Updated Oct 14, 2012 - 11:16 pm
Seattle Mariners Blog with Shannon Drayer
Monday, April 14, 2014 @ 4:12pm
By Shannon Drayer
Arlington, Texas – Mariners open a four-game series here in Texas where it is unseasonably cold and ridiculously windy. We will see if that has an impact on tonight's game. Wind is blowing out to right on top of the stadium but the wind tends to circle in the stadium so it is tough to tell how that will play tonight. Let's get straight to the lineups because they are interesting.
Start with the Rangers lineup. Really? Sure, Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder are in it, but does that look like a Texas lineup to you? Not quite the top to bottom firepower they have had in the past. With Colby Lewis making his season debut the Mariners could have an opportunity to do some damage. Let's see if the bats break out away from Oakland pitching.
Lloyd McClendon has moved Justin Smoak down in the order and moved Corey Hart to the position he originally envisioned him residing at behind Robinson Cano. Hart has battled different aches and pains as well as his swing, but McClendon believes he is ready to be put back into the cleanup spot.
"I think he's probably there now," he said in his pregame meeting with the media. "From a physical standpoint I think he's feeling pretty good."
Now that doesn't mean we will see him paroling right field on an everyday basis anytime soon. McClendon said that his main goal with Hart was to keep him healthy and his concern was how his knees would react to the stopping and starting required of an outfielder.
As for the other moves in the lineup McClendon said it was time to shake things up.
"Maybe get a little bit more power down low in the lineup. Try to get a little bit more balance. Just tinkering a little bit. We got shutout, we scored one run two days ago," he said.
One question that has been asked quite a bit on Twitter and in the comment section of the blog is why not move Dustin Ackley (.308 average) up in the order? McClendon hasn't been asked that question but it is a topic that we addressed on the roundtable segment of the pregame show. Mike Blowers had some insight on why you wouldn't move Ackley quite yet.
"I think it's a couple things," he said. "One, it takes pressure off of him. For example, if he were hitting second like Miller is, maybe Dustin would try to do things differently because of that. I think the other part of it is when you're down at the bottom of the order, there's a tendency for the pitcher to let up a little bit, maybe make a few more mistakes. But I think the biggest change with Dustin is it's freed him up to just go and hack and I think that's when he's at his best. I think if he's not worried about moving a runner over, trying to work counts, do all these different things that are required in different parts of the lineup, and he's just free to go be himself, you're going to get the production.
"From talking to him, even in the spring, he made some comments that I thought were perfect, and that is just not worrying about the results anymore and getting your swings in. I think being at the bottom of the lineup is probably a good idea. I don't think that's a place where he's going to stay, but I think for now it's a great idea. And it seems to be working great. Because with Brad hitting second, he's not going to change his game right now, he's going to be aggressive and he probably will be that way for his entire career – and that's okay. It works right now."
• Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to throw his simulated game Saturday in Miami. He will throw 45 pitches to hitters and, if all goes well, will most likely be sent out on a rehab assignment when the team returns from its road trip.
• The Mariners are dodging Adrian Beltre, who is on the DL with a mild quad strain, on this trip, but will probably see him in the next home stand. Beltre is eligible to come off the DL April 21 and was on the field before the game running the stadium and doing agility drills.
• If you tune into the radio broadcasts for this series you will hear a new voice. With Dave Sims taking the series off, Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith will trade off calling the games with Mike Blowers on ROOT Sports, and former Mariner and current Rangers analyst Mark McClemore will join us on radio. He will pair with Goldsmith today and tomorrow and Rizzs on Wednesday and Thursday.
Sunday, April 13, 2014 @ 10:55pm
By Shannon Drayer
As the Mariners hit the road, I think they will be happy to have the Oakland A's in their rearview mirror for at least a couple of weeks. Six out of their first 11 games have come against last year's division winner, and while the Mariners showed that they can stay with the A's, they haven't quite taken the next step and come up with the W's.
While it is not particularly disturbing to see them lose challenging games against the reigning AL West champs, it would be nice to see them win a few of the games that are supposed to be tough matchups, especially games that their pitchers give them a chance to win.
This week the Mariners have the opportunity to regain some ground, though. While I am not one to make too much out of any series (particularly this time of the year), this next series is an opportunity I would like to see them take advantage of and hit Texas while they are down. The Rangers rotation is in shambles right now and Adrian Beltre was put on the DL Sunday morning. The Mariners will face their ace Yu Darvish, but they will counter with Felix that day. With any luck the Mariners will face Hector Noesi at some point, who Seattle traded to Texas Saturday for cash or a player to be named later. Let's see how the bats fare against a pitching staff that is not wearing green.
I am not panicked about what we saw, or more precisely what we didn't see from the offense this weekend. It is still too early to worry much. A few bad games in April are magnified by lack of total at-bats – for example, Justin Smoak went from hitting .300/.600/.1000 to .220/.304/.742 in four days. We've seen good, we've seen bad, now let's wait and see what we see over the next couple of weeks.
One concern I have about the upcoming road trip is the bullpen. Felix will give you innings, but with James Paxton on the DL there is uncertainty with the rest of the rotation. Erasmo Ramirez has struggled in his last two outings. Roenis Elias has been held to five innings in each of his first two starts. Chris Young got through six scoreless innings and thankfully will not pitch in Texas, where his fly-ball outs would have the potential to go for runs. Recent call-up Blake Beavan is a huge question mark – he was not good against Texas last year but has had some success against the Rangers before that. He has a comfort level pitching in Texas just miles away from where he grew up, but does that add up to more than five innings pitched on Tuesday? Let's hope so, because with no off day until a week from Thursday they really can't afford too many short starts. We should see a good amount of bullpen this week but hopefully it will be in managed situations and not mop up duty. Something to keep an eye on.
• Taijuan Walker will get the start Tuesday for the Rainiers in Tacoma.
• Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to throw another bullpen on Tuesday and most likely will face hitters this week in a simulated game situation.
• Plenty of talk about the catch-transfer rule in the clubhouse and coaches rooms, and I have yet to find a fan of it. Willie Bloomquist talked about the confusion they are now facing with the new rule.
"How do you know whether or not to take the chance and go to the next base if he drops it like that or not?" he asked. "You don't know if you do take the chance and go and they say, 'No, rule it a catch,' and they double you up at first. If you go back to first and they rule it a catch you are out at second. Hopefully we change it back to the way it was. Right now it is one of those sticky situations. You really don't know what to do. There's really no right thing to do."
Lloyd McClendon is also not a fan and has the same concerns for his base runners that Bloomquist described. McClendon and the coaches have instructed the players to watch the umpire, which is an adjustment as they have always watched the play in front of them. The play is nothing until it is called by the umpire, and according to McClendon they have been about 50/50 in the timeliness of making those calls. This is pretty much a huge mess. While the intent has been to play the season out with the new rules and then review, I have to wonder if an adjustment will be made sooner.
• McClendon is also beginning to sour on replay in general.
"I'm as frustrated as the next person," he said in his pregame media session Sunday morning. "You try to be politically correct with your statements but I'm really worried about where we're headed with replay and the effect it is having on the games and the effect it is having on the fans. Hell, I don't even know what to celebrate anymore. You don't know what's going to be challenged. For me, I think it is slowing down the game a little. I've been trying to be a fan of it. I initially thought it was going to be good for the game but I'm not so sure. I'm really not."
• Last but not least, I asked McClendon why he didn't pinch hit Corey Hart in the ninth inning Saturday night. He said he debated using him but decided against it because it was a cold night and Hart had battled back problems in spring training.
"If it were summer I would have had no problem going to him in that situation," he said.
Thursday, April 10, 2014 @ 5:52pm
By Shannon Drayer
Despite the hectic and limiting Major League Baseball schedule, Felix Hernandez always seems to find time to give back. On the only off day the Mariners will have the next two weeks and the day before his next start – which will be a Supreme Court Night where the first 25,000 fans will receive King's Court T-shirts – Felix was at Safeco Field for a few hours to help spread a message that is important to him.
"It is for a good cause, a good cause," he said. "Something that is really important for us, anti-bullying, because we just want everybody to be safe at the school. I think everybody deserves to be respected, and be themself."
On a sunny Thursday afternoon, a group of students from Bellevue's Highland Middle School were brought to Safeco Field to be a part of an anti-bullying public service announcement with the Mariner Moose. The chance to leave school to be on a big-league field with the Moose and shoot a commercial created a big buzz among the pre-teens. That buzz would soon get louder as they had a surprise in store. As they were filming, the director for the PSA stopped the shoot and told the kids that it was missing something. That missing something was Felix, who snuck up behind the kids in full uniform.
"It was a surprise," Felix said. "When I came out of the dugout they were screaming. I see their eyes, they were really happy and it was a real surprise for them."
The surprise didn't end there, however, as the director was still not satisfied with a shoot. Felix had an idea.
"I call a friend, I call Macklemore and it was even better," he said. "They were really surprised."
Grammy-award-winning artist Macklemore emerged from the dugout, and cheering and a few screams ensued. At that point the director was satisfied. The commercial was finished and the kids got to spend a few minutes with Felix and Macklemore and take pictures with them. It was an afternoon one of the attendees, Alexis, will never forget.
"It was really cool how Macklemore and Felix Hernandez could be here," he said. "It was touching, like famous people aren't all about themselves, they actually care what happens to other people."
Hernandez and rapper Macklemore made an impression on the youngsters, including one who appreciated how "they actually care what happens to other people." (Mariners)
"Me and my wife, we just talk about with them we have got to respect each other. You don't have to be a bad guy, you just got to do your thing," he said. "You have got to be yourself, you have got to treat people like they have to treat you. Good. There are a lot of kids who are being bullied and this will help them get support."
I have always been impressed with Felix's willingness to help in the community and something he said Thursday confirmed that he isn't just saying yes to be agreeable, he understands that he as a famous athlete has a voice.
"You know, this is going to be good," he said after our taped interview had finished and he was heading out to take pictures with Macklemore. "People are going to hear us."
The kids at Safeco Field did.
"I think it is very important because bullying is not something that should happen to us or anyone else," said one named Yukta.
"Don't be a bystander," said Adelyn. "If someone is being bullied you should go up to the bully and confront them or go ask someone a teacher or adult to help you out."
It helps to know they have the support of Felix and Macklemore.
"You just might as well tell the bully, Macklemore and Felix do not support you!" Adelyn said.
More on the campaign by Felix, Macklemore and the Mariners to "Stand Up To Bullying" and #ChangeTheGame, including help for teachers and parents, can be found here.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 @ 6:29pm
By Shannon Drayer
A good-news and a not-so-good but not terrible news situation for the Mariners Wednesday as two pitchers appear to be well on their way back from injury and one is being shut down.
James Paxton has been placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left lat. The plan is to rest him and re-evaluated after 15 days. The hope is he will be able to resume throwing after the re-evaluation. Lucas Luetge has been recalled from Tacoma to take his place on the 25-man roster. Chris Young will make Paxton's next scheduled start, which is the series finale against Oakland on Sunday.
If they stay in rotation, Roenis Elias should make the start Monday in Texas and then the Mariners will need a starter for the game Tuesday. Taijuan Walker may be an option. Walker threw five innings of three-hit, one-walk and 10-strikeout ball in his start for Jackson Wednesday night.
Not an option will be Hisashi Iwakuma but he is making good progress. On Wednesday he threw a bullpen session of 34 pitches – 30 fastballs and four curves. He is scheduled to throw another bullpen and will add pitches and a pitch, the slider.
I asked pitching coach Rick Waits about when Iwakuma would throw the pitch that would put the most pressure on the finger that was injured, the splitter, and it turns out he has been throwing it, just not off the mound. I was told Iwakuma has been throwing all of his pitches in his catch sessions. This is good news.
While there isn't a plan put down in ink yet for Iwakuma, if his bullpen sessions continue to go well we could see him throw a simulated game on the upcoming road trip and if he continues to progress we could see him sent out on a rehab assignment on the next home stand. First thing is first, however, he needs to continue to build arm strength in the bullpen sessions.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014 @ 12:43am
By Shannon Drayer
James Paxton is scheduled to undergo a MRI Wednesday after suffering what was preliminary diagnosed as a strained left lat Tuesday night.
Paxton first felt what he called a "tweak" in the fifth inning of the Mariners' 5-3 win over the Angels. It disappeared when he returned to the bench, but two batters into the sixth inning the tweak returned. Manager Lloyd McClendon and trainer Rob Nodine made a visit to the mound after McClendon noticed Paxton shake his arm after a pitch to the Angels' Mike Trout. Paxton was then taken from the game.
At his locker following the win, Paxton did not appear to worried about the injury.
"I don't think it's going to be a big deal," he said. "It's not real pain. Just a little soreness."
Paxton was originally scheduled to pitch next on Sunday but that starter is now listed as TBA. Chris Young could easily fall into that spot. The Mariners would then need a starter for Tuesday's game in Texas. Blake Beavan would be an option or they could possibly go with Taijuan Walker, who is scheduled to pitch Wednesday for Double-A Jackson.
McClendon said late last week that Walker could be less than 10 days away, indicating that he could be ready to go after the Jackson start, but they could elect to go with another rehab start before having him return.
We should learn more on Wednesday.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 @ 6:00pm
By Shannon Drayer
The day has finally arrived. The Mariners will take their home field for the first time this season.
"This is the real Opening Day," manager Lloyd McClendon said in his pregame meeting with the media. "When you are on the road you don't have your fans. I'm sure our guys are anxious to hear their home crowd. It's nice to be home in front of our fans."
Before the game can be played their will be festivities. For the past few days, guys could be heard in the clubhouse planning their red-carpet runs. I am not expecting anything out of the ordinary, although I do expect Felix Hernandez will play up to the crowd in his intro.
The first pitch no doubt will be fun as well with the Seahawks' Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson, Malcolm Smith, Zach Miller, Jermaine Kearse, Bobby Wagner, Mike Morgan and K.J. Wright on hand for the honors. Also before the game former Mariner and current Angel Raul Ibanez will honored as he is recognized as the 2013 Hutch Award winner. Then the Mariners will take the field.
Abraham Almonte, 8
Brad Miller, 6
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, 3
Corey Hart, DH
Kyle Seager, 5
Stefen Romero, 9
Dustin Ackley, 7
Mike Zunino, 2
Robinson Cano is making his Safeco Field debut and has saved something special for the home crowd. He has yet to hit his first home run as a Mariner. I would be very surprised if we didn't see this on the homestand. Something to look forward to.
With a lefty on the hill we have Stefen Romero in right. McClendon was asked about the platoon he had in right and he bristled a little bit at the question.
"I don't think I really have a platoon situation right now," he said. "We have two lefties out there right now. I'm just trying to find the best matchups and if somebody gets hot they will stay in there."
• LHP James Paxton has thrown 16 straight scoreless innings, including seven last week against the Angels.
• RHP Hisashi Iwakuma will have his first mound session Wednesday. He is scheduled to throw 30 pitches. A return date has yet to be set. "I think it is going to be a session-to-session thing with Iwakuma just like it was with Walker," McClendon said. "If I had to guess I would think his progression would probably be a little faster, but having said that I think we are still going to be very cautious with him."
• RHP Taijuan Walker's next appearance on a mound will be for Double-A Jackson and most likely come Wednesday. There is a possibility he could return to the Mariners if that outing goes well but the team may elect to have him make one more rehab start.
• Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and Paxton are the listed starters for the three-game series against Oakland. Just a reminder: Friday is a Supreme Court night.
Tuesday, April 8, 2014 @ 3:54pm
By Brady Henderson
Highlights from Shannon Drayer's first live Mariners chat of the 2014 season:
Mark H. asked how long the Mariners would need to sustain their hot start for fans to believe in their chances of contending.
Drayer: Obviously we need more time. Guys are going to have ups and downs. One of the biggest things we are seeing, however, isn't just numbers but good situational hitting and that is something that was sorely missing last year and not always dependent on hits.
Ted B asked whether the Mariners are finally seeing a breakthrough with Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley or if it's too early to tell.
Drayer: Small sample but I liked what I saw from Ackley in particular this spring. The goofy swing that he brought to camp last year is gone, his confidence is back, and he appears stronger, too. I think Smoak will continue to be a work in progress but I think they will get more out of him than in years past. Those swings at his size are tough to maintain.
Mike asked the Mariners might call up infielder Nick Franklin from Triple-A Tacoma if Logan Morrison and/or Kyle Seager continue to struggle offensively.
Drayer: Both players will be given a good amount of time to settle in. Seager probably more so than Morrison, and he will get more at-bats anyway because he isn't currently sharing a position. Keep an eye on where they play Franklin, however. That will be a good indicator of what we could see.
Ryan H asked whether trading Franklin is still a possibility for the Mariners and which position they would look to improve if they did.
Drayer: Sure, but they are not going to give him up for anything less than what they want. I think if he is traded it will be as a part of a bigger deal, not a one-for-one. I am not so worried about the bullpen. Dominic Leone and Carson Smith are good depth (even though Leone is up now). Area of need is still outfield.
Ross asked whether James Paxton or Taijuan Walker will have a better season.
Shannon Drayer: Two different players completely. I have written quite often that Paxton appears to be more a finished product at this point. It's all come together for him. Walker reminds me more of Felix Hernandez when he was first called up. Crazy talent but work to be done and continued learning at the Major-League level that needs to happen.
Will L. asked what the Mariners have in store for Jesus Montero, who is currently playing first base in Tacoma.
Drayer: Montero has one job right now and that is to be a big right-handed bat. If he can do that he can hit his way back onto this club assuming they still need one. If not I would think we see them try to further develop him as a first baseman and trade him.
Bob asked whether Corey Hart can recover from his slow start.
Drayer: I think you just have to give him time. He's not completely comfortable at the plate yet. He knows how the swing should feel and what he should be feeling. Manager Lloyd McClendon believes he is getting close and we have seen a few decent swings. It's a process, especially when you have missed a year and then had your spring training interrupted multiple times by dings and dents. The knees do not appear to be a problem.
Monday, April 7, 2014 @ 1:07pm
By Shannon Drayer
SEATTLE, Wash. – Yes. Seattle. It is great to be home after being away for all but three days since Feb. 17. I am not complaining by any means. Covering spring training is a great, if not exhausting assignment with long days and few days off. It is where you learn the most about the team you cover.
Despite the time spent in Arizona we still leave with a ton of questions every year. The first being: what did it all mean? What did a month and a half of what we saw day-in and day-out in Arizona actually mean in relation to what we will see the next six months? You you simply don't know at that point. There are some general assessments you can make but until you get into regular-season games – games that count, games where the focus for each one isn't working on something or taking a look at somebody or trying something out, but winning – you just don't know.
That's what makes the first week so interesting. You have ideas of what they could be as individuals or a team but you don't know. Whereas in June you may be able to predict with a good level of certainty what is going to happen in certain situations, the first weeks bring surprises. This year was no different. Some quick thoughts:
The Mariners should be 5-1. Okay, we don't know that for sure. The Mariners did not play flawless baseball Thursday in Oakland but I am fairly confident that they played better baseball than the A's and far better baseball than what home-plate umpire Sean Barber was seeing in his little world behind the plate that night. It is what it is. It happens in the sport of baseball, which is far from perfect. You have to move on from it. What I take away from it, however, is the Mariners were really only outperformed by their opponent in one game this trip. It doesn't count as a "W", but it is still a good thing.
The starting pitching has the ability to keep them afloat until Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker return. This is actually not a revelation to me. I have been saying it all spring but I will say it again. I don't think most realized how good James Paxton was or that he even had a spot in the rotation locked up coming into camp. Everyone else not named Felix Hernandez is a question mark but question marks with the ability to do good things. We know what Erasmo Ramirez is at his best and we know what he is at his worst. We saw both in a span of a week. We know that Roenis Elias has good stuff. We saw him battle a patient lineup with a umpire having a bad night and keep his cool enough to show that stuff for five innings. I feel confident that Chris Young has the ability to keep this team in games on most days. There most likely is more upside but we haven't had a good chance to see it yet.
The fear heading into the season was that the rotation was a disaster. The closest thing to a disaster we saw came Sunday in Oakland where Ramirez had to be lifted from the game in the fifth inning. One week in and the bullpen has yet to be taxed. Never mind the 1.62 ERA the starters took into Sunday's game. Will we see that next week? Probably not, but if you split the difference between that and complete disaster I think they will be okay until the reinforcements arrive. Which brings up something else of interest to watch. Who gets the permanent No. 3 spot in the rotation? We will be watching a month long audition until Hisashi Iwakuma comes back between Ramirez, Elias and Young. The rest will be depth. Hey! Where did that come from?
They brought the bats with them from Arizona. This is the biggest surprise for me. Not because I didn't think they would but because I knew there was a good possibility they wouldn't. I know better than to put any faith in spring numbers for hitters. You can get an idea of what they could do by focusing on the final 10 days of spring training, but there are still no guarantees. It is just a different ballgame once the season begins.
Put aside the individual performances and I think we see something even more encouraging. This team is putting up good at-bat after good at-bat. They are making pitchers work with no starter going more than 6 1/3 innings against them so far. Their walk rate is a healthy 9.1 percent, which is top 10, and they are fourth in swinging at strikes in the strike zone, 24th at swinging outside the strike zone. Now the bad news here is their contact rates aren't great but when they don't miss their pitch they have been doing damage with some of the best power numbers in baseball.
McClendon's in charge. There is probably no one I watched closer than the skipper this spring and first week. While the manager can't go out and get a hit for the team I do believe that with a young group at such a pivotal time for both the franchise and a number of individuals, the manager takes a bigger role. He has set a tone and an interesting one at that. One of the most curious things for me this spring was to watch the workouts, which started earlier and were more intense than anything I can remember, and to have a competitive camp with positions to be earned or lost, yet have every player I talked to tell me it was a loose camp. For some reason the players were more relaxed. McClendon said on a number of occasions heading into the camp that he thought the players needed to relax a bit and this was accomplished, but not at the expense of work or intensity. He achieved a good balance and I think he did it by establishing individual relationships early, being clear in his direction and then getting out of the way and letting them do their work and come together in the clubhouse.
Now that the season has started we have seen McClendon's impact in a number of ways. We have seen hit and runs. We have seen steals called from the bench (not a lot of green lights with this group) we saw a pickoff move called and executed beautifully by Joe Beimel. I have seen conversations with Abraham Almonte, whose talent needs to be harnessed carefully. We have seen McClendon make trips to the mound to focus pitchers, not take them out.
McClendon has come into the season with his ideas of what roles and lineups will be and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts. We have already seen one move with Hector Noesi designated for assignment. It will be interesting to see how he balances the right field/designated hitter mix and bullpen roles.
This group has come together. This is pure observation, I can't put any numbers on this but this group is together. The mix feels right. Robinson Cano is a huge part of this and no doubt you saw it on TV in the first week. Justin Smoak running to him after his first home run and Cano playfully telling him he was done teaching him anything. Cano making trips to the mound in tough situations, grabbing the rosin bag, uttering a quick word and running back to his spot. Cano in the dugout talking with Elias during his first start and taking him to dinner two nights before that start.
I saw a hitter talking to a pitcher about what he saw on a pitch that got hit and following each game in Oakland I saw pretty much the entire team sitting around two tables eating their postgame meals and talking about the game. You don't seem to have different corners of the clubhouse that might be a concern. Everybody seems to be on the same page. No one seems to be wrapped up in an individual struggle. For lack of a better word they just seem together as a group. This is how McClendon has them.
"Commitment, accountability and responsibility. That encompasses a lot of things," he said. "From being early instead of being on time to taking care of your teammates and being responsible for each other. If you try to live inside that circle, I think it takes care of everything."
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