ARLINGTON -- In case you haven't noticed, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt has been playing the position like never before. Well, nothing like he played it the first three months of the season. After making 19 errors prior to the All-Star Game, just one fewer than he made all of last season in 157 games, Betancourt has committed just three fielding miscues since the three-day Midsummer Classic break. Why the difference?
"I think it's confidence," manager John McLaren said on Friday. "He is playing with confidence and I know he is having fun. He has been real aggressive on defense, which is what we want him to be. We don't want him lying back on the ball. We want him attacking the ball." The attack-the-ball mode is working well. Betancourt rarely has a ground ball play him and he has been making strong, accurate throws to first base, something he didn't always do earlier in the season. "Early in the year, he was trying hard not to make an error," third base/infield coach Carlos Garcia said. "At the same time, he was being too conservative and throwing the ball too easily. I finally told him, 'If you are going to make a throwing error, I want to see it go into the stands." Garcia also instructed the 23-year-old to study the hitters and learn how fast they run to first base. "I want him to know exactly how much time he has to get to the ball, catch it and throw to first base," Garcia explained. "Basically, that's what we talked about and after that, he has been consistent throwing the ball. That's what we want." The goal is to get Betancourt to make routine plays routinely and every now and then, throw in a spectacular play. He has tremendous range going to his right and left and gets to balls other shortstops can't reach. But once in awhile, he'll go overboard. One of those came in a game against the Twins earlier in the week. He made a diving stop of a ground ball and, while on his back, tried to throw the runner out at first base. The ball sailed over first baseman Richie Sexson's head. The runner didn't advance an extra base, and Betancourt was not charged with an error. But Garcia wasn't amused. "I told him the only time he should try that is if one of our pitchers is throwing on a no-hitter," Garcia said. "He said he should have eaten the ball, and he should have. "We want him to be consistent day in and day out. We know he can make spectacular plays, but on a championship ballclub, being consistent on routine plays is what we need. The more he plays, the more he is going to learn and believe me, one of these years, he is going to win a Gold Glove." Trivia challenge: Ichiro Suzuki went into Friday night's game with four sacrifice bunts this season. What is his single-season high? Catching on: With backup catcher Jamie Burke nursing a sore back on this road trip, super sub Willie Bloomquist has found another job to add to his long resume. When Kenji Johjima either makes the final out of an inning, or is on base when the inning ends, Bloomquist grabs a mask and catcher's glove and warms up the pitcher until Johjima puts on his catching gear and comes to the plate. Bloomquist said all was going well in Minnesota -- until Brandon Morrow came into the game. "He threw one about 95 miles an hour and it bounced off my glove," Bloomquist said. Taking two: The Mariners turned four double plays in Thursday night's game against the Rangers, and second baseman Jose Lopez was involved in all four, tying a club record. It was the 13th time in franchise history a second baseman participated in four DPs in the same game. The answer is: Ichiro's single-season high for sacrifice bunts is four, which he also had in 2001. Minor matters: Since July 17, Brent Johnson has hit safely in 29 of 33 games for the Double-A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx, hitting .346 (47-for-136) with 26 runs, five doubles, four home runs, 21 RBIs and 12 multi-hit games. He currently has a seven-game hitting streak, going 15-for-28 (.536). ... Following in the footsteps of Raul Ibanez, the AL Player of the Week a week ago, West Tennessee first baseman Marshall Hubbard and Class A Everett AquaSox pitcher Nick Hill were named Player and Pitcher of the Week for the Southern and Northwest Leagues. Ben, don't break: It has been a tough stretch for backup first baseman/outfielder Ben Broussard. He doesn't get to play much, but when he does, he usually performs well, something that has not gone unnoticed by McLaren. "He's in a tough situation," McLaren acknowledged. "First, I am a big Ben supporter. I like Ben, I believe in Ben. It's just a situation that the guys playing [regularly] are doing a good job. Richie has been swinging the bat like the Richie of old. We're winning, and I like to leave things alone. You hate to break up success when the combination is working." And so, with the Mariners winning regularly, McLaren is sticking to the regulars for the most part. "Ben is a very valuable part of the club and when he does play, he does a good job," McLaren said. "I have talked to him about it and I think he understands where I am coming from. It's good to know he's on the bench and available." On deck: The Mariners send left-hander Horacio Ramirez (8-4, 7.15) to the mound on Saturday night against Rangers right-hander Jamey Wright (3-5, 4.11). The third game of the four-game series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington begins at 5:35 p.m. PT.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.