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.