Tuesday, March 4, 2014 @ 7:04am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – One of the big surprises early in camp was how the competition for spots in the outfield quickly vanished.
Throughout the winter the list of candidates seemingly got longer, but those players were nowhere to be found once outfield drills began on a back field. Franklin Gutierrez decided to take 2014 off. Nelson Cruz was never signed. A true center fielder was never traded for. Logan Morrison was at first base.
It quickly became clear that instead of spending the spring sorting through an outfield muddle we would watch a group of four go about the business of getting ready for the season. While there is always room for surprises and a chance that they could go with five outfielders, barring disaster it would appear that Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Corey Hart and Michael Saunders will be roaming the outfield grass at Safeco Field this summer.
It is a bit of a surprise that this is the group the Mariners will go with. I fully expected that we would see more help brought in from the outside. This team's outfield defense was a disaster in 2013 – an acknowledged disaster at that with general manager Jack Zduriencik admitting at the end of the season that he knew the Mariners were sacrificing defense to bring in some big bats. That defense helped contribute to a 103-run jump in runs allowed from 2012 to 2013. That was of concern to Zduriencik yet we didn't see him bring in anyone who was anywhere near an elite outfield defender.
That said, the outfield defense has a good chance to be a lot better than what we saw last year.
Addition by subtraction will play a big part in any improvement. Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay started a combined 128 games in left field in 2013. Michael Morse started 53 games in right. These three players ranked in the bottom quarter of a number of defensive metrics, and that is being generous. You also had the newly converted Ackley in center for 46 games and Saunders out of position for 69 games. As much as we like Saunders as an outfielder, the numbers suggest center is by far his worst position. There has been the thought for some time that he needs to be on a corner to best utilize his talent. We could see more of that this year.
What did this outfield defense cost the Mariners? Too many balls got over their heads or through the gaps. Outs were turned into doubles and the runs allowed began to pile up. Depending on what numbers you look at, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that the outfield defense over the course of the season cost this team five or six wins. We shouldn't see that this year.
The Mariners have a chance to go from well below average on the corners to average depending on how much Hart plays in right. An outfield defense of Ackley in left, Almonte in center and Saunders in right has the opportunity to be average and possibly slightly above average, which is a tremendous improvement from a year ago.
Assuming Hart is healthy and can play more than half the games in right – and that is a big assumption at this point – the key will be finding the balance of defense and offense with what you have in Ackley, Almonte and Saunders. If you can get Saunders to a corner spot you have dramatically increased the defensive performance from a year ago at whatever position you put him.
The interesting thing to watch will be what Ackley and Almonte can turn into. Both have the athleticism to be above average in the outfield. Ackley is inexperienced, having converted to the outfield mid-season last year. Beyond the mechanics of the position, it was eye opening listening to him talk about the physical demands of playing in the outfield and how different that was for him making the switch during the season. Having an offseason to prepare for that should at least get him started on solid footing. Limiting him to left, as manager Lloyd McClendon has said he will, should help Ackley as well.
As for Almonte, in his brief time in Seattle we saw a talented but raw outfielder. He has the legs to patrol center. He possesses an arm that some say is the best in the organization. Accuracy with that strong arm was a problem last year and his play around the wall was dicey. At 24, some might write him off and say he's reached his ceiling having played in the outfield his entire career, but recent life changes have given him a renewed focus.
Dustin Ackley has plenty of room to improve as an outfielder after switching positions midway through last season. (AP)
This spring in camp we have seen very focused and very intense drills in the outfield. It is clear that there is teaching going on and more importantly it looks like there has been learning. Although the work and workouts are intense, the outfielders enjoy working with Van Slyke, who brings 13 years of big-league experience to the position. If that is not enough, five Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger Awards no doubt helped grab the attention of the young players he tutors.
Van Slyke spent the early days of camp getting the outfielders physically ready for the season. He wanted to give them the opportunity to get their legs under them and get their arms ready both in strength and mechanics. He also went to work on their minds.
"It's about giving them a vision that they are not where they are supposed to be," he said. "They are not nearly as good as they are going to be. Each guy will have different growth over hopefully the next couple of years or the next couple of months that who you are right now is not who you are going to be at the end of this season or the next one. You are going to be better only if you are willing to admit you are not as good as you should be."
Van Slyke knows he needs to make up for lost time with some of these outfielders. Ackley is on a crash course, continuing to learn his position at the big-league level. With Ackley and other young players who were brought to the big leagues quickly, things get missed as a lot of learning goes on in the minor leagues. The biggest thing these players miss out on?
"Reps," Van Slyke said. "That is the thing. In today's game a lot of times our expectations of young players are unfair. They didn't get the reps that maybe they got 25 years ago. These guys are as talented as the guys when I played, before I played and after I played. The talent level at the major-league level is not the issue. If there are fundamental baseball issues it is only because they haven't had the opportunity to make those mistakes in the minors. They haven't had the chance to grow in the minor leagues. We are pushing players faster than we ever have. The players are getting younger, but at the same time once you have got to the big leagues you are expected to play like a major leaguer."
According to Van Slyke, the problem comes when that player reaches the major leagues they often believe they are what they are going to be defensively. While so much work goes into developing and improving as a hitter, the same focus is rarely applied to the defense. "You are what you are" is not an acceptable outlook for Van Slyke.
"A lot of times these guys don't have a vision of what it should be. They only have a vision of what it is right now," he said. "I think if you can give guys a vision of playing at a higher level they will want to get there. You have got to give them tools so they can use those tools and then they can apply them to what there craft is.
"Hopefully we (coaches) are the right tools in the right place at the right time for these guys, but they also have the responsibility of using the tools that have been given to them and use them correctly."
The tools are there, tools that may not have always been available to this group at this level. It is a good start and I think we may have already seen improvement. In Monday's game against the Rockies, Almonte made two tremendous plays where he showed great range while getting to balls near the wall and then managed to make two basket catches to turn what would have been doubles into outs.
Ackley has yet to be tested in left but the same plays were challenges for him last year. Can he get a better jump? Will an offseason of conditioning his arm and legs for the outfield make a difference? Will an offseason of working on the outfield throw – a different arm slot from the infield – reveal that perhaps his arm is not as weak as what we saw last year? He has every opportunity to be an above average outfielder and his legs alone make him better than what we saw in left for the majority of last year. How much better can he get?
The Mariners allowed 754 runs last year, 103 runs more than in 2012. Obviously a lot of this falls on the pitching but the defense did its fair share of damage as well. While outfield defense was not addressed in the offseason in the form of bringing in another player, there is still opportunity for marked improvement if these players continue to develop.
Monday, March 3, 2014 @ 7:02am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Kyle Seager has been missing from the Mariners' lineups since jamming a finger on a head-first slide into third base during the first game of the spring.
"It wasn't exactly a textbook slide, but its fine," said Seager, who expects to be able to participate in a full workout Monday.
The injury occurred on a single by Robinson Cano and was actually a nice first-to-third by Seager, who isn't a speed guy but runs well. He failed to stick the landing, however, diving head-first into the bag and rolling over his hand. He took little solace in the fact that he was safe.
"There wasn't even a throw, which adds insult to injury," he said sheepishly.
Seager is scheduled to be back in the lineup Tuesday when the Mariners travel to Glendale to take on the Dodgers.
Let's play two!
Split-squad action Monday for the Mariners, who will be playing at home and in Goodyear.
Home lineup vs. Rockies
Abraham Almonte, 8
Nick Franklin 6
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, 3
Corey Hart, DH
Dustin Ackley, 7
Xavier Avery, 9
Willie Bloomquist, 5
Humberto Quintero, 2
Away lineup vs. Reds
Endy Chavez, 8
Brad Miller, 6
Logan Morrison, 3
Jesus Montero, DH
Michael Saunders, 9
Stefen Romero, 7
Nate Tenbrink, 5
Mike Zunino, 2
Carlos Triunfel, 4
Of note: Logan Morrison makes his debut in the field, playing first in the away game. The battle of the shortstops finds both candidates hitting second. Manager Lloyd McClendon will manage the Peoria game.
Saunders roaming the corners
I find it a little bit curious that we have yet to see Michael Saunders in center field. McClendon said Monday morning that was just how things have worked out so far and that we would see him some in center at some point, but it would appear they are giving Abraham Almonte a good look. Saunders profiles defensively better on the corners and the thought last year was they would move him there and put Dustin Ackley in center. McClendon has other ideas for that, saying that Ackley will be limited to left so we could see more of Saunders in center than originally planned. I will have more on this in a post later Monday.
With Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in camp with the Rangers Monday, McClendon was asked by a visiting reporter if the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl could have any effect on the Mariners.
"No," he answered. "We can't make any tackles and we can't run anyone over at the plate anymore."
Saturday, March 1, 2014 @ 8:13am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Hisashi Iwakuma admitted that he was disappointed and frustrated with the news that he would have to keep the middle finger of his right hand in a splint for another three weeks. He went into the appointment thinking he would be cleared to start throwing again.
"My finger feels a lot better now," he told a group of media with the assistance of interpreter Antony Suzuki in the Mariners clubhouse Saturday morning. "But you have to respect what the doctor says. I was ready to play catch from today. It is what it is so I just have to wait three weeks."
The prognosis eliminates any chance that Iwakuma will be ready at the start of the season. Lloyd McClendon said that he would like to see him throw around 20 innings before returning. Pitching coach Rick Waits could be seen at Iwakuma's locker before the chat with the media in what appeared to be a good-natured negotiation about how many starts he would need before his return. Three weeks ago Iwakuma believed he could make the start of the season. Now he hesitates to put a timetable on his return.
"That's a tough question because I have never been in this situation before," he said. "Obviously I want to come back as soon as possible. Hopefully within a week or two I will be able to throw hard and go from there."
In addition to conditioning and "shadow pitching" (throwing full bullpens using a towel instead of a baseball), Iwakuma has also had to work to keep the callus on the finger that allows him to get a better feel for his splitter. That callus is the last point of his hand that touches the baseball, and in his opinion is very important in what he tries do do with the ball.
"You don't want the tip of your finger to be too soft," he pointed out. "You don't want a bad callus at the same time, but you want it just right so you have conscious to the very end of your finger. I do some training so I can keep that end hard enough so I can feel the ball better. I am doing my best so there won't be any difference going forward so when I grip a ball to release it, it is there."
Iwakuma's job now is to stay fit and keep the finger as healthy as possible. Dwelling on missing starts in his mind is counterproductive.
"It is very disappointing," he admitted. "You can think about it and not go anywhere. You just have to move forward and come back as soon as possible. Make sure I don't get any setbacks coming back too quick. That's all I can think about going forward."
There will be baseball, probably.
The Mariners are scheduled to host the Angels in a game that can be heard at 12:05 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle. Conditions are quite wet as a big storm came through early this morning and another is on the way. Early reports had it hitting at game time but as of 9 PT the report is we will not see rain until 2 p.m., so for now it looks like this game will be played.
Angels not exactly tipping their hand with that lineup, but it will be good for the Mariners to get work against a lefty.
It is early and McClendon has had mostly positive things to say about everyone, but there are some names you hear mentioned more than others, and Xavier Avery is one of them. Avery is getting a look in right today and so far McClendon has been impressed with what he has seen from the outfielder who was acquired from the Orioles in exchange for Mike Morse last year.
"He's a gamer," said McClendon. "Makes things happen. He's got a couple of tools that can make things happen."
If the Mariners do not choose to go with an extra arm in the bullpen to help bridge the game until the return of Iwakuma, they appear to have a spot open on the bench. Avery could fit that role.
Friday, February 28, 2014 @ 9:07pm
By Shannon Drayer
James Paxton was a September surprise in 2013.
Yes, he was a member of the heralded "Big Three," but his star had lost a bit of its luster after the inconsistencies and command issues he showed at times in Double-A followed him to Triple-A. Some questioned his call-up, but Paxton put those questions to rest, surrendering just four earned runs in four games against four playoff contenders.
Mariners pitcher James Paxton's development has been helped along thanks to his studying of the arm motion of Dodgers ace and fellow southpaw Clayton Kershaw on his iPad. (AP)
His overall numbers in Tacoma would do little to tip off the success he would have in Seattle in September, but his recent numbers indicated there may have been a change. Perhaps the final piece of the Paxton puzzle had been found.
Ten years earlier he couldn't have dreamt he would find himself on the mound at Safeco Field Sept. 7. Ten years earlier he couldn't make the All-Star team in his home town of Ladner, British Columbia.
"All my friends were playing on the All-Star team, and I got cut," he remembered. "I wasn't good enough to make the All-Star team. That's when I made up my mind I wanted to play. I told my dad I wanted to hang out with my friends this summer, I want to get good."
His dad became his throwing partner and the two would go to the park behind the house every night that summer to throw.
"I would throw 150 pitches, 200 pitches to my dad," said Paxton. "Throw and throw, we would throw long toss, we would throw bullpens. We loved it. We would spend hours out there. The next season I got a little better and I made the All-Star team and from there it just took off."
It took off well enough for Paxton to earn a baseball scholarship to play at the University of Kentucky. The Paxton that reported to Lexington was nothing like the Paxton we see today, though. That Paxton was 3-4 inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter, and his fastball topped out at 88 mph on a good day.
"My body completely changed," he explained. "Each year I just kept on throwing harder and harder. It was crazy. I came into college with these kids who threw 95 and I was like, 'Oh man, what am I going to do? I only throw 86-88.' It was unbelievable. It was crazy how it happened, but I guess I was just a late developer. I kept on building strength."
He was drafted in 2009 by the Toronto Blue Jays, who selected him with the 37th pick. He did not sign, however, and planned to return to Kentucky for his senior year, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible because of a contact with agent Scott Boras.
Unsigned in pro ball and ineligible for college competition, Paxton found himself in no man's land until the next draft. What would seem to be a nightmare for most in his situation would turn out to be a key development year for Paxton.
"It was an interesting time for me because I had all that time off," he said. "I can't tell you how many bullpens I was throwing. I didn't stop throwing, I was throwing bullpens to my dad that entire time."
It was just James and his father. With no pitching coach in his ear telling him what to do or where his arm angle should be, Paxton's delivery began to change.
"In college I was a low 3/4, I was almost sidearm," he said. "Now I am probably a high 3/4 and I think that is because that's what was comfortable for me. It's hard to explain the reason why, it just kind of happened. It was very organic, just the way my body wanted to throw. Everyone is different and I feel like you have got to do what your body wants to do and then refine it. This works for me, and I feel it is what gives me such good downward angle on my ball."
With a comfortable delivery and mostly favorable results, it has since been about refining it. Repeat-ability of delivery is the goal of every pitcher, and for a tall lanky pitcher like Paxton it can be a challenge. For him it was the final piece of the puzzle.
He knew he had good stuff. That stuff was little match for competition at the Double-A level and below. At Triple-A he was learning to pitch to hitters who had an approach. Some days the results were good. Other days his command failed him.
"He had been getting too much tilt," recalled Mariners pitching coach Rick Waits, who worked with Paxton in 2013 as the organization's minor-league pitching coordinator. "He was having trouble catching up. He got to a point mid-season where he said, 'You know, I need to try to change this.' Almost instantly he had it and all of a sudden he's catching up. Everything got sharper, but mainly his command got better."
He identified a problem and made a change with the help of senior advisors to Jack Zduriencik, Ted Simmons and Pete Vukovich. The pair advised him to get the MLB app on his iPad and take a look at a pitcher that reminded them of him, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
"Watching him one day it just kind of clicked to me that where he was bringing back his arm was different than mine and I started thinking, 'OK, why does he do that?' " Paxton said. "I tried it one day and I realized how much easier it was to get on top of the baseball. I practiced it and practiced it and it came pretty easy. It wasn't hard to change that drop back, just bring it up a little bit. It made it that much easier to repeat and just get on top of the baseball."
The small change compacted his delivery.
"There's not so much movement. It's a shorter path to get my arm up. When I was coming down I was getting almost to my ankle at times. That is a long way to time and try to make it the same every time. But me bringing my hand out so it is just kind of going at my knee, it is an easier path to feel and repeat."
Waits believes that what we saw last year in Seattle was just a sneak peak of what we could see this year and in years to come. In addition to the stuff, he believes that Paxton has the mental game needed for success at the big league level as well.
"He's a sharp guy. He's got great peripheral vision," he said. "You can't only focus on one point, you have got to see things that are happening around you. He's always had that. He has always been a deep thinker and his focus is as good as anyone. He put that focus in the right place. That was part of the changes he made.
"He's a very, very focused, determined, hungry pitcher."
How determined? How hungry? Just look at how high he's set his sights.
"If I can be anything close to what Kershaw has turned himself into, it is going to be a heck of a deal for me," he said. "I feel like if I continue to work hard, I have a chance to get there."
Friday, February 28, 2014 @ 2:57pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA Ariz. – Hisashi Iwakuma was seen by hand specialist Dr. Don Sheridan Friday afternoon in Arizona, and while the doctor was pleased with the progress he saw with the strained tendon in Iwakuma's right middle finger, he recommended the finger be kept in a splint for three more weeks.
Friday's recommendation is in line with Dr. Sheridan's initial prognosis of how long Iwakuma would need to refrain from throwing. It is expected that Iwakuma will be able to resume throwing in three weeks.
The Mariners were not expecting Iwakuma to get the green light to start throwing again, although that would have been a pleasant surprise.
The injury was rather significant. Head trainer Rick Griffin explained what happened when Iwakuma caught the finger in a screen while training in California in January.
"He snapped the tendon and it pulled the tendon off the top of his finger, off the top of the bone, so it has to scar back down and reattach," Griffin said.
Griffin also noted that the split-finger fastball that Iwakuma throws puts extra pressure on the tendon in the middle finger, so it is imperative the tendon is given every chance to fully reattach.
There is obviously no question that Iwakuma will miss the start of the season. It looks like he will not get a chance to throw an inning in Arizona either. A three-week return would have him throwing again March 21.
Griffin told me before today's news that once Iwakuma was cleared to throw he would most likely be put on a ten-day throwing program to build him up to bullpens. I wouldn't expect to see him throw off of a mound until March 31 at the earliest. At that point he will need to throw a few bullpens with 2-3 days in between before being sent out on a rehab assignment. It would appear that he will miss a minimum of four starts.
Friday, February 28, 2014 @ 10:40am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – If Taijaun Walker is nervous about the shoulder soreness he has been experiencing, he is not showing it.
"It definitely sucks but I feel good about the situation," he told the media after Friday's workout. "I would just rather not push it, try to fight through something and make it feel worse. I would rather just take the time off and just get it healthy first and then move on."
According to head trainer Rick Griffin, Walker first experienced inflammation in the shoulder in December. He had worked through that and was progressing in camp, having thrown three days in a row this week, but his progress wasn't to the point where Griffin wanted to put him back on the mound. The decision was made to have the shoulder further checked out.
Taijuan Walker won't throw for at least five days after being diagnosed with inflammation in his shoulder. (AP)
The second opinion came from the noted Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles. The MRIs that came back clean and a talk with shoulder specialist Dr. James Andrews reassured Walker.
"Definitely a lot of encouragement, he said. "They are saying everything looks good, just a little inflamed. Put me on anti-inflammatories and in seven days should be good to go."
Griffin says there is good reason to believe the diagnosis is correct and that they are not dealing with anything more serious.
"We just have to trust the people who look at him and we have got two good pretty good orthopedists who have reviewed his MRI and examined him and talked to him and reassured him and feel like this is the best thing to do," he said. "There are always naysayers and you are worrying about things, but I think more times than not these guys are right on the ball and they get things the way they are supposed to be and we are very confident he is going to progress once he starts throwing again."
As for Walker's confidence in the diagnosis?
"I am 100 percent," he said. "I was throwing, everything felt fine. Just a little inflammation, soreness."
Walker had never experienced inflammation in the front of the shoulder before this but did experience inflammation in the back of the shoulder in 2012. He recovered with no problems and Griffin expects the same this time. The Mariners will take it slow with him, however.
"We will start slow and make sure he can repeat his throwing motion," Griffin said. "He will go out and play catch several days then progress into long-toss program and then he will start throwing his bullpens. Once he starts throwing his bullpens he will go quickly, but up until that point we will be cautious with him."
Walker is not concerned about a timeline.
"Take it day by day, not worry about the start of the season, get healthy first," he said.
Iwakuma to see hand specialist
We could have a better idea of when Hisashi Iwakuma could return by the end of the day. He was scheduled to see hand specialist Dr. Sheridan at noon in Phoenix. He is hoping to get cleared to start throwing again. If he does, he would be about a week ahead of schedule so that might be a bit more optimistic thinking on his part, but we shall see.
Iwakuma has been doing everything but throwing in this camp. He has continued his core, strength and conditioning routines and also thrown ghost bullpens, going through the motions of pitching without the ball, often with a towel. He is taking these sessions very seriously and threw a 40-pitch bullpen a couple of days ago.
"He worked on his mechanics, balance and follow-through. He has even tried to concentrate on inner half of the plate, outer half of plate," Griffin said.
Once Iwakuma is cleared to throw, Griffin estimates that he will go through a throwing program that lasts about 10 days. If all goes well he then will be allowed to throw a bullpen. Once he is throwing bullpens we should have a good idea of a possible return date.
Closer getting closer
Fernando Rodney threw his first bullpen of the spring Friday. He threw all of his pitches and liked what he saw and felt in the 30-pitch session. He is expecting to throw to hitters on Monday and could make his Cactus League debut shortly after that.
Yes, there is a game Friday. The Mariners will take on the Padres in a game that can be heard at 12:05 on 710 ESPN Seattle and 710Sports.com.
Endy Chavez, 8
Nick Franklin, 6
Ty Kelly, 4
Corey Hart, DH
Jesus Montero, 3
Michael Saunders, 9
Stefen Romero, 7
John Buck, 2
Willie Bloomquist, 5
James Paxton gets the start and is scheduled to throw two innings. Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush, Ramon Ramirez, Nick Hill, Dominic Leone, Zach Miner and Carson Smith all could get an inning as well.
Friday, February 28, 2014 @ 6:48am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker has suffered what manager Lloyd McClendon called "a little bit of a setback."
Walker, who reported feeling shoulder soreness shortly after pitchers and catchers began workouts in Peoria earlier this month, was originally scheduled to throw on flat ground Tuesday with the hope being that he could get back on a mound by the end of the week. Instead, he took a trip to the Kerland-Jobe clinic in Los Angeles Thursday, where doctors confirmed what Mariners medical director Dr. Ed Khalfayan diagnosed as inflammation in the right shoulder.
He will be kept from throwing the next five to seven days.
"This is a little bit of a setback, yes," McClendon said. "It is what it is and we have just got to continue to move forward."
McClendon stressed that MRIs on Walker's shoulder showed no structural damage but that the Mariners would be extremely cautious with their young prospect.
"This guy, we're not just talking about 2014," he said. "We are hopefully talking about the next 15 years. We have to be cautious and we have to be smart. Err on the side of caution."
The Mariners are already down one starter with Hisashi Iwakuma not throwing due to a strained tendon in the middle finger of his right hand. He is scheduled to see the hand specialist Friday afternoon, after which we could learn more about a timetable for a return.
For now, McClendon is looking for one of the numerous starters in camp to step up.
"A lot of opportunities," he answered when asked if the Mariners had enough in camp to fill the current rotation needs. "We have a lot of big arms to hopefully take advantage of those opportunities. Like I said, I just hope they don't all eliminate themselves. Then we have got a problem."
Thursday, February 27, 2014 @ 3:08pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – It is always nice to start the Cactus League season on a positive note, and the Mariners did exactly that Thursday afternoon as they cruised to a 7-1 win over the Padres. Manager Lloyd McClendon was happy with the first effort he saw from his team.
"For the most part we executed pretty well," McClendon said. "Our pitchers were outstanding. We still have a few things to work on, but it was a good day for us."
Erasmo Ramirez kicked off his battle for a spot in the starting rotation by pitching two scoreless innings. He threw all of his pitches and was able to keep the ball down and get groundouts, three of which were fielded by Robinson Cano in the first inning.
"When you got a guy like that at second base you think, 'Okay, let's see, we have got a lot of lefty hitters. Cano on second base, everyone has good hands, why not just make pitches, make ground balls?' So just make the infield work a little bit. Keep the ball down," he said after the game.
"I prefer to see the infielders working on the ground balls and not the outfielders on the fly balls. I loved what happened today."
Blake Beavan followed and threw two more scoreless innings. Both Ramirez and Beavan gave up two-out hits, something that McClendon said he would like to see them focus more on when in the heat of battle.
The offense kicked right in from the start with Abraham Almonte – who is auditioning for the leadoff spot – drawing a walk. A batter later, Cano got his first hit that doesn't count with the Mariners, a first-pitch single to center. Logan Morrison scored Almonte with a sacrifice fly and then Justin Smoak drove a ball to the gap in right-center on a 3-1 count and drove in Cano, who was happy with what he saw from the offense.
"It was good to see the way guys were swinging and that is what we want," he said. "We want to go out into the season with he same approach and same mind. Just go out there and swing at strikes."
Cano drew a walk in his second at-bat but jumped on the first pitch he saw in the first. He knows he won't see that pitch often in the regular season.
"It is good to go out there and put an example for the guys and not just swing at everything knowing that this is spring training but during the season they might pitch me different," he said.
Cano has talked about setting an example and being a leader and we have seen him live up to those words, talking hitting with a number of guys and helping out in the batting cages. It is a role that is new to him. He was the young guy in New York and benefited from growing up in the game with a number of players with many years of experience in the big leagues. He believes it is his duty to do the same.
"I would say it is time to pass that on to kids," he said. "Especially a guy like Smoak, a guy that we know he can hit. I talked to him and said you don't want to go this year and hit .230 like last year. If you want to work, I am all for it."
Cano worked with Smoak Wednesday on a net drill designed by his former hitting coach in New York. He has also seen Smoak working with hitting coach Howard Johnson. The focus has been to get Smoak to keep his hands in and stay inside the ball. On Thursday, Cano saw the results.
"That was a beautiful swing," he said. "You could see the way he keeps his hands inside, if he does that this season you will see the difference."
McClendon liked what he saw as well. He believes Smoak was putting pressure on himself to hit home runs. That is not what he wants his focus to be.
"One thing we want to impress to him is we think he has the ability to lead the league in doubles, and that's what I want his goal to be," McClendon said. "You hit doubles, you are doing everything right."
Other highlights from the game game included scoreless frames from Lucas Luetge and Tom Wilhelmsen, who threw a one-two-three inning. A scout's radar gun I kept an eye on had Wilhelmsen topping out at 96 mph, which is some pretty serious heat to have this early in camp. The fastball isn't the concern with him. His success will be determined by if he can find the curve ball he lost last year. He has been inconsistent with it in camp so far but did get a swinging strike with one in the game against the Padres. Just something to keep an eye on.
We will do this again Friday.