Bloomquist blooming in the desert
Mariners 'super-sub' combines a hot bat, versatile glove
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The starting lineups for the Mariners' next three Cactus League games were posted on a clubhouse bulletin board on Saturday morning, and the team's hottest hitter was listed on every one of them.Willie Bloomquist started at second base against the Rangers on Saturday afternoon, is scheduled to start at third base on Sunday against the Brewers in Maryvale and returns to second base for Monday's split-squad game in Mesa against the Cubs. He already ranks among the team leaders in games played (11) and at-bats (34), and probably could use a little breather. But if manager Mike Hargrove asked for volunteers to play in both games of a day-night doubleheader -- even in Spring Training -- Bloomquist would be the first to raise his hand. "I'm never going to complain about playing," Bloomquist said with a smile. As the Mariners' most versatile player -- he was one of four Major League players last season to start games at six positions -- Bloomquist savors playing time the way most of us savor fresh air. He usually is the first player to walk into the clubhouse each morning, and one of the last to leave. "We have a lot of hard workers here," hitting coach Jeff Pentland said, "but Willie works the hardest." Heat records are being broken practically every day this month in the Valley of the Sun, and the Arizona State product by way of Port Orchard, Wash., has been one of the hottest hitters. He had a seven-game hitting streak and a .500 (17-for-34) batting average before going 0-for-4 in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the visiting Rangers at Peoria Stadium. "I worked really hard during the offseason, made a few adjustments, and am trying out some new things this spring," he said. "Right now it's paying off." In layman's terms, Bloomquist said, he has cut down on his swing, which allows the velocity generated by the pitcher to provide the impetus for driving balls through holes in the infield and gaps in the outfield. "Ironically, when I don't try to do as much, I actually do more," he said. He likened his new hitting technique to playing pepper with the pitcher. The harder the pitcher throws, and the better contact he makes, the better chance he has of hitting the ball hard and getting a hit. "A majority of my at-bats feel real good," the super-sub said. "I am 'squaring' the ball up, even on a lot of the outs I am making. It's not blind luck that I'm getting a lot of hits. I'm putting together good at-bats and finding holes. It's a combination of the two."
Bloomquist spent numerous hours during the offseason with Pentland, tweaking his swing."It's nothing huge," Bloomquist said. "I'm not going up there trying to drive the ball into the gaps as much. I'm trying to cut down my swing and stay within myself. In the past, when I tried to hit the ball harder, my swing got longer and I started popping the ball up to right field. It looked like I had zero power." And power is not his game. After four-plus seasons and 378 at-bats with the Mariners, the 29-year-old has hit four home runs. Asked on Saturday if his spring batting average was indicative of his new swing, he said, "I don't know. I've never hit .500 before." One thing he does know, however, is that no matter how many hits he gets this spring, his batting average on April 2 will be .000, and when the game against the Athletics starts, he'll be in the dugout. "It would be nice to start the regular season with the average I have now," he said. "But everyone will be at 'zero' again, and what I do this month is nothing more than giving me some confidence." When the bell rings, Bloomquist will take a seat and wait for some action just about anywhere on the field. He appeared in 102 games at seven positions last season -- every place except on the mound and behind the plate. Hector Luna, Mark DeRosa and Jerry Hairston Jr., were the other MLB players that started games at six positions. Though Bloomquist longs for the day when he becomes an everyday big-league player, his versatility got him to the Major Leagues, and keeps him around. It also provides a darn good living. Shortly after the 2006 season, Bloomquist received a one-year contract extension that takes him through the 2008 season. He received a $100,000 signing bonus and salaries of $825,000 this season and $950,000 in 2008. He also can earn $200,000 in performance bonuses this season and an additional $225,000 in 2008. He would become a free agent at the end of his current contract. "I'm not exactly blowing the barn doors off, but it's good security," he said. "From a financial standpoint, I'm taking care of my family."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.