind that he's 84 years old, it can get late early when you're in a wide-open division like the American League West. Or any division, for that matter.

The averages up and down the Seattle batting order tell the story, with Gutierrez's standing out like one of those Sesame Street, "One of these things is not like the others" routines: .250, .207, .419, .188, .211, .045, .200, .182, .240.

Throw out Gutierrez — and Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu will take out a restraining order on you if you try — and they're hitting a cumulative .184.

Much of the early focus has been on Milton Bradley's struggles — he's the .045, by virtue of one hit in 22 at-bats — yet his offensive misery has plenty of company. However, as long as Bradley keeps drawing attention to himself, as he did in Texas by making an obscene gesture toward heckling fans that was captured by a camera crew, he'll continue to draw disproportionate scrutiny.

Wakamatsu said that he had a long talk with Bradley after the Texas incident. They were said to be having another discussion on Monday night, long after the media had been ushered out. He believes Bradley is putting undue pressure on himself, like many people on the club, and needs to relax.

"I think he'll settle into it," Wakamatsu said before the game. "I think he's starting to trust people in this clubhouse. I think he's going to be fine."

Wakamatsu added that when they talked in Texas after Bradley flipped the finger, "He opened up and talked about the pressure. We talked a lot about relying on us to help alleviate some of that, and that he doesn't have to carry this club by himself. He responded to it, and was open."

Bradley, he said, "was remorseful" about the incident.

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"We talked about not fueling the fire, and relying on your teammates to help you out. That's what we're focusing on right now," Wakamatsu said. "There are going to be people looking for him and I understand that, but lead by example."

Say what you will about Bradley, but he's good theater, whether it be glaring at the fans in Oakland, or tipping his cap to Rajai Davis after he robbed him of a home run, or breaking a bat in frustration after a strikeout.

He's also had some adventurous moments in the field, including letting a single by Gabe Gross in the seventh inning get by him for an error Monday.

Last year, Bradley's season disintegrated in Chicago after an eerily similar slow start (1 for 25 after 11 games). Wakamatsu said he still believes in Bradley, still believes this Seattle situation will eventually bring out his best.

In fact, he feels Bradley wants it to work so badly that it's contributing to his pressing. On Monday, the manager dropped Bradley to sixth in the order after he started the year as the cleanup hitter.

"I think he's found a comfort level with this ballclub, and doesn't want to let his teammates down," Wakamatsu said. "A lot of fans don't realize he cares sometimes too much about his performance, and what he's supposed to be bringing to this club.

"It doesn't just apply to him. It applies to everyone. A kid like Adam Moore putting so much pressure on himself. It doesn't matter if you've played seven games or seven years, everyone is susceptible to pressure. It's learning how to deal with it."

The Mariners need to figure it out before the season begins to slip away.

"We've just got to keep our heads up, that's the main thing," Ken Griffey Jr. said in another silent clubhouse. "Just go out and battle. Eventually, things will go our way and we'll be fine.

"Everyone's trying to hit the ball a little too hard. It will change, and the first six, seven games will be forgotten. I'd rather have it happen now than late September. Better to do it early, get it out of the way, and have some fun from here on out."

So far, the Mariners' season has been glaringly light on fun. And on hits. There is a correlation, it seems.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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