BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Notebook: ‘Consistent pressure’ theme for lineup in 2024

Mar 28, 2024, 4:20 PM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners is congratulated by Ty France on Aug. 17, 2023. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners ended spring training on a hot run, particularly at the plate.

See the first Seattle Mariners lineup of 2024 for opening day vs Red Sox

For a team that has won a lot the last three years while oftentimes struggling to score runs, that could be a very good sign entering the 2024 season.

“We really did a lot of good things offensively. I’m excited,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters ahead of Seattle’s opening day matchup Thursday against the Boston Red Sox. “We have a different look to our offense this year based on some of the acquisitions we had in the offseason, and we’ve got some of the same characters back again. So there’s a really good vibe around our team right now.”

Servais had high praise for his club even before they’ve played a regular season game.

“I think this is the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve got a couple guys banged up in the bullpen right now, and when they get healthy, we’re even deeper,” he said.

Servais called his roster a “very mature group” while noting that while the team collectively is pretty young, there’s a key “sprinkle of veterans” in the mix, too.

“It’s a team that has really vibed well together and really connected throughout spring training, and I think it’s going to serve us well early in the season,” Servais said.

The Mariners put a lot of runners on base in 2023, but failed to get enough home, in large part because of the strikeout. That’s been a key focus for the Mariners this year, and something Servais is eager to see during games that matter in the standings.

“We have stressed with our hitters the ability to get the ball in play and having a really good two-strike approach, understanding to kind of dictate the terms of your at-bat and eliminate pitches, eliminate zones. All those other things have really helped our guys,” he said.

“I do like our team and like the depth of our offense, the lineup. It’s very balanced,” Servais later said. “We’ve got guys near the bottom of the lineup that oftentimes they’ve been near the top of the lineup with us. It’s a good feeling that we’re gonna be able to put consistent pressure on the opposition every day. And that’s what it takes.”

Seattle Mariners notes

• With an 88-74 record, the Mariners failed to make the playoffs in 2023. A team that made it ahead of them? The 90-72 Texas Rangers, who beat the M’s on the second-to-last game of the season to clinch a wild card berth, then ultimately won the World Series.

When asked about Texas winning it all last year, Servais made it clear it upset him, and the Mariners as a team.

“It was a little frustrating knowing that we were right there and weren’t able to get in. But it’s over. It’s behind us,” he said. “We’ve got to learn from it. And like I said, our team is hungry, and so am I and so is the coaching staff. It starts tonight.”

“There’s a different vibe around this team just based on how we ended the season last year. It’s a very hungry team,” Servais added.

• Batting seventh and playing left field for the Mariners on opening day is Dominic Canzone, who came to Seattle in a midseason trade from Arizona.

Canzone had some bright moments in 2023 for the Mariners, including some long home runs, but he struggled with making consistent contact and ultimately hit .215 with a .656 OPS in 44 games.

He had a big spring for the Mariners, though, and Servais said he enters 2024 in a very different place.

“He’s made some adjustments at the plate, but the first thing you’ll notice is he’s stronger. He’s bigger, he’s more physical, he’s moving better – and not just in the outfield, but how he’s controlling things in the batter’s box,” Servais said. “The setup’s a little bit different. He’s quieted a couple things down, he’s making better swing decisions because I think his head’s not moving as much. And hopefully it translates here. He had an awesome spring. We’re excited about Dom. He’s got big time power. I think he’s gonna have a big year for us if he swings at the right pitches.”

• Next to Canzone in the outfield is one of the best players in baseball: 23-year-old center fielder Julio Rodríguez, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting last season.

Rodríguez’s start to spring training was a bit delayed due to a hand injury, but based on how he performed in games, you never would have guessed, Servais said.

I thought the quality of his at-bats (were really good). We talked about our guys taking a step forward, he’s our best player,” he said.

Passan: Seattle Mariners’ Rodríguez can take game to another level

What could help the third-year outfielder is having more confidence in the hitters around him, especially the more veteran bats.

“If he can do a better job of passing the baton, not feeling the weight of the world or (that) it’s on him every time to come through with the big hit – and he shouldn’t feel that with the veteran guys we have behind him with (Jorge) Polanco and (Mitch) Garver and (Mitch) Haniger and Cal (Raleigh),” Servais said. “It doesn’t have to be a one-man show. So getting him to understand that, not trying to do too much, I think it’d be awesome if he could just take the walks when they’re there and add it to the next guy and keep putting the pressure on the other team.”

• Speaking of Haniger, he’s back with the Mariners after a one-year stint in San Francisco, hitting sixth and playing right field Thursday against Boston.

Haniger has produced when healthy, and now he’s taking more ownership when it comes to leading.

“He’s at the point in his career where he’s willing to share more than he ever has been in the past … I think he knows he has a voice, and a loud voice, in our clubhouse,” Servais said. “He’s earned that for as long as he’s played in the league and as long as it’s been with us as a Mariner. And he wants to win. So I think he is very comfortable being back here. He also sees the work ethic of the teammates around him, and it’s right there matching his, which I know is something that he’s really excited about. It hasn’t always been that way.”

Haniger is a good pairing with another veteran named Mitch that Seattle picked up this offseason: designated hitter Mitch Garver, who won the World Series with the Rangers last season.

“The fact that both Mitch Garver and Mitch Haniger are speaking up a lot on this team is a really good sign,” Servais said. “They’re taking accountability, they’re holding themselves to a higher standard and it’s right where I want them to be.”

• Mariners fans got a pleasant surprise recently with the team dropping new commercials for the first time since 2019, including one with Rodríguez paired with future Hall of Famer Ichiro.

“I thought the commercials were fantastic. I was disappointed they went away a couple of years ago, but we brought them back,” Servais said. “… The guys loved them. I thought they were really good. Some guys are better at it than others. Logan (Gilbert) still has a ways to go. Bryce Miller, that did not surprise me, nor did Cal. So it was fun. That’s what it’s about. It’s about having a good time, enjoying each other and the different personalities. And we’ve got plenty of personality on this team.”

The Seattle Mariners kick off the 2024 season Thursday night against the Boston Red Sox. Listen to the action live on Seattle Sports with first pitch at 7:10 and pregame coverage beginning at 6 p.m.

More M’s coverage from Seattle Sports

• Seattle Mariners announce opening day 26-man roster
• Mariners’ young core, now veterans, fueled by last year’s letdown
• Salk: Scars remain as Mariners return, but hope isn’t far away
• Dontrelle Willis: Mariners’ rotation provides ‘quality every single day’
• Why Jeff Passan ‘flirted’ with picking Seattle Mariners for World Series

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