PEORIA, Ariz. – Similar to adhering to the posted speed limit on any street, the concept of daylight savings time doesn’t exist in the Phoenix area. Officially, it hasn’t been recognized by the state of Arizona since 1968.
But the day when clocks move ahead most everywhere else in the U.S. does represent something in the monotonous daily routine for baseball’s spring training. For the Mariners, the time at their complex in Peoria aligns with the time at T-Mobile Park. And it usually signals that spring training is past its midpoint and inching closer and faster to opening day.
Following the 6-2 defeat against the Diamondbacks, the Mariners officially have a 4-6-5 record in Cactus League play. No, those five ties are not a typo. That means they are past the halfway point of their 28-game schedule with 13 games in 14 days remaining before the players on the opening-day roster, and likely five taxi-squad players, fly north to Seattle after the game against the Reds on March 30. With 10 of those 13 games at night, it will have a regular-season feel.
But what have we learned from the early workouts and the past 15 games? Here are three observations from that first half of spring training.
When do results matter?
This isn’t just about the team’s record because the COVID-19 guidelines that included shortened games and innings ending without three outs wouldn’t make it a representative measure to how the Mariners have played. It actually could be worse.
It’s said often that spring training results don’t matter when it comes regular-season success or failure. Players are focused on the process and often working on certain aspects of their craft in spring training games. To some extent, that is true, at least for players who have spots on the active roster secured. And things like batting average and earned-run average aren’t necessarily taken on face value in determining roster spots.
But how those results are achieved does matter.
The Mariners have posted a .235/.343/.393 slash line in 15 games with 24 doubles, three triples, 66 walks and 119 strikeouts while averaging 3.6 runs per game. And if you remove Ty France’s 10 hits, two doubles, three homers and six runs scored, it looks much worse.
Even manager Scott Servais admitted he’s had some frustration with some of the recent performances at the plate in terms of approach and swing decisions.
“We just haven’t consistently put at-bats together and that’s one thing hopefully that picks up here as the week goes on,” Servais said. “We will start picking up more at-bats, certainly for some of our regulars that haven’t swung the bat so well and their timing is off. We want to get those guys more consistent at-bats here.”
Those guys would include:
—Evan White: .095/.192/.143 with one double, five RBI, six strikeouts and three walks in 21 at-bats.
—J.P Crawford: .188/.480/.188 with three hits, one RBI, eight walks and four strikeouts in 16 at-bats.
—Tom Murphy: .190/.227/.333 with four hits, one RBI, one walk and six strikeouts in 21 at-bats
Multiple opposing MLB scouts openly wondered if White was playing himself off the opening-day roster.
“He looks that lost,” said one scout.
But with the lack of a minor-league season in May, and his Gold Glove defense, the Mariners are going to play White at first base every day and hope the struggles of the spring were simply a progression into staying more focused into his approach at the plate.
Crawford, also a Gold Glover, looks like he’s likely lost the leadoff spot to Mitch Haniger and the questions about whether he will be more than a defense-first shortstop still remain.
Who’s left in the battle for who is in left?
Just who might start in left field seems to vary with each passing day. Of a group that includes Jake Fraley, Jarred Kelenic, Braden Bishop, Jose Marmolejos and Taylor Trammell vying for that spot, only Trammell, who was not considered to be much of a candidate going into spring, has taken a step forward in the competition.
With a double in the defeat Monday, he now has a .292/.370/.583 slash line with seven hits in 24 at-bats, including four doubles, a homer, two RBI and a stolen base. The 10 strikeouts are glaring in the sense that Trammell has looked a little overwhelmed against established major-league pitchers.
Several opposing pro scouts feel that putting Trammell in left field, even in a platoon situation, would expose his weaknesses and lead to struggles, particularly against MLB-level offspeed pitches.
But none of the other players have distinguished themselves as viable candidates. Until the past four games, Fraley looked completely out of sync at the plate. Concerns about his durability while trying to play six days a week have arisen in the organization. Marmolejos had some nice moments last season and is having a decent spring, but his defensive limitations in the outfield and minimal power are still negatives. Bishop is outstanding defensively, but he has yet to prove he can handle big-league pitching and his limited reps (12 at-bats) this spring speak to his place on the depth chart.
From a pure talent standpoint and potential for the most success under the circumstance, Kelenic still looms as the best option. But his left leg injury and the time missed due to it could represent the Mariners’ least scrutinized possibility to not start him on the opening-day roster and ensure another year of club control.
Put it this way, if you had to bet your paycheck on which outfielder put up the best results over the first 15 games of the MLB season, who would you choose?
The answer would/should be Kelenic.
There is another possibility to consider – a player not currently in the organization — taking that spot. No, it probably won’t be Philip Ervin again. The Mariners could make a waiver claim or small trade to acquire a player out of minor-league options who isn’t going to make an opening-day roster. That sort of player represents a logical placeholder until they deem Kelenic ready to be the everyday left fielder.
Bullpen is not mightier
The focal point of the Mariners’ offseason acquistions was adding experience and talent to what was one of the worst bullpens in all of baseball in 2020.
The Mariners brought in three relievers from outside of the organization – Rafael Montero, Keynan Middleton and Ken Giles — and re-signed Kendall Graveman to address that need.
Giles isn’t going to pitch this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Montero was delayed by visa issues and was eight days late in arriving to camp. He has looked solid if not dominating in three outings. Middleton’s velocity has been a tick or two down, though it was back at 96 mph in his previous outings. In four innings, he’s allowed eight runs, including five homers.
Graveman had one rough showing in four outings this spring. The Mariners have asked him to not be so reliant on his sinking fastball that touches 97-98 mph. They’ve wanted him to use the slider and changeup more to offset that fastball. It’s worked out well. And he sure seems like he could be the Mariners’ closer if/when Montero falters.
Prior to suffering a serious injury to his elbow, Roenis Elias had been the Mariners’ best reliever this spring. Fellow left-hander Anthony Misiewicz has been solid, but the slew of hard-throwing arms that are on the 40-man roster or in camp as non-roster invites have yet to show much more than radar gun readings.
The Mariners want to have eight pitchers in the bullpen. But picking pitchers out of that mass of relievers won’t be simple. Seattle relievers have combined for a 6.64 ERA with 20 homers allowed, 40 walks and 76 strikeouts in 80 innings.
“As we get going here, you’ll start to see these guys pitch a little bit more frequently, I’m talking about our bullpen guys in camp, two out of three days instead of just once every three days,” Servais said. “Some of these guys will get an opportunity to do more of the four- or five-out appearances, where they get you out of an inning, sit down and go back out there.”