SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners Notebook: Kelenic catches up to deGrom, Ray impresses again

Mar 19, 2023, 5:06 PM

Mariners Robbie Ray...

Mariners pitcher Robbie Ray warms up during a spring training game on Feb. 24, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The rules are a little different in spring training, and not just for the players. As the media assembled Sunday for the Mariners manager Scott Servais’ morning availability, M’s radio producer/engineer/broadcaster Gary Hill mused, “I think we are going to switch it up.”

Um, what?

“Have you seen the lineup?”

Well, there were two lineups because it was a split-squad day. On such days, the broadcasts are almost always scheduled for the home game. Heading into Sunday, though, there was already intrigue as new Rangers ace Jacob deGrom was scheduled to make his first start of the spring in the Mariners’ away game in Surprise. In addition to star power in the game, the Mariners were throwing prospect Bryce Miller, who has done nothing but impress and could very well be the first arm up from the minors this season whether it is needed in the rotation or bullpen. Still, you usually stick with the home game.

Of course, when Julio Rodríguez, Jarred Kelenic and Cal Raleigh are also making the trip in order to get their first looks at deGrom, well, it might be time to hit the road. As it turns out, that was the manager’s plan, as well.

“I kind of want to see it,” Servais said. “But more importantly, I want to see our guy pitch. It should be an interesting day.”

Done. Broadcast moved. A possible first. We can do that in radio, because unlike TV, we are very portable.

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The afternoon did not disappoint. Even though deGrom was slowed in Rangers camp due to left-side tightness, he was sharp with his first pitch coming in at 97 mph and going up from there. He allowed just two hits in three innings, with Jarred Kelenic catching a high 99 mph fastball on an 0-2 count, lacing it into right field and legging out a triple. Cooper Hummel had the second hit, catching up to a 98 mph fastball for a single to center.

In 14 games, Kelenic leads the Mariners this spring with 16 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs, two triples, three stolen bases, and a 1.345 OPS. He also owns a .421/.450/.895 slash line and is tied for the team lead with two doubles.

“Jarred can hit a fastball, doesn’t matter who’s throwing it,” Servais said after the game. “He’s shown that today. He’s got a real quick bat, he’s been on time all spring on the fastball. He’s having an awesome spring, we have just got to keep healthy and get to opening day.”

Miller, who appeared in relief following the starter in two games earlier this spring, was making his first Cactus League start and admitted to some early nerves that he didn’t experience coming into the day. Then there was the matter of who was on the other side. Hailing from Texas, this one was different for Miller.

“I’ve grown up watching deGrom so it was cool to watch him warming up and go sit in the dugout and watch him throw,” Miller said. “It was kind of surreal.”

The nerves were evident to Servais early, but he liked what he saw from the 24 year old. He threw four innings, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks while striking out three.

“It was a nice outing,” Servais said. “He certainly got to face a very representative major league lineup. I thought he handled himself very well, had a good breaking ball, was composed. He has to figure out a way to keep his cap on.”

Ah, yes. The cap. In an episode that was reminiscent of Felix Hernández’s first Cactus League start, Miller had trouble keeping his cap on. It flew off at least six times in the first inning.

“It was annoying,” he said in the clubhouse after the outing. “I was about to attach a chin strap to it.”

Miller believed the pitchcom device that he wore on the right side of the cap had stretched it out. He remedied the situation by wadding up some athletic tape and placing it on the left side. After that, it was smooth sailing.

“Everything felt good,” he said. “Early we were a little fastball heavy, I was kind of yanking a bit. Once we got the nerves worked out and settled in, it was all pretty good.”

Miller threw his full array of pitches with the fastball sitting 95-96 mph early and tailing off a bit in the later innings. He had good command of both sliders and got work in on the changeup that was a bit off. Like most pitchers, he doesn’t expect to have his April/May stuff in March but has seen enough to know he is on the right track.

“Every outing I’ve gone out and competed, thrown it over the plate for the most part and it plays,” he said. “I will continue to build off of each outing wherever the next one is, go out and throw it over the plate see what happens.”

The opportunity for a young starter to face a big league lineup, regardless of the time of the year, is invaluable when it comes to confidence. And like George Kirby and Matt Brash this time last year, Miller clearly does not lack confidence. Like those two, the words are more matter of fact than cocky. They just sound a little different in the Texas drawl.

“I figured my stuff is good enough to throw to big league hitters,” he said. “Just go out and prove it. The last three outings, I still haven’t felt like I have had everything and been ahead the whole time and I’ve still had success. So moving forward, there’s stuff to build on, stuff to work on and I can have room for even more success whenever I am ahead in the counts and feel good with all the offspeed.”

It remains to be seen whether or not this was Miller’s last appearance with the big club this spring, but barring injury, it is very likely his next appearance in a Mariners uniform will come this year.

All in all, a good audible by Gary Hill.

Mariners notes

• While we feel good about choosing the away game, there still was some FOMO as it was Mike Cameron who managed the Mariners’ home game. And good grief, how about Robbie Ray?

For those of you keeping track at home, Ray has struck out 21 batters in 12 innings pitched this spring. He has been the surprise of camp with an increase in velocity, better shape on his slider and a splitter that is better than what some thought it would be coming in. He has been impressive in camp.

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• The game in Surprise featured players in interesting spots as the Mariners try to figure out if they need to bring someone in to cover Dylan Moore in his absence. Moore, who is set to platoon at second and fill in at shortstop when J.P. Crawford gets days off, will miss opening with an oblique strain. On Sunday, Sam Haggerty got the start at shortstop while Mason McCoy, who is known for his defense at short, played third. Cooper Hummel was at first base.

• The Mariners have signed outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. to a minor league contract. DeShields last appearance in the majors came in 2021 with the Reds.

Could Mariners be eventual trade match for Padres’ Fernando Tatís Jr.?

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