Drayer: Mariners’ rotation got work done in very different ways this offseason

Feb 22, 2024, 12:30 PM | Updated: 12:32 pm

Seattle Mariners Logan Gilbert George Kirby...

George Kirby and Logan Gilbert of the Seattle Mariners talk before a game on Sept. 27, 2022. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The five starters that make up the Seattle Mariners’ rotation are tight as a group, but diverse in personality and experience, both of which are reflected in their offseason work. When they come together in spring training to work as a group at the Mariners facility in Arizona, they leave behind different locales and different routines that provide an interesting glimpse beyond what you see on the big league field.

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Perhaps you heard this week about George Kirby’s unique offseason routine. Unlike many others, he has not chosen to move to a warmer location where he can train, preferring to stay home in Rye, New York. As such, he trains inside on turf. When the arm is ready and it is time to progress to mound work, he doesn’t throw to a catcher, rather, he throws to a “Nine Pocket,” a netted pitching tool with nine pockets making up the nine quadrants of the strike zone.

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“I just like to be super target-oriented,” he explained. “Then it kind of just is muscle memory at that point. I’m focused on hitting that square at the top left corner or bottom right, then when I throw to the net, I just put an ‘X ‘at the wall and try to hit that X every time. People say don’t aim the ball, but I’m trying to hit that spot, so I am going to practice doing that.”

This has been Kirby’s routine the past four years, and he admits at times it can be boring not having someone to play catch with. But ultimately he prefers to work solo.

“I’m super focused,” he said. “I just like to be really nitpicky where I am throwing stuff.”

It is quiet, solo work on Kirby’s part. A pitcher, a net, nine targets and determination. Different, but it tracks with Logan Gilbert.

“I love that he does that,” said Gilbert. “You think it would be more official or whatever? But I love that. It’s so his personality. Just probably takes a bucket of balls, a nine pocket. His command is the best in the world, that’s probably why.”

And his routine?

“Mine’s probably a little weirder than most,” he said.

Logan’s “bag of tricks,” a large duffel filled with training tools that at first glimpse resemble more of those that would be found in a Pilates or Yoga studio rather than a bullpen, by now is well known. We see it in Seattle, Peoria and on the road. In the offseason, it goes with him as well as he works out at two facilities: One is a Next Level high school baseball academy, which is close to home and provides the workout facilities he needs to do his program independently, and the other is the Florida Baseball ARMory, an elite training facility over an hour away from his home.

“That’s all the weird stuff you see in there,” he said. “The water ball, the shoulder sphere, all that stuff. They have the edge (edgertronic) cameras, the Trackman, high-tech stuff.”

The work at the ARMory has been critical to Gilbert’s success. Where Kirby prefers solo work in a gym with simple tools, Gilbert is comfortable on the cutting edge of a high performance baseball center.

“It’s how I’m wired,” he said. “I get along really well with Randy (Sullivan) who runs it. He’s pretty scientific, I would say. It’s the workout side of all the things I try to do on the mound as far as stability.”

Fortunately for Gilbert, the routine is portable. This fall he and his wife took a trip to Italy, exploring multiple regions of the country. As it turned out, the date he scheduled to start his offseason throwing fell late in the trip.

“I brought my throwing sock,” he said referring to what most call his “oven mitt,” a tool that allows players to “throw” in confined spaces. “I’m sure the guys would give me a very hard time about that. When five weeks happened, that’s when I planned on starting back, so my first day throwing again was in one of the hotels in the Tuscany countryside. I was like, ‘Alright (laughs), rime to get throwing again.’ Basically just doing my drills in the hotel room.”

Luis Castillo also threw in a beautiful location out of the country. Only for him, that location was home in the Dominican Republic.

“It’s always been the same, right where I was born,” he said. “I think one of the major factors for me is running. I think running is a very important aspect for pitchers. It’s what gives you that resistance to pitch well. I run long distances and I like to run in the stadium and run all the stairs.”

Castillo admitted he does mix in a beach run from time to time. The rest of his work? Done at home.

“Almost everything actually is in my house,” he said. “I have a gym and I have a big patio where I go to do all the mobility stuff that they push me through.”

Castillo has a longtime trainer he plays catch with. And his gym is a little livlier than Kirby’s.

“I have a big speaker that I normally put my music on. You know, music with a lot of rhythm to it,” he said with a smile.

The speaker is about the extent of the technology he has or wants at home. There is no Trackman, no edgetronic cameras, not even a radar gun involved in Castillo’s offseason training.

“No, no, no,” he said. “Nothing. Normally we just go work with our experience that we have, the mentality that we have and maybe we’re not the smartest or that we know a ton. But we have a routine that works for us and that’s been helping me for years.”

Castillo as an accomplished veteran has the experience to know exactly what he needs and the resources to put it exactly where he wants. That is not the case for the youngest pitchers on the staff: Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo.

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“This year was different,” said Miller. “In the past, we had minor league camps in Arizona, the offseasons were pretty short. This was the first time I had a full offseason. That was pretty cool.”

“I think it is a little bit different for me every year,” said Woo. “I’m obviously younger, I don’t have my own place anywhere yet.”

While they are at similar spots in their career, Miller and Woo’s offseason preferences could not be more different.

Woo likes to hit the road, take trips and get his mind off baseball for a bit while Miller is working toward spending more time in his hometown of New Braunfels, Texas. This offseason, Miller lived in College Station, where he could work out at his alma mater of Texas A&M and travel to Houston twice a week to work at Dynamic Strength Training, a high performance center.

At Texas A&M, Miller worked out with former Aggies teammates who are now in professional baseball as well. The location and faces around him, familiar. They got even more familiar this offseason as the Mariners former pitching coordinator, Max Weiner, someone who was instrumental in Miller’s development as a pro, is now the pitching coach at A&M.

“This year was different than others because Max was there,” said Miller. “The way he has got the program going with the pitchers there, it’s really similar to here. Plus I spent three years there. It’s a pretty comfortable spot for me. We work around their schedule, but Max will get the Trackman out or if I need a catcher, he will get that for me. It was cool. It’s a good spot.”

As good a spot it is, it is 2.5 hours from home. Miller is hoping he can move his offseason work back home next fall. As for Woo, he was on the move this winter. The highlight, spending a month in Hawaii with family and friends. It was not all fun and games, though. Work was put in.

“A lot of people were very nice about letting me wor kout at their facilities or throwing in their fields so that was a cool thing to do,” he said.

Finding a throwing partner was not hard. The friend he was staying with had a friend who played in college.

“It ended up working out really well,” he said. “Usually finding an offseason partner is a pretty tough endeavor unless you have a good facility or somewhere you throw a lot at, but I don’t have that. He was good about throwing with me every day, then after that for a couple of weeks he was like, ‘Hey, I am going to go play for the Bananas.”

Yep. Woo lost his throwing partner to the Savanah Bananas. No hard feelings, though. Woo got in the work he needed on the fields at the University of Hawaii and was able to get a tan while doing so on vacation. At home, in the Bay Area, getting work in was a different matter as it is for many young starters.

“Usually I am trying to find a new guy every day or work around their schedules,” he said. “It’s a little colder at home. You’re finding a gym, a field wherever you can get your work in. It’s not as glamorous, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

For the Seattle Mariners starters, it is all very different.

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