Blowers: Why Santana, Mariners’ veteran presence has been so important

Sep 21, 2022, 1:14 PM | Updated: 3:18 pm

Mariners Carlos Santana...

Carlos Santana is picked up by Mariners teammate Julio Rodríguez after hitting a home run on Sept. 16. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Seattle Mariners are in uncharted territory as a young team with most of their players trying to reach the postseason for the first time. Not every player on the roster fits that bill, however, and the ones that don’t are as important as ever right now during this final push toward a playoff spot.

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If you’ve been following the Mariners the past few months, there’s probably one player you have in mind after reading that sentence: first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana. Seattle traded for the veteran switch-hitter in late June when Ty France was dealing with an injury, and while he’s had a lot of big hits – especially lately – he’s brought a lot more to the table.

Mike Blowers, Mariners color commentator on ROOT Sports and a former MLB third baseman, said the impact of the 36-year-old Santana on the team is something manager Scott Servais has pointed to as a big help.

“Scott has talked to me (about) what Santana has meant to them not just on the field but in the clubhouse as a veteran guy, the way he goes about his business,” Blowers said Tuesday during his weekly conversation with Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob.

The Mariners have been dealing with unfortunate injuries and ailments in the last few weeks, which is certainly an inopportune time for a team trying to put the final nail in the coffin of a postseason drought that is two decades long. Santana, who has played in four different postseasons, most notably as part of the 2016 Cleveland team that went seven games with the Cubs in the World Series, has certainly stepped up at the plate. Seven of his 19 homers this season have come in the last 10 games, including a trio of multi-homer games, but Blowers suspects he’s played just as big of a role behind the scenes.

“I bet he was talking to a lot of guys in their lockers over the last few days when all this stuff was happening, and then he goes out and he produces the way that he has,” Blowers said.

Santana’s most recent two-homer day included a lesson that Blowers said the younger Mariners hitters can learn from. He hit a grand slam in a 9-1 Monday win over the Angels on a 3-1 pitch after watching a fastball come over the plate on 3-0.

“One of the one of the things that really stood out to me was watching him when he hit the home run right-handed into the left field bullpen in Anaheim. He got to a 3-0 count, and Dave (Sims) and I were talking, I’m like, ‘He absolutely has the green light here. He’s going to look for something out over the plate,'” Blowers said. “(The 3-0 pitch) is a strike on a fastball, but it’s middle-in and he takes it. He didn’t even offer at it. The next pitch is out over the plate and he hits it into the bullpen.

“I think other players watching that and then talking to him after – ‘What were you thinking?’ and ‘What was going on? You had the green light and you got the fastball, why didn’t you swing at it?’ I’m sure he told them, ‘Because this is where I’m looking in that situation. If it’s not there, I’m not swinging.’ Those kinds of conversations in-game make the biggest difference, but I’ll guarantee you he was in lockers the last 48 hours.”

Veterans helping young Mariners late in season

Blowers had another piece of insight to share about how Seattle’s veterans – not just limited to Santana – have probably helped out the Mariners’ younger players who have never played as much as they have this season. In particular, Blowers mentioned Julio Rodríguez, who has played 127 games after never playing more than 84 in a season as a pro, and Logan Gilbert, whose previous career-high before throwing 172 2/3 innings so far this year was 135 innings.

Rodríguez recently sat out a few days to rest a sore back while Gilbert has rebounded in September after a rough patch in August.

“That’s probably some of the veteran presence, also,” Blowers said, first focusing on Rodríguez’s time off. “I guarantee it, he probably had some nagging things that were going on and I bet there were some veterans that told him, ‘You know, we need you healthy, and if it means you’re out for a few days to make that right, that’s what you need to do,’ which is not easy for any young player to hear because they feel like they can go every single day. You don’t really think about it, you just start to feel it, and that’s probably what he was talking about.

“I think we saw the same thing, Logan Gilbert has talked about it, he’s got a certain routine that he does all year. He’s done it all year long and it’s every day. It’s the same time, it’s the same thing, you can put your watch to it, and a lot of the guys are like, ‘Hey, man, you’re logging more innings than you ever have. You’re gonna have to cut some of that back so that you’re fresh when you go out on the hill.’ And what did we see? He was going through that dip and I guarantee that’s when the conversation started happening, and now look where he’s at. He’s cut things back… but now you can see him rushing back up there. (Sunday) he was living at 98 (mph) top of the zone with that nasty slider and his changeup, and a lot of that probably is because he got a second wind. But the other part is he had to kind of schedule things back a little bit. Maybe for Julio, don’t take as much BP, maybe a few more less fly balls out in center field at this point. These guys work extremely hard, but you have to learn that and that’s why I was saying when you go through it for the first time, it’s the hardest time.”

You can listen to the full Wyman and Bob conversation with Blowers in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

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