SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Notebook: An emphasis for Seattle hitters with new MLB rules

Mar 15, 2023, 4:25 PM

Mariners J.P. Crawford...

Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford swings against the San Diego Padres on Feb. 24, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

With rain in the valley Wednesday, the Mariners had an abbreviated plan for morning work.

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Usually the plan posted on light boards at either end of the clubhouse is an elaborate color-coded chart that gives the assignments for each position group. Some days, manager Scott Servais elects to pull back on the workload, so instead of the full chart there are just a few numbered items for each group. On Wednesday, there was an interesting item listed for the position players.

“9:00 2 strike hitting meeting”

In recent years, it seems we have seen less and less of the two-strike hitting approach – spreading out at the plate, shortening up on the swing, anything to put the ball in play. Servais believes that thanks to MLB’s new shift restrictions, it is about to make a comeback.

“Over the course of the last 10, 12 years, it’s been ‘hit the ball over the fence.’ You can put guys in the right position so you are making the play 85% of the time it seems like. The soft hits went away,” he said. “I think the two-strike approach and being good at it is going to take on a bigger significance than it has in quite some time.”

If there are hits to be had, no matter how soft or small, there are hitters who will go after them. As a result, and it makes sense, analysts believe we will see a slight increase in batting average on balls put in play (BABIP). Servais believes that increase will be higher than expected, perhaps as much as 30 points.

“I do think the BABIP number is going to go up,” he said. “I think more guys will have a tougher two-strike approach across the league because they see the benefit of it.”

He’s hoping more Mariners will see the benefit with the new rules. League average BABIP in 2022 was .290, with the Mariners 28th at .273 despite having two players, Julio Rodríguez and Eugenio Suárez, in the top 25 among individuals. Servais is hoping the team hitting approach will help more players see the benefit.

“You are not always going to get the hit, but part of a two-strike approach is also taking the 1-2, 0-2 (counts) and recovering into 3-2 and the value of that,” he said.

A couple of 3-2 counts with a few foul offs in the process early on in a game can add up to one less inning from a tough starter. Later in games, it could give the hitter a better chance to drive in a run.

“I don’t want to disregard the value of the home run. It’s really nice and it’s important to have guys who can hit it over the fence, but to have some guys who can make adjustments over the course of an at-bat is really important,” said Servais.

Servais would like to see an increased focus on a two-strike approach and pointed out that with the Trajekt machine, the Mariners have the perfect practice tool. They only have to walk across to the hitting cages, dial up the starter of the day, and input 1-2 situations.

“I’m trying to get our guys to understand the value of it. That’s what good offensive teams do,” he said. “It’s really hard to try different two-strike approaches (on) April 20 when the games count. Now is the time to try it.”

Mariners notes

• The Mariners’ game against the A’s on Wednesday was cancelled due to rain. The Mariners have set up a B-game Thursday morning to get their scheduled Wednesday pitchers (Marco Gonzales was set to start) their work.

• Utility player Dylan Moore, who is coming off a December core surgery, and Andrés Muñoz, who had offseason foot surgery, are expected to play in their first spring games Thursday.

• While Tommy La Stella has been DH’ing in games the last week, he still hasn’t been cleared to throw and that isn’t expected to happen for at least another week. The Mariners need La Stella to be able to back up at third base. An interesting sight Wednesday morning, though, was Cooper Hummel taking wall work with infield coach Perry Hill. While Hummel is a catcher first and got the majority of his work in the minors in the outfield, he did have a handful of appearances at third base in 2021.

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