Mariners continue youth movement

Mariners continue youth movement

SEATTLE -- The Mariners' focus on the future became a little more apparent on Tuesday, when they replaced a veteran switch-hitter on the roster with a young outfielder.

It was so long to Jose Vidro and welcome back Wladimir Balentien.

"This is all about getting Balentien up here, period," Seattle manager Jim Riggleman said. "We didn't want to give him a September-only look. In doing that, we needed to create a roster spot, and Jose was that spot."

Balentien was in the Mariners' starting lineup on Tuesday night against the Twins as the designated hitter, a position he will share with several players for the remainder of the season. He also will get playing time in the outfield as the Mariners determine, going forward, which players figure in their immediate plans.

"We feel we have to look at [first baseman Bryan LaHair] and Balentien as much as we can, and not just have it be a September look," Riggleman said.

Balentien, 24, batted .196 (21-for-107) with four doubles and four home runs in 32 games from April 30-June 6, and then was returned to Tacoma to regain his batting stroke. Balentien responded well, batting .270 with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs in 44 games after the demotion.

"He has been kind of hot and cold, but he's been hot lately," added Riggleman, referring to the eight-game hitting streak Balentien brought with him from Tacoma.

The Mariners' starting lineup on Tuesday night included three players who spent most of the season at Tacoma -- Balentien, LaHair and catcher Jeff Clement. They eventually could become lineup mainstays.

Vidro, acquired from the Nationals for outfielder Chris Snelling and pitcher Emiliano Fruto on Dec. 18, 2006, batted .234 with seven home runs and 45 RBIs in 85 games and 308 at-bats this season.

The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release, option or assign Vidro outright to the Minor Leagues.

Riggleman said he was surprised the Mariners were not able to trade Vidro prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"I just thought someone would have asked for Jose, but that didn't happen," the manager said. "He really was swinging the bat good. His batting average indicated he's not having a good year, but his RBIs per at-bat were good, and so were the quality of his at-bats."

Vidro, who had a .314 average, six home runs and 59 RBIs last season, started slowly in 2008. He batted .217 in April with two home runs and 18 RBIs, improved to .276 in May, but faltered again in June with a .189 average. He had a .242 mark with two homers and 10 RBIs in July and was 6-for-15 this month with no home runs or RBIs.

During his one-plus seasons with Seattle, Vidro batted .285 with 13 home runs and 104 RBIs in 232 games.

"We appreciate all of Jose's hard work and professionalism," general manager Lee Pelekoudas said in a statement released by the Mariners. "We wanted to have every opportunity to attempt to trade him. Even though that opportunity may still exist, now that we've passed the July 31 Trade Deadline it was important for us to continue our transition into a club that is looking towards the 2009 season, even as we try to win as many games as possible this season."

The Mariners went into Tuesday night's game with a 43-69 record. A team expected to challenge the Angels for the American League West title has undergone numerous changes on the field and in the front office. General manager Bill Bavasi was dismissed on June 16, several days after hitting coach Jeff Pentland was replaced by Jose Castro, and several days before Riggleman replaced John McLaren as manager.

Veteran first baseman Richie Sexson also was released, and veteran reliever Arthur Rhodes was traded to the Marlins.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.