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New DP partners are old hat to Wilson

New DP partners are old hat to Wilson

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- When you have worked with as many double-play partners as Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson has over the years, dealing with a new group of second basemen is no big deal.

"It's easy," he said. "I turned double plays with 29 different second basemen in Pittsburgh, so I am used to working with new guys."

Since being acquired from the Pirates midway through last season, the number of Wilson's double-play partners with Seattle is still in single digits. But it's climbing.

So far this spring, Wilson has worked side-by-side with Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, Jack Hannahan, Josh Wilson, Matt Tuiasosopo and Dustin Ackley.

Special emphasis is being placed on the Wilson-Figgins tandem.

A decision on the infield alignment going into the regular season has not been made, but by putting Figgins at second base and moving Lopez to third, the amount of ground being covered up the middle is huge.

Wilson has a reputation for flagging down would-be hits going to his right or left, and Figgins has the quickness to reach balls hit directly up the middle or into the gap between first and second.

The Mariners are hoping Lopez accepts the position switch with a clear mind and open arms, allowing the team to open the season with the best defensive alignment possible.

"Both of them have great quickness," said infield coach Mike Brumley of Wilson and Figgins. "They can turn an inning around and change a game with a big play."

During his nine-plus seasons with the Pirates, Wilson said he and Freddy Sanchez were the premier DP combo around and envisions the same thing happening in Seattle.

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"Not to be cocky, but Freddy and I were the best DP combination in the Major Leagues," Wilson said. "It was rare when a double play didn't get turned if the ball was hit to either of us and there was a man on first. I can honestly say we were the best."

With so many pitch-to-contact starting pitchers, the Mariners are counting heavily on solid infield defense. Lopez would not be expected to play to the level of two-time Gold Glove winner Adrian Beltre, but if he can make routine plays, and handle the slow rollers on bunts, or swinging bunts, it would give Seattle an overall stellar interior defense.

The Mariners turned 150 double plays last season, which ranked 10th in the American League. Erick Aybar of the Angels led all AL shortstops by collaborating on 102 double plays, while Blue Jays second baseman Aaron Hill was tops among his peers with 129 twin-killings.

"Whether it's Figgy or Lopey, our goal is to be the best up the middle in baseball," Wilson said. "Either way, we have a chance to be at the top."

To get there, the chemistry between the shortstop and second baseman must be good from the get-go. The process begins during Spring Training, when the middle infielders discuss their preference for receiving throws.

"Jack and I talked about that right off the bat," Figgins said. "I asked him, 'Where do you like the feed?' and he asked me the same thing.

"For me, it doesn't really matter. I am more concerned about the angle of the throw and how much the ball moves. If I can get the feed near the bag, I think I can turn [the DP]."

Figgins played a lot of second base in the Minor Leagues but only 113 games at the position in his eight Major League seasons, including a personal high of 42 games in 2005.

He said the toughest part of the job is turning a DP, but he's getting better each day.

"I want to be 99 out of 100, or close to that," he said of turning routine double plays. "I would say I am in the low 90s right now, but we still have almost a month left in Spring Training."

Every day of practice is the same.

"Get the feed and make a strong throw to first," he said.

Wilson said breaking in a new DP partner is a lot of fun for him.

"Building a strong relationship with the second baseman is important," he said, "and I enjoy doing it. When they decide who the second baseman is going to be, you'll see us working a lot together.

"The most important relationship in baseball is having the shortstop and second baseman working well together. They have to know what each can do and where the other guy is always going to be."

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

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