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Scott Servais: Led by pitching, Mariners could ‘do something special’ ahead of schedule this year

Marco Gonzales, who made his spring debut Sunday, anchors Seattle's six-man rotation. (Getty)

The Mariners are officially back to work for the 2021 season and are looking to take the next step forward.

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In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Mariners were actually in playoff contention towards the end of the year, but ultimately fell short with a 27-33 record and missed out by two games.

Now, most of that very young roster is back in the mix for 2021, and manager Scott Servais said the team has been very productive at the early part of spring training.

“I like what I’ve seen so far. Our guys came into camp ready to go,” he told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant Tuesday morning, just a few hours ahead of the Mariners’ second spring training game of the year. “And really, I think all the guys we asked to make some changes over the offseason … they all came in ready to go. Now we’ll see how that plays out on the field.”

A lot of the talk surrounding the team has been centered around comments made by former team president Kevin Mather, who resigned after the comments became public. Mather made a number of statements about the team to a local rotary club that the Mariners have said don’t represent the organization. During the 45-minute conversation, Mather made racially insensitive comments about current and former Latino and Japanese players, alluded to the team using service time manipulation with top prospect Jarred Kelenic, and made insulting remarks about key veterans like Kyle Seager and Marco Gonzales.

Servais and Mariners players have said that they’re working to move forward, but Seattle’s skipper touched on the situation briefly when talking to Danny and Gallant.

“First of all, I know everyone who has pride in being a Mariner was hurt by the comments that were made,” he said. “Things happen that you can’t plan for. I think you look at our group, and the character of what’s in our clubhouse right now is as strong as any group I’ve been with. I say that and you look through our roster and we’re very young.”

Those young players will be key fixtures both this year and in the future, and Servais said there has been a lot of discussions in order to turn the page and move ahead as a team, which he’s “very proud of.” And in looking ahead, Servais is very excited about his team’s chances of making some noise this season.

“The focus right now is getting ready for (opening day),” he said. “I think we have the opportunity to do something really special this year, maybe a little bit ahead of what most people are predicting based on the lack of experience that we have. I do know one thing about young players is they’re hungry, they have a ton of excitement and passion and energy. Those are all things that will serve us very well as we go throughout, hopefully, a full 162-game season.”

Even though the Mariners finished under .500 and missed the playoffs in 2020, Servais saw tremendous growth from his team that he expects to carry over for a full 2021 season.

“If you remember how we started, it wasn’t too pretty,” Servais said. “We had very inexperienced guys in our bullpen, which was an issue early on. We struggled offensively to have any consistency up and down the lineup, so it was a challenge.”

At the start of last season, Seattle’s lineup aside from Seager and Kyle Lewis struggled, the defense played poorly at times and the pitching wasn’t offering much in either the rotation or the bullpen. But just ahead of the midway point of 2020, Servais said the team “started to flip” and head in the right direction.

“I really felt that our team started to believe that we can compete, we can beat these teams,” he said. “And we started playing like it and it was really driven by our starting pitching. And as I started to really look through this camp, that’s probably the thing that excites me most is our pitching depth.”

Gonzales had a tremendous 2020 showing at the top of Seattle’s rotation and Justus Sheffield began to show results one would expect from a former top prospect. The Mariners also got nine and 10 starts, respectively, from Yusei Kikuchi and Justin Dunn, while Nick Margevicius shined at times both as a starter and as a reliever.

Now, Gonzales, Sheffield and Kikuchi will be joined by free-agent acquisitions James Paxton and Chris Flexen, and Margevicius and Dunn will compete for the sixth rotation spot along with other pitchers in camp.

The additions of Paxton and Flexen will be key, but so too will be new relievers like Rafael Montero and Kenyan Middleton, as well as the returning Kendall Graveman, who will be a full-time reliever for the first time in his career. Those three give the Mariners some great options for late in games, which they didn’t really have last season.

“If you pitch real well and you play defense, which we know we can do that, you’re going to be in a lot of games,” Servais said. “Some nights the offense is going to be there, we’re going to be dynamic, we’re going to hit it over the fence, we’re going to steal bases, but other nights we’ve got to scratch out a 2-1 or 3-2 win. But the constant, I believe, will be our pitching. That’s what really got us going last year and that’s what we’re going to build upon this year.”

Listen to the full conversation with Servais at this link or in the player below.

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