Mariners Notebook: Some standouts plus a tip of cap to Zunino

Mar 6, 2024, 4:16 PM

Seattle Mariners Bryce Miller...

Bryce Miller of the Seattle Mariners pitches against Texas in 2023. (Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

(Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

The box score means little when you throw just 2 1/3 innings in a spring training game, but the work in that short amount of time can be invaluable like it was Wednesday for the Seattle Mariners’ Bryce Miller.

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The two home runs allowed meant little to Miller, written off to poor pitch selection that wouldn’t happen in the regular season. What was important was the ability to get as much as he could out of the 45 pitches he was allotted in the pregame planning.

“The stuff felt really good, arm feels good. Velo on the heater is good, everything feels good,” Miller said shortly after leaving the game against the Royals in Surprise, which the M’s went on to win.

Seattle Mariners 9, Kansas City Royals 8: Box score

Coming off success in his first spring outing with his new pitch, a splitter, Miller has now seen that pitch against opponents not wearing the same jersey in two games. The results and reactions are only building confidence in that pitch.

“I haven’t had any hard contact on it, and whenever I throw it in the right spot it is a swing and miss,” he said. “It’s been good to me so far. I have just got to trust the location.”

Mariners manager Scott Servais can see the promise in the pitch.

“I think it’s going to be a real weapon against left-handed hitters,” Servais said Wednesday. “The first couple he threw today weren’t so good, but I think that’s part of it. You figure out if it’s not there, what are you doing wrong to make an adjustment to get it into the zone or get the movement you want. It’s the new pitch for him, but he can’t forget who he is. He has an excellent fastball. I thought today maybe got away from that a little bit too much and made a mistake to Salvy (Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Pérez), and after that he got to remember who he is. Stay with the fastball and work in the other stuff along with it.”

Miller acknowledged he could have thrown the fastball more but also added it can be tough to work on all five of his pitches when he only has 45 to throw. As for the two home runs, he said pitch selection and sequencing were the problem with both. The mistake to Pérez was noted by Servais. The home run off the bat of Michael Massey was more curious as it came on a 78 mph curveball, a seldom-used pitch by Miller. As it turns out, Miller was trying to shake catcher Blake Hunt to the fastball, but after a couple of shakes looked up and saw just three seconds left on the pitch clock.

“I went, ‘Alright, I will just throw whatever is next,’ and he called curveball and I threw it, it was a ball and he… yeah,” Miller said of the 0-1 pitch that was crushed. “What was that? Ideally I would never throw a curveball there but it is what it is.”

Miller actually learned a little something in the misadventure with the curveball, as he later acknowledged that had he bounced the pitch and thrown a “better” ball, the count would have been 1-1 and perhaps one fewer run would have been on the board. The run was not costly however as the Mariners came away with the win, their second of the spring.

See ya, Z

Mike Zunino who the Mariners took with the third overall pick of the 2012 MLB Draft, announced his retirement Wednesday afternoon.

Zunino spent the first six years of his MLB career with the Mariners, then had a monster year in 2021 for the Tampa Bay Rays, making the American League All-Star team and hitting 33 home runs with an .860 OPS in 109 games. Since then, injuries have taken their toll and he remained unsigned as spring training began after appearing in 42 games with Cleveland last year. Servais tipped his cap after the Mariners’ game Wednesday to his former catcher.

“What a career,” Servais said. “Z obviously spent a lot of time here with us. Solid guy, did a great job with our pitching staff. I think the offense for him was always up and down. The huge upside and a little bit of swing and miss. Mike was always grinding and trying to get better and more consistent offensively. But he was a rock behind the plate, really good receiver, really good throwing arm and really good feel to call the game and helped a lot of our pitchers along the way.

“Great career. Anytime you can play in this league for as long as he did and (can) be on successful teams like that, it says a lot for him as the player and a great guy on top of everything. So hats off to him.”

More: Former Mariners catcher Mike Zunino retires after 11 MLB seasons

Seattle Mariners spring training notes

• Samad Taylor, a waiver claim add last month from the Royals, hit his second home run of the spring Wednesday and drew praise from Servais.

“I really like Samad and what he brings,” the skipper said. “Even though he’s a little guy in stature, the ball jumps off his bat. He’s got the capability of doing that. He’s got positional versatility, he’s got a good way about him in the clubhouse and his baseball IQ is very high as well. He can bunt, he can steal bases. You need those guys as the season goes on you can slide them in there and give you a little shot in the arm for a short period of time.”

• Another recent waiver claim, Levi Stoudt, saw his first game action Tuesday, throwing two scoreless innings against the Guardians in the non-broadcasted half of a split-squad day. A former highly-ranked Mariners prospect who found his way back to the team after going to Cincinnati in the 2022 Luis Castillo trade, the M’s have brought him along slowly in camp as he has looked to make adjustments after struggling in his handful of appearances with the Reds last season.

“I do think he helps us at some point this year,” Servais said. “He does look really healthy, the ball is coming out hot. I think the development of his secondary pitches haven’t quite come as fast as we thought they might. Slider, split-finger pitch that he uses, hopefully those continue to improve. He will get more chances in spring.”

The Mariners view Stoudt as a starter, but if there was a length role needed in the bullpen, he could fit that bill too.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Mariners Notebook: Logan Gilbert’s outing, highlights and more
ESPN’s Olney: Mariners have many thinking they can win AL West
Which Mariners stood out in first week of spring training games?
Why Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez-Ichiro connection is so valuable
Morosi: Seattle Mariners’ new-look lineup can help avoid slow start

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Mariners Notebook: Some standouts plus a tip of cap to Zunino