Tacoma Rainiers Notebook: Morse Code

TACOMA, Wash. - The Tacoma Rainiers head into the final three games of their road trip at 9-10 before returning home for eight games at Cheney Stadium. Sitting just 3.5 games back of first place, the Mariners' Triple-A affiliate isn't in bad shape after a sluggish start.

Heading into the latest road trip, the Tacoma Rainiers were trying to claw their way out of a slump. Still a team looking to come together, they may be lacking some chemistry early on this season, but two things that aren't missing on this club are desire and leadership.

"We're still trying to get going," said shortstop Michael Morse. "We're struggling, but we're fighting back and giving ourselves a chance."

Tacoma has fallen behind early in numerous games and fought back to make it interesting, even coming all the way back to win a few of them. Morse believes it's just an early season slump that will be remedied with the good old fashioned ticking of the clock.

"I think it's just a matter of time before we get things going," said Morse. "We're a really good team, I think this is a great team. When you lose some tough games it does get to you but you have to just battle out of it. We'll turn it around. We're too good of a team."

Morse himself is just trying to stay focused and not try and do too much in the field or at the plate. Entering Thursday's series in Salt Lake City, the 23-year-old is hitting .258 with a team-leading 12 runs batted in, and is tied for the team lead in home runs with two.

During hard times, the Rainiers look to the leadership of veterans such as Justin Leone. Leone, 28, split last season with Tacoma and Seattle and Morse notes that Leone is one that the younger, less experienced players can look to in order to get through a tough stretch.

"We can look to guys like that and see how they are handling a certain situations," said Morse. "You can watch them and get an idea of how you should deal with certain things. This team has some guys like that."

While Morse, and other first-year players at the Triple-A level, search for the groove that will help turn the team around, Morse's game has been steady, both with the glove and with the bat.

With so many rumors that he'll eventually have to give up his spot in the 6-hole, Morse ignores the critics and listens only to those who can help him get better.

"I can't listen to any of that," said Morse. "People are going to say what they want, but all I can do is work my butt off and do the best I can. They (Mariners) haven't said anything to me about another position. So, until they do, I'm a shortstop."

Something is to be said about a 6-foot-5, 200-pound shortstop with some pop in his bat, and that he's at the Triple-A level playing everyday at the position. Typically, if a player isn't capable of playing a defensive position in the big leagues he is moved off the position prior to the upper levels of the minors to give him a chance to get to the majors with his bat.

"Yeah, I'm still out there everyday, so someone must think I can do it," said Morse. "I know I can."

As for the lack of victories by the Rainiers early this season, it's already starting to turn around with solid play on the current road trip. But if the slump continues, never fear. When youngsters have the kind of confidence and work ethic of Michael Morse, things are bound to get better.

Road Sweet Road?: Oddly, Tacoma has won just two of eight games at Cheney Stadium this season and are 7-4 on the road. After three games in Colorado Springs, in which the Rainiers won the final two, Tacoma boasts the best road record in the Pacific Coast League, and the worst record at home.

Pitching Woes: Tacoma got off to a fast start on the mound, sitting atop the PCL rankings in ERA after the first week of play. Since the home opener, the Rainiers have posted a 6.55 ERA and have had their starting pitcher knocked out of the game before the fifth inning 8 times. The Rainiers also rank last in the league in saves with two, but have allowed a league-low 14 home runs. Part of the problem with Tacoma's staff stems from the injury to Cha Seung Baek and the shuffling that occured with the release of Dan Reichert, the signing of Albie Lopez and the activation of southpaw Damian Moss.

Rule Five Kid: Former Tacoma Rainiers utility man Luis Ugueto is now with Omaha, the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Ugueto is hitting just .222 in 19 games. The 26-year-old will visit Cheney Stadium with his new team July 31 through August 2.

Snelling, Just Short: Rainiers outfielder Chris Snelling leads the team with a .514 average but is 14 plate appearances shy of qualifying for the league lead in that category. The 23-year-old spent the first eight days of the season on the disabled list as he recovered from knee surgery.

Mmmm Bop!: The Mariners are expected to officially announce the signing of veteran Dave Hansen on Thursday and Hansen, 36, is expected to join the Tacoma Rainiers on their current road trip. Hansen will undoubtedly join the Mariners after he gets some at-bats in Triple-A, likely replacing Shin-soo Choo on the 25-man roster.

Hansen spent half of last season with the M's before being traded to the Padres for right-hander Jon Huber. When Hansen is added to the 40-man roster, and ultimately the 25-man roster, the M's will have to make a move to create room for the left-handed pinch-hitting specialist. Hansen is fifth all-time with 137 career pinch hits.

Coming Up... Next!: Tacoma returns from Salt Lake City on Monday, May 2 to play four games each versus Colordo Springs and Salt Lake City.

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