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Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - Page updated at 09:35 AM

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Larry Stone

Bavasi trudges on in search of a win

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Bill Bavasi is willing to reveal his short-term goal for the ballclub in this time of unfathomable stress and distress.

Hint: It begins with a "v," rhymes with "sick story" and refers to the occasion when your team has more runs than the opponent. Think hard — it will come to you.

Don't bother asking the Mariners' general manager, however, about the organization's long-term strategy for the remaining six weeks of this season. In his mind, the elusive search for the next victory — now 11 games and counting — is so consuming, nothing else matters at the moment.

"The way we're going, there is no 'rest of the season'; there's only tomorrow [Tuesday] night, " Bavasi said Monday. "We've got to break this cycle, and then the night after that, do it again.

"We have to approach it that way. You'll get no discussion from me about the rest of the season. We have too much on our plate to look beyond that."

The Mariners' plate, brimming with losses, including a mind-boggling 20 straight against their own division, now gets served a heaping helping of Yankees. Talk about bad timing.

The only solace is that the mighty Yanks — fresh from feasting on the Red Sox — are not now, nor have they ever been, a member of the American League West.

Today

Yankees @ Mariners, 7:05 p.m., FSN

"We've played them OK, and Tampa Bay has played them OK," Bavasi said. "But I don't think about them. It's all about us. We have to do our thing."

So, just what is the Mariners' "thing" at this stage of a season that has turned so ugly, so quickly?

Whatever it is, Mike Hargrove is still the manager, despite speculation in many quarters that Monday's off day, coupled with the Mariners' still-steaming disaster of a road trip, would provide the perfect opening for a change.

Bavasi won't get into a conversation about Hargrove's status or job performance, except to say that he has "shown great patience in a bad situation, which is not an easy thing to do. We're dealing with a lot of young kids that are overmatched, I guess, and some veterans that apparently are not performing up to their abilities."

Apparently.

"It's difficult to swallow," Bavasi said. "I've seen teams do this, but they usually have less ability, in my opinion. There's some serious underachieving going on."

Meanwhile, rest assured that, while understandably flummoxed (and emotionally battered) by the losing streak, Bavasi is indeed taking a long view of the Mariners' future.

That was evidenced by Saturday's trade of Jamie Moyer, which was an emotional punch to the gut for fans already steaming over the mounting losses — but also the right thing to do for the organization.

As much as Moyer has meant to the team and the community, the Mariners' future does not include a pitcher who is going to be 44 in November. And with this season officially a lost cause, the prudent thing for Bavasi was to get two live young arms in exchange for six or seven Moyer starts that are meaningless in the big picture.

Not only that, but the Mariners now have a chance to take a long look at someone like Cha Seung Baek, who in his last major-league start in 2004 shut out the Rangers on three hits over eight innings.

In fact, one could make the same argument in favor of dealing Gil Meche prior to the Aug. 31 deadline for playoff eligibility, in light of his pending free agency. Despite Meche's recent struggles, there might well be a desperate playoff contender willing to bet a couple of prospects that he can regain his early-season form.

It was also the right thing — and highly overdue — for Ichiro to move to center field, giving the club the perfect opportunity to give the ever-enticing Chris Snelling a long look in right.

Given Snelling's unfortunate health history, it's difficult for the team to commit a job to him next season. But Snelling at full strength is just the sort of potent and patient bat desperately needed by a team that ranks 29th in the major leagues in on-base percentage.

Encouragingly, Bavasi indicated that the Ichiro-in-center scenario will continue.

"He's going to remain there for now," he said. "He likes it. It appears he's pretty comfortable out there, and good at it. After the bus got in [Sunday night] from Anaheim, that was the discussion Mike and Ichiro were having, and it sounds like he's going to stay there."

Ichiro immediately becomes one of the elite center fielders in the game. If he were to agree to stay there next year, the Mariners would instantly solve a major problem. They would also have the flexibility to move Raul Ibanez to first base or designated hitter and have a bigger pool to pick from for a power-hitting corner outfielder.

This might not seem the right time to put forward this thought, but I truly believe the Mariners are closer to contention right now than they were last August. All it will take this winter is daring, vision, a prudent game plan, and a little bit of providence (such as winning the bidding for Japanese ace Daisuke Matsuzaka).

Right now, however, the Mariners will take one stinking victory. Preferably over the Yankees.

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

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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AL West W L Pct. GB Div. Streak
y-LA Angels 100 62 .617 --- 36-21 Won 1
Texas 79 83 .488 21 30-27 Lost 1
Oakland 75 86 .466 24.5 26-31 Lost 5
Seattle 61 101 .377 39 22-35 Won 3

y - clinched division, x - clinched playoff berth

Wild card standings | AL standings | NL standings

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