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Drayer: How Mariners 3B Kyle Seager’s transformation is built to help him

Mariners 3B Kyle Seager struggled in 2018 while dealing with a broken toe. (AP)

A far too common sight last year in the Mariners clubhouse, batting cage, hallways, dugout – heck, even hotel lobbies – was Kyle Seager working to get the feel of being in the right position to hit.

Audio: M’s insider Shannon Drayer’s Tuesday update from spring training

The Mariners third baseman has always been a tinkerer with his swing (some believe to a fault), but paired with the lack of success he was having at the plate, this felt different. He was reaching for something he could not grasp.

“It wasn’t a good statistical season for sure,” a slimmed-down Seager said standing in front of his locker in the Mariners spring training clubhouse Tuesday morning. “I know what doesn’t work for me, that’s a positive.”

While many would point to the shift that is now a part of baseball as Seager’s downfall, he knew it was more than defensive positioning. Seager knew what he needed to do to counter the shift, but his body wasn’t allowing him to do so. The broken toe he suffered in a game against the Orioles last June was partly to blame, but getting right would have far more to do with the reason why the toe broke than the actual healing of the bone.

“I found out that I basically broke it due to not being flexible enough,” said Seager. “It wasn’t a foul ball, it was everything was so tight it literally popped. That’s a problem.”

A problem that wasn’t limited to his toe. Seager has never been guilty of not putting in enough work. In-season or out of season working out with his brothers, he attacked the work, did the things he felt necessary to put himself in the best shape to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. This in itself was a change for him.

Seager had come up in the organization as a second baseman whose offense fit the second baseman on-base/average profile. In 1,245 plate appearances over three minor league seasons, he hit just 22 home runs. In college he never hit double-digit home runs. His calling card was that he could hit and the power would come.

Seager’s offseason focus had always been to get stronger. Being moved to third base amplified the need in his mind. He couldn’t be a skinny second baseman at a power position. More work to get bigger and stronger was the solution, and for a few years he was successful in his third base body. But the toe injury and struggles of 2018 indicated it was time to work smarter, not harder.

“It really opened my eyes and really pointed out that I needed to make some adjustments,” he said. “I needed to make some changes physically. I kind of always worked out in the winter to try to get as strong as I could. I kind of understand now more so that that is not the most important thing at this point of my career. (The 2018 season) happened, it is what it is and I learned from it.”

What he learned, with an assist from the Mariners, was that he had to get more flexible. In order to do so, in October he enlisted the help of Jason Lindsay of TOPTEAM Sports Performance in North Carolina. The broken toe limited Seager to stretching in the first month and a half, but in that time in his work with Lindsay, Seager came to realize that what he had been dealing with was more than a little stiffness and broken toe. His body hadn’t been recovering the way it should. The tightness and inflammation that had become normal to him is not normal – and unnecessary.

“An example, my back would always get tight,” Seager said. “I just kind of thought if you play third base, you do 150 squats a day over there and you are going to get tight.”

An anti-inflammatory diet, stretching and the correct exercise would get him on track. The time and attention spent on improving his body did not detract from time spent working on his swing. While not a baseball coach per se, Lindsay was able to help in this department as well by breaking Seager’s swing down biomechanically. Seager said he actually ended up getting more swing time this winter, with the benefit of Lindsay explaining why he couldn’t get into the hitting positions he wanted to and working to eventually get him there.

“It was a really, really cool way of going about it,” said Seager. “I changed a lot of it. I don’t know how it looks but it feels a lot better. From where your legs go to where your knees go your back, if you are anterior-ly rotated, your hips rotated. It feels quite a bit different directionally. When I was physically able to make the right moves, the direction goes toward the pitcher’s mound the way you would want it to go. Protecting the toe, flexibility, prevented it. I would just try to get off that backside as much as I could and just kind of spin. I knew it wasn’t good but I figured maybe on that given day you will run into something. It was basically just trying to go out there and compete as well as I could last year and I think we will clean that up.”

It was a tremendous commitment that Seager made, not only driving one hour each way to work with Lindsay throughout the offseason, but buying in to something totally new. The diet especially has become more of a lifestyle change. The ability to see where he was and be honest about needing to make a change was the important first step.

“I needed to clean up my body physically,” he said. “The dietary stuff is something (former eating habits) I don’t need to go back to. It makes sense the only fuel you put in your body is what you eat. If you are putting everything in there for a purpose it makes sense to me from a physical, athletic aspect.”

The process is ongoing with Seager arriving in camp with a new workout plan. Only time will tell if the work pays off, but for now Seager is happy with his starting point.

“I actually feel pretty good about at least the direction, the plan, how the body feels making these moves,” he said. “There is still work to be done, it’s not a finished product, but it’s exciting.”

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