Johjima getting less playing time
Mariners giving Clement more action behind the plate
SEATTLE -- Except for his financial future, it's been a tough year for Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima.His playing time has dwindled in proportion to his batting average, which currently is .211, translating into extended time in the dugout. Johjima, who has started just two games in August, was not in the lineup for Friday's game against the Rays. Much of the issue has to do with a combination of Johjima's ineffectiveness in the batter's box and the emergence of Jeff Clement. Johjima's playing time has decreased since Clement came up for the second time this season on June 16. Johjima was able to get an occasional start at designated hitter, but the recent callup of Wladimir Balentien has closed that spot for the most part. And with the Mariners eager to get a look at some of their young talent, Johjima's opportunities are becoming quite limited. There are multiple issues involved in the situation. First, the Mariners recently made a large investment in Johjima by giving him a three-year, $24 million extension on April 25. On the other hand, with Seattle's playoff hopes gone, the front office is getting a good look at some of the young talent (Clement, Balentien, Bryan LaHair) while sending Ryan Rowland-Smith and Brandon Morrow down to Triple-A Tacoma to develop into starting pitchers. "It's a tough situation," Mariners manager Jim Riggleman said. "Kenji's been a regular [starter] his whole career, and that's not the case at the moment. So I really don't have any words to say to try to soften that -- that's just what it is. And he's handled it great. ... He's been a real pro, doing all his work and staying focused. I'm sure it's hurting him." Johjima had a rough start to the season and has not been able to get back on track. In addition to the .211 average, he has just three home runs and 24 RBIs in 279 at-bats. He's only struck out 26 times, but the balls he puts in play are not ending up in unoccupied areas.
The statistics are a stark contrast to Johjima's first two years in Seattle, when he hit at least .287 and showed modest power with 18 and 14 homers, respectively.Johjima's struggles also came at the wrong time, as Clement started wearing out Triple-A pitching early in the year and was called up on April 30. The former USC standout has had his own problems at the plate, being sent down a few weeks after the initial start and still only hitting .191 for the year after being recalled in June. But Clement has shown the ability to hit the ball out of the park, and he had six hits in last 16 at-bats heading into Friday's game. "We've communicated to [Johjima] very clearly that Jeff Clement is here and we're going to get a good look at him and try not to let Kenji get rusty," Riggleman said. The manager said the ballclub has to take a look at the potential power and production in Clement's left-handed bat, adding that right-handed pitching has eaten up the Mariners lately. "We're going to see if that plays out with Clement. And it could be that down the road, they're sharing the position [and] it could be that one of them just takes the job," Riggleman added. "But the way Kenji got out of the box this year, the first two or three months, created this situation. It's just played itself into that. Jeff's getting an opportunity that we'll see if he takes advantage of. And if he doesn't, Kenji will be back in there." As for Johjima, patience will have to be his motto for the near future as he works though this trying season and attempts to rebound next year. "It's not like he's at an age where his career is going to go on a down slide," Riggleman said. "The numbers he put up last year, I think he can come back and do that next year. But right now, the opportunities aren't arising for him. It's going to be something he's going to have to shoot for in Spring Training, unless we make a determination on Clement between now and the next few weeks that Kenji's our better option."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.