Mariners tackle Griffey void with team approach


In the absence of baseball's biggest superstar, Tino Martinez will resist the temptation. The Seattle Mariners first baseman says he will not try to impersonate Ken Griffey, not for one game, not even for one at-bat.

"I'm not doing that," Martinez said yesterday, "and nobody else is doing that."

Replacing Griffey's 40-some homers and 100 RBIs is a tricky job that falls largely to manager Lou Piniella.

No sooner had Griffey careened off the center-field fence at the Kingdome on May 26 with a broken left wrist than Piniella became a master of improvisation. Whereas once Piniella could depend on Griffey's booming bat to generate offense, he now must find more creative means of scoring runs.

"Injuries are part of the game," Piniella said. "I don't lament that. It can happen to any team. But when it happens to the best player in the game, you don't replace him.

"Forty homers have disappeared out of the lineup. I've got to find a way to pick up the slack with three or four players. But I'm not going to get that out of any one player."

Without Griffey -- who drove in 402 runs over the previous four seasons -- Piniella has rotated a group of young and promising outfielders. His strategy has changed, too.

The Mariners rank fourth in the league with 30 steals in 38 attempts. Last year, they ranked 13th. This year, they're running more and better -- they are successful on 15 of their past 16 attempts.

Conversely, only three AL teams had hit fewer home runs than the Mariners' 34. Jay Buhner's team-high eighth homer of the year, a two-run shot in the sixth, gave the Mariners a 2-0 victory over the Orioles last night and pushed their record to 5-4 without Griffey.

Rich Amaral, who helped fill the Griffey gap with his first two career starts in center field in the past week, can appreciate the difference as well as anyone.

"We'll be a team with a little different style," Amaral said. "We'll be running more, stealing more bases. Before, when we got on base early in the order, we weren't being aggressive because we didn't want to take the bat out of Ken's hands. If first base is open, they'll walk him."

The loss of Griffey has opened the door for more playing time for Marc Newfield, a 22-year-old with 40 big-league games under his belt, and Darren Bragg, 25, who has played in 35.

But for the most part, the injury has made a semi-regular of Alex Diaz. This is not the first time Diaz was asked to fill a superstar's shoes. In 1993, he replaced retiring Robin Yount with the Milwaukee Brewers.

But one month into that job, Diaz ran into an outfield fence in Texas, fractured his left ankle, and never was able to recapture the starting job. Last October, he was waived by the Brewers and claimed by the Mariners. Now he's got a job as a result of another run-in with a fence.

"Things happen for some reason," said Diaz, 26, who brought a .300 average into the series with the Orioles. "You don't want it to happen that way. But it opened a good chance for myself, Rich Amaral, Marc Newfield and Darren Bragg. . . . The only pressure I have is, can I do the job or not. And I feel comfortable."

Piniella said he hopes to have Griffey back by Labor Day, but knows he must stay in the West Division race the next three months without his big gun. Seattle trails the California Angels by 1 1/2 games.

"We'll go on, we'll play hard," Piniella said. "If we put five solid pitchers out there and get [setup man Bill] Risley back, we'll be fine, even with the loss of Junior."

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