Sorry for the lack of activity on the blog yesterday. I had Monday and today off, which was a welcome chance to spend some time with my wife who is visiting for a couple days, and recharge the batteries before Cactus League games start Thursday. You can still catch all the Mariners news on Mariners.com, thanks to some excellent backup work by Chris Gabel.
There was a little news out of camp this morning as Lloyd McClendon revealed that third base coach John Stearns underwent surgery on a hiatal hernia and will be sidelined from all baseball activity for 4-6 weeks. That means the club will need to move someone else into that role for the time being and they say that will be an internal move.
An obvious choice would be Darren Brown, who was the third-base coach the last four months last season and is currently working as a roving Minor League coach.
The Mariners will play a five-inning intrasquad game today on their main practice field, with lineups consisting mostly young guys, as well as the two starting shortstop competitors in Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. And, no, jobs won’t be won or lost today, but it will be a chance for some of the players to get their feet wet before Thursday’s Cactus League opener against the Padres.
Brad Miller SS
James Jones CF
Stefen Romero RF
Jesus Montero 1B
Nate Tenbrink 3B
Chris Taylor DH
Ty Kelly 2B
Cole Gillespie LF
Jesus Sucre C
Roenis Elias P
Bullpen: Hector Noesi., James Gilheeney. Logan Bawcom, Jonathan Arias
Abraham Almonte CF
James Jones RF
Nick Franklin SS
Ji-Man Choi 1B
Jabari Blash DH
Manny Pina C
Carlos Triunfel 3B
Burt Reynolds RF
Gabriel Noriega 2B
Anthony Fernandez P
Bullpen: Andrew Carraway, Stephen Kohlscheen, Chance Ruffin
It was a magnificent Sunday in Peoria today, perfect 75-degree weather and a good day for the Mariners on several fronts.
Felix Hernandez threw live batting practice for the first time this spring, Hisashi Iwakuma did some “dry work” on the mound as he works to stay in shape while his finger heals, and Stephen Pryor surprised everyone by throwing his first bullpen session since undergoing surgery to repair a detached tendon in his shoulder last fall.
You can get all the details on those stories here in my daily notebook, which includes Felix telling me he feels much stronger this spring after he thinks he cut back too much weight last year, as well as Iwakuma and Pryor’s thoughts on their returns.
I also wrote this feature on shortstop Brad Miller, who is fighting for the starting shortstop job this fall.
And then we have pictures, plenty of photos from today’s action in Peoria.
Iwakuma didn’t throw any pitches, but he did go through his throwing motion on the mound as he continues recovering from a strained finger tendon.
Brad Miller and Willie Bloomquist were seen drawing in the dirt at one point during the infield drill. Designing some new play? Discussing the groundskeepers work on the sod? Nope, the veteran Bloomquist was explaining to young Miller how to get around on the Highway 101 loop that surrounds Phoenix. True story.
Saturday was a light day at Mariners camp as manager Lloyd McClendon gave the pitchers a day off from throwing, as planned, with coaches tossing batting practice on the various fields at the Peoria complex.
Things heat back up on Sunday and Monday with live batting practice sessions, then Tuesday brings an intrasquad game leading up to Thursday’s Cactus League opener. So, yeah, games aren’t too far away. As for today’s news, you can get it all here in my Saturday notebook, which includes the story of Felix Hernandez and seven other teammates from Venezuela making a statement for peace in their homeland, where political strife has made for an explosive situation.
I also wrote about Kendrys Morales being the last big bat on the market after Nelson Cruz signed with the Orioles, along with Lloyd McClendon’s thoughts on replay and some other tidbits from camp. You can read all that here.
And if it’s photos you’re looking for, here ya go:
McClendon can have a stern demeanor at times, but the new skipper likes to have fun as well and enjoyed himself during a run-down drill when he stepped in as a baserunner and broke for second, with bat in hand.
With outfielder Nelson Cruz agreeing to a one-year, $8 million deal with the Orioles on Saturday, the Mariners appear either down to trying to bring Kendrys Morales back or going with what they have offensively as the final free agents come off the board.
Seattle had been linked to Cruz in media speculation throughout the offseason and general manager Jack Zduriencik said at Mariners FanFest last month that he’d love to have Cruz in his lineup. But it appears neither side felt strongly enough about Cruz being a good fit with the Mariners to get into the sort of long-term contract that would have been necessary.
Cruz, 33, has far better numbers at home in Texas than on the road during his career with the Rangers and there were questions how his bat would play in Safeco Field, which can be tough on right-handed hitters. The Mariners did move the fences in last season, but no one will confuse Safeco Field with Camden Yards in terms of a place for a right-handed hitter to put up numbers.
Morales, on the other hand, is a switch hitter who proved last year he can produce at Safeco Field. The question with him is that he and agent Scott Boras already turned down a $14.1 million qualifying offer from Seattle after the two sides didn’t get far on a longer-term extension last year.
Additionally, Morales is limited to designated hitter and first base. But if Corey Hart can play the outfield, as he’s done in the opening days of camp while coming back from a year off with two knee surgeries, that opens up the DH spot considerably. Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison are splitting first-base duties early in camp.
As a switch-hitter, Morales could help balance Seattle’s lefty-heavy lineup. As it stands now, the Mariners have right-handed hitters in Hart and catcher Mike Zunino. Smoak is a switch hitter, though he hit just .192 with two home runs right-handed last year despite that being his natural side.
Shortstop Nick Franklin is another switch-hitter, but he’s fighting for a starting job with Brad Miller and there’s no guarantee he’ll make the 25-man roster out of camp and he also hit much better from the left side last year. Outfielder Abraham Almonte is another switch hitter, but he’d need to earn a starting job to help out.
Morales hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs last year, producing equally productive from both sides of the plate.
McClendon has previously noted the team’s shortness of right-handed hitters, but on Saturday said “we certainly have options. There’s opportunity. We’ll see how things play out.”
Switch hitters can help balance any lineup, but McClendon said that comes with a big qualifier.
“I think when you talk about having switch hitters in your lineup, they need to be productive,” he said. “I don’t need switch hitters just to be switch hitters, I need guys to e be productive. But it certainly helps if you can have a couple of those guys in your lineup. That’s a nice asset to have.”
Lots of outfield news from Mariners camp today. I talked to outfield coach Andy Van Slyke, a three-time All-Star and very intense personality who is making a big impact right out of the gate with his unique approach. You can read that story here.
And my notebook with all the news of the day includes Lloyd McClendon talking about Dustin Ackley focusing on left field, plus an update on Taijuan Walker and Felix Hernandez and a back issue that sidelined Brandon Maurer.
Meanwhile, here are some scenes from a sunny Friday:
Van Slyke has his outfield group pointed in the right direction with his aggressive early workouts.
Lloyd McClendon doesn’t mince words once he has his mind set on something.
So while the new skipper is just getting to know his new personnel with the Mariners, he’s not shy to share his thoughts once he’s ready. As when asked Friday whether Dustin Ackley was in the hunt for the center field job, McClendon replied:
“I doubt it. He’ll probably be in left field the majority of time.”
Why is he best suited for left field?
“Because that’s where I want him,” said McClendon.
The decision most likely has to do with Ackley’s throwing arm, which isn’t his strong suit. He did start 46 games in center last year after transitioning from second base at midseason, with eight starts in left. But with time now in Spring Training to work more on the outfield, his immediate future appears to be in left.
McClendon likes Corey Hart in right field, assuming he can stay healthy coming off his pair of microfacture knee surgeries. He indicated Logan Morrison would get some work in left and right field later in camp, though he’s currently spending time only at first base coming off some knee issues of his own.
As for center? The skipper noted that Michael Saunders, Abraham Almonte and Stefen Romero are capable of playing all three outfield positions, as can veterans Willie Bloomquist and Endy Chavez. It would appear Saunders and Almonte are the leading contenders there, though McClendon didn’t list any pecking order.
He did mention young Xavier Avery, acquired last August from the Orioles in the Michael Morse trade, as another contender along with Romero, who offers a needed right-handed bat. Hart and Bloomquist are the only other right-handed hitters in that group, while Almonte is a switch-hitter.
Hart thus looms as a key figure this spring as he works back from his knee issues. And so far, so good, with the 32-year-old participating in all but sliding drills, while also holding back in some of the more aggressive defensive work.
“He’s doing exactly what we want him to do,” McClendon said. “I don’t consider him limited. I know he’d like to do more, but we’ll keep progressing and moving forward with him. It’s smart to take the cautious road with him. He’s moving great. He can sprint well. Obviously being a big guy he’s a little tender moving side to side right now, but as we progress I think that will get better as well.”
Today was Day 9 of Mariners camp and the fourth day of full-squad work. And yes, another step toward actual games as some pitchers threw live batting practice for the first time. There’s only one week until the first Cactus League game on Feb. 27, so guys will need to start getting their timing at the plate pretty quickly.
I have a story on Mariners.com today about Jesus Montero and his shift to first base. I also wrote about reliever Stephen Pryor’s comeback from a rare surgery as well as other news of the day in today’s notebook.
And if you’re looking for your daily fix of photos from camp, here’s today’s batch:
Abraham Almonte had to stretch for a pop up during a very windy drill for outfielders that had everyone scrambling.
Once regarded as one of the top right-handed hitting prospects in baseball and an up-and-coming catcher, Jesus Montero finds himself literally in a new position this spring.
Montero, 24, is working strictly at first base this spring with the Mariners. He has a catcher’s glove tucked away in a box above his locker, just in case, but when the team goes out for defensive drills, Montero reports to first base on a field with other youngsters who are longshots to make the club.
The first basemen on the main practice field during infield drills are Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison, taking throws from Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Brad Miller and the like. Montero takes part on the second field with prospects Ji-Man Choi, Nate Tenbrink, Gabriel Noriega, Ty Kelly, Chris Taylor, Carlos Triunfel and Burt Reynolds.
That’s the reality for Montero, who struggled when given the starting catching role in spring last year, wound up getting sent down to Triple-A Tacoma, hurt his knee and then was suspended the last 50 games of the year in the Biogenesis scandal.
Montero played first base in the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason, then got 32 stitches in his right hand after hitting the windshield in a car accident and spent the rest of the winter putting on some weight.
What do the Mariners want Montero to do this spring?
“Get better,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “Get back to being the big-time prospect he was in New York. Part of that is getting himself in top physical condition, getting in touch with his mental side. He has a lot of work to do. To his credit, he’s putting the time in. So we’ll see. My eyes are wide open when it comes to Montero. I’m not closing any doors and I’m not opening any doors. It’s all going to be up to him.”
Montero acknowledges the transition to first base has not come easily after playing nothing but catcher coming up.
“I played a lot of first base in Venezuela, but then I got in the car accident,” he said. “But before that I was playing almost every single day for a month and a half. It’s a little different. It’s actually a lot different. I see the game from another view. I have a lot of things to do. It’s crazy. I never thought it would be that crazy, but it is.”
McClendon said Montero looks like he can play the position, with some work.
“I think if you’re an athlete, you should have good enough hands,” McClendon said. “And he looks OK over there. He looks OK. I’ve been impressed. And he’s got a loud bat. I’m just taking a wait and see attitude with this and we’ll see where we are.”
Some have given up on Montero. McClendon isn’t one of them.
“I see a young man that still has a chance,” he said. “I can’t want it for him. At some point, the light has to come on for all of us. In my talk with him, he’s at a crossroad. It’s time to either put up or shut up. So we’ll see where we are.”
Montero said his hand is fully healed now and he’s starting to feel more comfortable at first base. He knows there is work ahead.
“I feel great, I just have to go through Spring Training and see what happens,” he said. “I have an opportunity again and I hope to do well and help my team to win. This is a big year for me to get my confidence again and prove I can play in the big leagues.”
Things settled in a little bit at Mariners camp on Wednesday as the first-day furor over Robinson Cano’s arrival died down and business returned to normal.
One very important player to watch this spring is Corey Hart, who has jumped immediately into the outfield mix even as he returns from a year off following a pair of knee surgeries. If he can fill an outfield role this year, that would be huge as it would give the Mariners a much-needed right-handed thumper in the field. I’ve got his story here.
You can also catch up on all today’s news in my daily notebook. As for the much-anticipated daily photo array, here you go:
Manager Lloyd McClendon continues to provide a lot of hands-on hitting instruction for players, with a lot of emphasis today with Justin Smoak during his batting practice session.
Brad Miller and Nick Franklin may be competing for the starting shortstop job, but the two youngsters are working together at every step … including carrying a bucket of balls off the field after infield drills.
Mariners camp officially cranked up today with the first full-squad workout, which meant the arrival of Robinson Cano. And the new $240-million man didn’t disappoint, drawing a nice crowd of fans — and reporters — to the Peoria Sports Complex.
Here’s my story on the first-day scene. Cano came with a little controversy as manager Lloyd McClendon wasted no time coming to his defense with some strong words after Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long raised the issue of Cano’s failure to hustle out routine grounders, which you can read here.
I’ve also got a notebook with news of the day, including Nick Franklin talking about his move back to shortstop. But, of course, I promised photos here on the blog and here’s some that should offer some flavor of the day in Peoria.
Cano shared some thoughts with third baseman Kyle Seager, who hit in the same group and said he’s eager to learn from a guy he’s always watched while coming up in the game as a left-handed hitting infielder.