Tuesday, March 25, 2014 @ 2:00pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz., - It was "camp day" at the Mariners complex in Peoria Tuesday. The Mariners minor leaguers played the Mariners minor leaguers in games on the back fields and a number of pitchers got work in those games as well.
3IP* 4H 4R 3ER 2BB 3K 48/36
1IP 1H 0R WP 19/12
1IP 3H 2R 2ER 2K 16/11
2/3 IP 3H 2R 13/10
2IP 1H 4K WP 25/19
Walker threw well hitting 97 on the gun and mixing in his curveball for the first time this spring. That pitch was a little hot and cold but will come along with time. Walker will throw in another minor league game on Sunday and is basically on a regular build up plan. He is coming along faster than I thought he would and if his outings are decent and there are no physical setbacks I think we could see him back with the club sooner than we originally thought we would.
Maurer followed and while he threw just one inning he impressed Lloyd McClendon who called his outing "exceptional." The praise didn't stop there as he stated that Maurer had as good stuff as anyone in camp. It is just a matter of putting everything together which is often easier said than done.
"I think we all know he has electric stuff. He has to some way find his inner peace for it all to work for him," he said. "I can't define it for him. He's got to define it himself. I've got mine, I can't tell you about his."
That's one way of putting it. Maurer will have to build up again and then most likely be sent to Tacoma when ready. Missing starts down here are missed opportunities to work with the big league staff which is one of the huge benefits of being in big league camp. Pitching coach Rick Waits is very familiar with Maurer however, and was very excited about his chances coming into camp so there is little question he will remain on the radar.
Pryor looked strong once again and I am beginning to feel optimistic that he can regain some lost velocity. The upper 90's stuff may be a stretch but 95 could be in his reach. His secondary pitches are improving and he has remained healthy which is the most important thing coming off a surgery that only two pitchers have come back from. So far, so good with him. Definitely one of the unexpected (good) surprises this spring.
Pryor was also somewhat responsible for another unexpected (bad) surprise as he threw a pitch that a minor leaguer fouled high into the high sky and landed just over the fence behind third base on my leg. First time I have ever been hit. I don't recommend it. It hurts. A lot. Knew it was coming and lost it in the sun. Not a good feeling. Moving on...
I didn't see Beimel as he threw while we were talking to Walker and Maurer but I did catch Rodney and he looked the best he has looked all spring. What this means coming against minor leaguers I don't know but he was throwing what appeared to be good strikes.
As for tonight's action...
Notes...Yep. We were a few days ago that Corey Hart would be back today but he is not in the lineup. He hit in the cages earlier today and is scheduled to take batting practice on the field. If all goes well he will get 9 at bats in a minor league game tomorrow and another 9 on Thursday, the off day. When asked if there was a chance Hart could start the season on the DL McClendon answered "I hope not." Brad Miller is starting at shortstop for his 4th straight game, it would appear that competition is over. With Robinson Cano getting the day off Nick Franklin will play second. Mike Zunino turns 23 today and Dan Wilson 45 but as I have told him just about every spring, he looks a year younger each year. It's true. This is Felix's final start of the spring and he hopes to throw between 100 and 110 pitches.
Per article XX(B) of MLB's collective bargaining agreement today was the deadline for teams to add certain eligible players with minor league contracts to their 25-man roster, grant those players their release or pay the player a $100K retention bonus in order to keep them in the organization with the option of sending them to the minors. The Mariners had two such players, Endy Chavez and Humberto Quintero. The Mariners declined to offer the retention bonus for both and both players became free agents.
Chavez was not a free agent for long as he signed back with the Mariners and is in camp today. Quintero has yet to re-sign but the Mariners most likely would like him back.
Monday, March 24, 2014 @ 9:57pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – While a jump from the Double-A Jackson rotation to the big leagues would seem improbable, it is far less daunting than the leap Roenis Elias took four years ago when he fled Cuba in the wee hours of the morning aboard a boat bound for Mexico with 25 others.
Like other baseball players that have left Cuba, Elias had a dream about playing in the big leagues. Unlike many Cuban ballplayers who have made it to the United States, however, he had no Cuban national team or international experience. He was a relative unknown to those both in and outside his country.
"I was an inexperienced player," Elias answered when asked to describe his place in baseball in Cuba before he left. "I only had two years playing in the National League there and the first year I was a reliever. The next year I got the chance to start but I didn't have success I wanted. I hadn't yet had the opportunity to get to the national team; I didn't have enough experience."
He wasn't going to wait to make that team, and while his dream was to play in Major League Baseball, his expectations were realistic. He had no idea if he was good enough to make it to the big leagues, but the one thing he did know is he had to try.
"I didn't know," he said. "It was something I knew that I had to come over here. Once I got here the goal was to make it to the majors, and until I made it or didn't I wouldn't know. The goal was not just to make it here, but stay here."
As under the radar as Elias was coming into this camp, he may have been even more so leaving Cuba. He wasn't a big-name player. He wasn't a player that teams would battle each other to sign. He was, as he said, an inexperienced baseball player. Luckily, that was enough.
Ted Heid, the Mariners' coordinator of special projects international, was charged with the task of tracking all Cuban baseball players that were leaving the country and finding out where they landed.
"We knew a group had gotten out by a boat," Heid recalled. "We didn't know any of the details, but they had landed somewhere near Cancun and immediately went to Monterrey."
Elias' time in Monterrey was a necessary but unpleasant stop in his journey to the United States.
"It was really difficult, there were a lot of barriers," he said. "I was there for seven months and it was really hard because you get up at 6 to train and you basically train for an hour and then go home. You don't see people of my complexion there so you never know what dangers are there. So you go work out early and then you go home and you wait until the next day when you go work out again. There were a lot of barriers there, but when you have in your mind that you want to succeed you don't let those barriers get in your way."
While details are not clear, there appears to have been more than one group of Cuban ballplayers that arrived in Monterrey around the same time. The agents for the players put the word out that they were there and various teams came calling, most to see the premier player in the group, current Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin.
"There was a tryout, a showcase, simulated game for five or six different players with different levels of experience, with Martin being the premium guy," Heid said.
While Heid liked what he saw in Martin – who was more of a known quantity having been seen in international competition for some time – it was the lesser known Elias who caught his eye.
"I kept being drawn to this left-hander," he said. "He just had an infectious smile, he shagged balls, he was the first guy there at the tryout and when he finally got a chance to pitch in the game everybody was already putting their bags away. Then I saw him pitch and he threw 90-93 from five different arm angles and it really looked like he was creating pitches on the mound. Just in true Cuban style."
Elias – whose demeanor was very matter of fact and very calm while describing the events that brought him to the United States to play baseball – became very animated when talking about that tryout.
"There were about 12 teams there," he said. "I didn't know Seattle was there, never knew they were interested. I threw three innings and allowed one hit and struck out five."
Elias, in fact, knew nothing about Seattle other than that was the team Felix Hernandez pitched for.
"I just knew Seattle based on videos," he said. "Ever since I was a kid, the pitcher that I followed was always Felix Hernandez. Just watching his starts was all the impression I had of Seattle."
Heid liked what he saw and wrote in his report from the tryout that of all of the players there, he had a "gut feeling" about Elias.
Bob Engle – who was then vice president of international operations for the Mariners – asked top scout Patrick Guerrero to travel with Heid to Monterrey to watch Elias and Martin the next time they were scheduled to work out for teams. Guerrero liked both players, according to Heid, but did not have as strong feelings about Elias. Nevertheless, Heid submitted another report to Engle and asked if he could make a run at him. Engle gave him the go ahead.
"I got permission, talked to the agent and negotiated," he said.
Heid left Monterrey after his sales pitch not knowing if the Mariners would be able to sign him. Soon after his return he got the news.
"I remember to this day, it was a Monday morning, I got this call, it says, 'He's yours,' " Heid said. "I was on the first flight I could get to Monterrey, where I spent about the scariest five days I ever spent trying to get the documentation and everything so the contract would get approved."
The documentation was secured, the contracts signed and Elias was a Mariner. He would move quickly through the lower levels of the organization in his first year and put up back-to-back successful years in High Desert and Jackson. Over that time he has seen his velocity jump a few ticks, which he says occurred because of the work he has put in. Heid has been following his career as a Mariner and has been impressed but not surprised with what he has seen.
"I think his makeup was the clincher for me," he said. "You could tell he wanted to play. While he was down there in Monterrey, the only games that they could play in was like adult beer-league games on Sunday morning on bad fields. He was still the first guy there."
"I am really proud of him," Heid continued. "It is just one of those great success stories. Once he got in our organization, our minor-league pitching development is as good as anyone's. [Pitching coach] Rick Waits took a liking to him right away, really worked with him."
It would appear that work is paying off as Elias has opened eyes this spring. He has a legitimate chance to make the rotation out of spring training and if he doesn't, it would be hard to imagine that we don't see him at some point this year in Seattle.
"It is a big opportunity," he said of the chance he was given to compete this spring. "I have been waiting for it for a couple of years now. I am grateful to have it."
He is also grateful that Heid took a chance years ago in Monterrey and went with his gut.
"He is a very nice man," Elias said. "I met him in Monterrey and he told me that he believed in me and that he had a lot of faith that I would make the majors. I have seen him around here a couple of times and every time he comes over and embraces me and says that I know that you have what it takes to succeed in the major leagues."
We very well could see him get that opportunity soon.
Monday, March 24, 2014 @ 4:09pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz.,- The Mariners have announced that they have granted Scott Baker's request to be released. Prior to releasing him the team offered him a spot in the rotation at Triple-A Tacoma but he declined. He is now free to sign with any team.
Baker came into the spring as a favorite for the number 3 spot in the starting rotation despite the fact that he was coming off Tommy John surgery. While his pre-surgery velocity had returned he had command issues from time to time and his spring training numbers were among the worst of those competing for a spot in the starting rotation. He had the look of a pitcher that was coming back but having not pitched more than 4 innings in a start and with with Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijaun Walker starting the season on the disabled list the Mariners needed him ready now.
Baker's departure leaves Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan, Randy Wolf and Roenis Elias as the remaining competitors for the final three spots in the rotation. Beavan's chances took a hit Monday as he surrendered 7 runs in the 5 1/3 innings he pitched. Ramirez is scheduled to pitch Wednesday against Texas and starters for the final two games of the spring have yet to be announced but Elias will most likely get one of those.
With the release of Baker the Mariners spring training roster is now at 38.
Monday, March 24, 2014 @ 11:11am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Hisashi Iwakuma progressed to throwing a baseball Monday in Peoria, putting away the tennis ball he had been building up hand strength and flexibility with. It was the first time he has thrown a baseball in over eight weeksm and the 6-7 minute catch session from 45 feet went well.
"I felt good," he said through an interpreter. "The ball felt great going out of the fingers. I actually felt my fingertip as well, so everything is good today."
Iwakuma mentioned the importance of feeling his fingertip in an interview with me earlier in the spring. Today he he defined that importance further.
"I have in mind sometimes when you do grip a fastball you can't actually grip it because it will slip off. I didn't have that feel nor did I have the feeling where you would kind of hook the ball so that wasn't the issue. That was good," he said.
While this news was encouraging for him, he did still feel the effects of keeping the finger immobile for so long. When asked if he had full flexibility of the finger, he answered no.
"Hopefully soon. It is still stiff now and we are still working on full flexibility," he said.
He also said that his grip is not yet 100 percent but that he feels improvement every day.
"I don't know how long it will take but it is getting there, slowly progressing," he said.
The plan is for Iwakuma to play catch every day this week on a throwing program of sorts, progressing daily in distance and time. It is not just a matter of building up his arm but the hand and finger strength and flexibility as well. He hopes to take the tape off of the finger next Monday and begin throwing with more intensity at that time. His first bullpen has yet to be scheduled but it clearly won't happen before the end of camp.
For the first time we have a shortstop go back-to-back-to-back and that would be Brad Miller. Almonte is making his 10th start in center in the last 11 games. Corey Hart is still a day away from getting back on the field and as a result Kyle Seager is hitting cleanup for the second time this spring.
I asked Lloyd McClendon just how set the outfield would be to start the season, and he answered by saying that they were not a "stamped line-up." He said that we could see different players in all positions, including center.
Pitchers on the mend
Taijuan Walker, Stephen Pryor and Brandon Maurer will throw in a minor-league game Tuesday. Walker is scheduled to throw three innings.
Sunday, March 23, 2014 @ 10:57pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – With a week to go until Opening Day, it is probably time to take a look at the competition for the starting rotation. Honestly, I thought we would know by now who the starting five were, and if we didn't know, then we would 'know.'
M's manager Lloyd McClendon has voiced his displeasure with Erasmo Ramirez's two-strike pitches. (AP)
With a couple of shaky performances in the last turn through the rotation, however, and the interesting chat Lloyd McClendon had with the media Sunday morning, there may be more questions than we thought.
Let's start with what we know. Felix Hernandez will be the Opening Day starter. Felix has gone about his business of getting ready for the season this spring and worked his way up to seven innings in his last start. He hopes to throw 100-110 pitches in his final start of the spring, which comes Tuesday against Kansas City in Surprise, Ariz.
Felix has on a couple of occasions this spring told me that he feels very good and then repeated the "very good" for emphasis. He seems as confident heading into this season as I have seen him in any spring training. The change-up has been up and down for him, but when it has been on we have seen the same nasty pitch that we have seen in past years.
One change for Felix is he has been working on a cutter. Last year the cutter would pop up on his PITCHf/x from time to time, though both he and then-pitching coach Carl Willis insisted that it was his fastball with strange movement. He wasn't intentionally trying to throw it and he wasn't using the cutter grip. This year he is. He threw a handful of them in his minor-league start last week and was happy with what he saw from the pitch. He has told me that he plans to take the pitch into the regular season but we shall see. More often than not those new pitches tend to get left in Arizona.
Moving on. I think it is safe to say that James Paxton will be in the rotation. I have been pretty high on him and I continue to be, but he is coming off two rocky starts and, interestingly enough, although his pitch count is where it should be he has yet to pitch more than four innings in a game. That is a little concerning, but the good news is he hasn't been hit hard and he has walked a grand total of three batters this spring.
The No. 3 starter is the big mystery right now. Erasmo Ramirez has put up the best numbers of anyone in camp and has the third-best ERA in the Cactus League. Spring training numbers mean little to McClendon, however. He is more interested in what he sees in front of him on the field, and what he has seen from Ramirez are 0-2 pitches that he believes will get hit in the regular season. Ramirez has been talked to about this, and from what we heard in the tone of McClendon's voice and the adjectives he used to describe the pitches it would appear that there is a bit of frustration that he is still seeing hanging sliders in the middle of the plate in that situation. Is there enough frustration to keep Ramirez off the final 25-man roster? I doubt it, but if Blake Beavan has a solid last start and Ramirez doesn't make the adjustment for his, things possibly could get interesting. More on that below.
The No. 3 starter is the most important piece of this puzzle as this is the guy who will stay when Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker return. I assumed for the longest time that Scott Baker would be the guy but his performance this spring has been the most worrisome. He looks healthy. His velocity is back to where it was before the Tommy John surgery and at times his pitches have looked sharp. Six walks in his last start was alarming, however. Like Paxton, his pitch count is where it should be, but he hasn't thrown more than 4 2/3 innings in a game. I would say the door is certainly open at 3 and the audition will be ongoing until Iwakuma and Walker return.
Randy Wolf may have worked his way into that conversation. On Sunday he became just the second Mariners pitcher to throw six innings in a Major League spring game. For the most part each start has seemed to build off the other, with Wolf gaining better command of his array of pitches. His problem is he doesn't have much room for error, and he has given up six home runs in 19 innings.
Roenis Elias will get another start to show what he can do. McClendon seems to be trying to temper any excitement about the late entrant into the competition, with probably the biggest concern being the number of batters he has walked this spring. He showed the ability to get out of trouble in his last start, however, and as long as this competition is going to go down to the wire there is no reason to shut doors now. I think there is some hesitance within the organization to jump Elias from Double-A to the bigs, but if they don't like what they see from others this week and Elias makes a third straight solid start he could prove to be the surprise name on the roster when the season begins.
Last but not least is Beavan, who gave up seven runs in his last start. The disturbing thing about that start is that he was never able to make the adjustment necessary to get the ball down. Had it been the regular season he would have been pulled from the game earlier and a good amount of bullpen would have had to have been used. It was lousy timing on Beavan's part, which most likely leaves him in a position where someone else will have to stumble for him to break camp with the big team. If Ramirez does not show McClendon what he wants to see in his final start, I wouldn't be surprised if Beavan wins a spot. McClendon isn't the first to be frustrated with Ramirez throwing bad (hittable) strikes at bad times. He has been clear about what he wants to see from Ramirez, and if Ramirez doesn't deliver or at least show progress and a commitment to improving, I think it might be difficult for McClendon to reward him by giving him a spot in the rotation, even if it is a temporary one. It is hard to imagine – and I do think it is unlikely but not out of the question – that one of the pitchers with the best numbers this spring wouldn't be given a spot, but if he wasn't, I would understand why.
Things could get interesting with the March 25 opt-out date a number of players are believed to have. While I have not yet been able to confirm this, I believe that Baker and Wolf have opt-out clauses in their contracts with the Mariners that would free them up to leave the team and try and catch on with another after March 25. I would be surprised if they didn't have this as most veterans who sign minor-league deals make sure that this opt-out is included. This may be something that the Mariners will want to take into consideration. Texas needs pitching and you obviously don't want to make the mistake of helping them out if at all possible.
With one week to go the starting rotation is still a bit of a puzzle. It should be an interesting week.
Sunday, March 23, 2014 @ 7:41am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – Once again Corey Hart is missing from the lineup. Lloyd McClendon revealed that he is still dealing will forearm stiffness and they will give him a few days to let it settle down. He expects to have him back Tuesday, and plans to get him at least 30 additional at-bats in minor league games before the end of camp.
Pitching battle not settled?
You know how McClendon has said a number of times that he sees things differently than most others when it comes to making player evaluations? He wasn't just talking about the shortstop battle. McClendon became rather colorful, and not in a good way, when describing a few of the recent pitching performances, starting with Scott Baker's obviously rough start Saturday where he gave up six walks.
"It wasn't a good outing. The line score will tell you that," he said.
The surprise however was when he talked about Erasmo Ramirez, who has given up just four runs this spring, two earned.
"He's throwing the ball well. He's a strike thrower who probably throws too many strikes," he said. "I haven't been very impressed with his 0-2 pitches – hanging sliders in the strikezone is no good. You don't get those back."
McClendon and the coaches have talked to Ramirez about these pitches and let him know that although the results have been good in the spring, they won't necessarily be there in the regular season and he needs to improve on his put-away pitches.
"He's got to execute better," said McClendon. "If you can't execute the pitch then we have got to get someone who can. Because once that light goes on you don't get those pitches back. Miguel Cabrera is not going to miss that pitch. Prince Fielder is not going to miss that pitch. You have got to make better pitches."
• I will leave you with a bit of good pitching news: Taijaun Walker and Stephen Pryor both came through their innings pitched in the minor league game Saturday well and Hisashi Iwakuma is progressing nicely throwing the tennis ball. He is expected to pick up a baseball tomorrow.
Saturday, March 22, 2014 @ 5:16pm
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – It was back to the minor league fields Saturday as Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor pitched their first innings in games this spring. For Walker it was more of a re-start of his spring training that was derailed early by shoulder bursitis. In Pryor's case it was a return to the mound after losing nearly a year to a torn lat. Both were pleased with their outings.
"I was pumped," said Walker. "I was trying not to be. But I felt like I wasn't overthrowing or throw too hard."
Walker threw 15 pitches in the game and then 15 more in the bullpen after. He did not throw his curve, and his fastball clocked from 92-96 on the radar guns. He threw his changeup, which seemed to be a bit tougher to command than his fastball, but it did have good movement. The two hits he gave up – a double and a triple – were hit hard, but results of this outing were not measured in hits or runs for Walker.
"This one was more of a tester game to see how it felt," he said. "All that other stuff will come. I just walk away happy because my arm feels good."
Pryor followed and looked a little different from the Pryor who first took the mound at Safeco Field two years ago in his 1-2-3 inning. He is leaner and we have yet to see the velocity he had before the surgery. His fastball topped out at 93 mph and his location was decent. He threw his slider and changeup with mixed results.
"They weren't good but they were there," he said.
He might have been a little hard on himself there. I saw his first outing against live hitters earlier in camp and there were times when he was flat-out wild. This looked much better. The change and slider will have to be sharpened – without the 98 mph fastball that we saw from him before, he will need to rely more on those pitches to get outs. He is not worried about the velocity and feels that as his arm gets stronger his velocity could rise.
"I feel like I've got some work to do," he said. "Finishing touches and build up some arm strength a little more. I'm not quite where I want to be."
Pryor has not put any expectations on a return date. His arm and what his pitches are doing will determine that. The most important thing for him is that after a frustrating and lost year he finally feels normal.
"This is the first time my arm has felt right since I got hurt last year in April," he said. "It's something to build off of. I feel back to normal. I don't have to think of where my arm slot is or if this one is going to hurt or not."
A step in the right direction for both pitchers.
Saturday, March 22, 2014 @ 9:28am
By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – That exclamation point in the title is a weak attempt to generate some needed energy down here after another day game following a night game. This spring's schedule has been a little less friendly than what we have seen in previous years but it is what it is. As much as we enjoy the sunshine I think we all are looking forward to getting into a regular season schedule.
Today we have a double header. Actually a triple header of sorts with Taijuan Walker and Stephen Pryor throwing in a minor league game as well. My plan is to watch Walker and Pryor then head to Scottsdale to try and catch some of Roenis Elias' start against Colorado. The game against Oakland will be broadcast on 710 ESPN Seattle so we will be adequately covered. And with that...
Mariners at Oakland
Mariners at Colorado
Interesting that Elias is pitching with the majority of what looks to be the opening day lineup. That is the game Lloyd McClendon will be managing so he definitely wants to get more of a look. The feeling is Elias is still a long shot, but two solid performances in a row this time of spring can go a long way. Miller and Franklin are both playing short today. At some point this week I would think that McClendon would want his starting shortstop to play back-to-back-to-back. DJ Peterson is starting in the Oakland game. From what we have seen down here, and it has been limited, it appears that he is better defensively than what we had been hearing coming out of the draft. Corey Hart is not in the lineup for a second straight day; we have been told this is just a day off for him.
About that play
Last night center fielder Abraham Almonte made a costly error with a wild and seemingly inexplicable throw to no man's land after a ball got by Miller. Almonte came up firing but threw the ball exactly between home plate and first base. It made absolutely no sense as there was no runner on third. It looked like he was being over-agressive and perhaps trying to throw the non-existent runner out at the plate. Turns out he was trying to get the runner at second who had made a hard cut around the bag. It was an error, but a heads-up error according to McClendon.
"I think the grass was a little wet. He just lost it," he said. "He had the right intentions. It was actually a very instinctive play on his part. He just didn't anticipate the ball coming out that way. Neither did anyone else."
No runs scored as a result of that error, but that coupled with Miller's error on the same play helped prolong an inning for a somewhat struggling James Paxton.
And on that note
Paxton did struggle last night, going just four innings, allowing three runs on two walks with four strikeouts. He threw 70 pitches, 42 for strikes.
Although he was on a pitch count of 90, McClendon pulled him at 70 because he had pitched high-stress innings. I find this interesting because Paxton was getting through those innings, or at least most of them.
In the second inning McClendon actually got Zack Minor up in the pen. I believe they got him up when Paxton was 23 pitches into the inning with just one out. As I mentioned after Beavan's last start, this is exactly what you don't want to see the first week of the season. Going to the pen that early can burn out a bullpen quickly.
Paxton was able to get out of the second but ended up throwing 30 pitches. He bounced back with a 1-2-3 third and probably should have been out of the the fourth inning sooner but Miller booted the double-play ball.
The difference between Beavan and Paxton's performances in my mind was Paxton showed some ability to bounce back and find a way to get the ball down. Beavan did not. In Beavan's case, had it been the regular season I probably would have gone to the pen very early. With Paxton, once he got past the second it looked like he could hang on a little and get the team through a couple innings. McClendon wanted him to have the opportunity to work with Waits in the bullpen so he pulled him early.
He has one more start and while I am not too disturbed by his last two outings, it would be nice to see him have one last solid performance before the season starts.