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Friday, September 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mariners Analysis | Up-and-down path for Sexson, Beltre

Seattle Times staff reporter

Mariners first baseman Richie Sexson makes no apologies for being a "numbers guy."

Don't talk to him about slumps in April, or point out that his on-base percentage at the All-Star break was an awful .288. He knows Safeco Field fans were booing his strikeouts in May, and that he and third baseman Adrian Beltre were focal points of disenchantment.

Sexson is about whether his numbers are there at year's end. That means surpassing 30 home runs, collecting 100 or more runs batted in — and to heck with anyone who has a problem about how unevenly his numbers were compiled.

"I think the main thing this year is I learned how to fail," Sexson said this week of his abysmal first half. "I learned how to hit rock bottom. You can't get any lower. You can't do any worse than I was doing.

"I think that's part of the maturation process of a hitter. Just learning to deal with all of that stuff mentally. The daily questions of 'Why?' And the looks, and the boos and everything that comes with that. Then you just put all that aside and move on. And I'm having a pretty good year."

And the numbers now show that Sexson has indeed clubbed 33 homers and collected 105 RBI. Excellent totals, even if much of it was compiled while his team was out of contention.

"There's nothing to it, it's just baseball," Sexson said. "It's very up and down. You just keep playing. I've said it all year long. At the end of the year, your numbers are where they're going to be."

The game is filled with respected hitters who share Sexson's views. And there is plenty of value in a player who can hit 72 homers and drive in 226 runs over two seasons while playing half his games in a park not entirely friendly to right-handed hitters.

But a numbers guy can never be confused with the A-Rods, the Vladdies or the Big Papis of the American League. It has nothing to do with a greater will to win, or being more of a team player.

It's just that Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz are perennial MVP candidates expected to maintain ultra-elite on-base and slugging numbers with month-to-month consistency.

Over the past four seasons, Ortiz posted an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .900 or higher in 19 of the 24 months played. Guerrero did so in 18 of the 24 months, and A-Rod in 14.

Sexson did it in just eight of the 24 healthy months he played — not counting his injury-plagued 2004 season.

In other words, his highest production is not consistent enough month-to-month to carry a team without plenty of help. And when Sexson has his inevitable down months, the Mariners need Beltre to fill the void.

But that didn't happen in the first half, when Sexson — who has a .350 career on-base percentage (OBP) — posted a .308 OBP in April and a subterranean .252 in May. Beltre went out and posted equally bad .284 and .302 on-base numbers in the same two months.

"There's really no explanation for it," Beltre said. "It just happened and I've got to figure out why."

Beltre has tried altering his offseason workouts and changing his approach during spring training. Anything to get him off to a quicker start than the traditional early-season slumps he has experienced every season except his 2004 high point with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"For years, I've been doing that," he said. "I don't know why it changes, first half to second half. Because I don't really change my swing in the second half. It just happens and I don't know why. For some reason, something clicks."

Beltre started hitting again in June, and his slugging percentage has leaped from .392 before the All-Star break to .526 since. His 75 extra-base hits are only five fewer than he posted during his breakout season with the Dodgers — though he hit 48 homers that season compared with 22.

The Mariners undoubtedly expect more homers and something greater than Beltre's 82 RBI for the $12.9 million they paid him this year. They've likely given up on Beltre repeating the lofty 2004 totals, but could use more consistency in how his current year-end numbers are being reached.

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi talks of adding yet another power bat this winter. That would at least mitigate the risk factor should Sexson and Beltre again slump at the same time.

Some observers suggest at least one of the pair's salaries has to be moved to free up budget room to acquire more pitching. Sexson is owed $28 million through 2008, Beltre $35.5 million through 2009.

But there is a risk that an offense already languishing in the bottom third of the league would be further weakened by losing Sexson or Beltre.

This isn't as simple as trading Sexson and offsetting his numbers with a first-base platoon of Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez, who have combined for 30 homers and 93 RBI this season. That idea discounts the impact that a single, true power hitter can bring to a lineup.

Players batting in front of such impact hitters often see better pitches. No pitcher wants them to draw walks and bring the big slugger up with men on base.

"It's definitely huge to have somebody that's feared there," said Raul Ibanez, who has tallied most of his career-best 32 homers and 121 RBI while hitting ahead of Sexson. "Not just someone who can hit. But someone that's feared. If you take somebody that's not feared and put them behind you, then things can change."

At this stage, Bavasi's best option may be to cross his fingers and hope both players deliver with more consistency in 2007. Sexson turned 32 this winter and is proud of how he pulled out of his slump.

He hopes that improvement carries over and that he can get an early jump on year-end numbers he guarantees will always be there.

"I think this is the best year that I've had," he said. "Just from the point that I didn't quit, I kept grinding. And I learned more than I ever have."

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com

2006 statistics
Player Avg Slg HR RBI
Richie Sexson .262 .498 33 105
Adrian Beltre .266 .452 22 82

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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