BROCK AND SALK

Is the Mariners’ defense going to be a big concern this year?

Mar 29, 2024, 12:01 PM | Updated: 12:06 pm

Seattle Mariners defense Luis Urías...

Seattle Mariners third baseman Luis Urías throws to first on March 28, 2024. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

If you watched the Seattle Mariners’ opening day loss to the Boston Red Sox, you may be surprised about one thing from the box score.

Mariners Highs and Lows: What stands out from opening day loss

The M’s had a little trouble in the field throughout the 6-4 defeat, but in the end, they only had one error. It felt like more, though. And in fact, the one play that was ruled an error may have have been the least egregious of Seattle’s defensive miscues.

Third baseman Josh Rojas was charged with the one error when his running throw home hit the back of Boston runner Tyler O’Neill’s helmet, allowing the Red Sox to score their third run of the game. Looming just as large in a close game, though, was the run Boston eventually scored after shortstop J.P. Crawford bobbled a ball and could only get one out instead of a double play in the fifth inning, and a triple in the sixth by Ceddane Rafaela, who picked up an extra base while Mariners left fielder Dominic Canzone was fielding the ball and would later score.

One more play stood out, though it didn’t end up costing Seattle a run. New Mariners third baseman Luis Urías, who took over during the game as a substitution for Rojas, had a moment of indecision after fielding a grounder in the ninth as Jarren Duran (running from second base) neared him, and his throw was just a bit later to Ty France than Boston’s Trevor Story was to first base. Urías’ fielding was a question mark already going into the season, particularly his throwing, and defense in general appears to be an area where the M’s took a step back based on their offseason moves.

How much of a concern is it? Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk talked with Mariners insider Shannon Drayer about that on Friday’s edition of Brock and Salk.

Drayer called it something you don’t want to see on opening day – your concerns playing out – but that doesn’t mean the defense as a whole is something to panic about quite yet.

“The thing about that is that I do think that things are fixable,” Drayer said. “You’re not going to see a J.P. Crawford bobble very often, and that’s not what you were concerned about. You were concerned about the outfield and you were concerned about third base. The Rojas ball hitting the runner – he didn’t have the (throwing) lane, I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do there. But Urías failing to get the out in the ninth inning, that hurt. The good news there is that wasn’t a physical error, that was a mental error right there, and so you hope that maybe that’s jitters, trying to impress, trying to be there in the big moment in his first attempt. And I’m sure he’s heard the questions about (his defense), too. You hope a little bit of work and a little bit of attention on that will help there.”

That covers the infield. How about the play that jumped out in the outfield?

“Canzone not getting to the ball very quickly, not getting much on the throw – we’ve seen him make better throws,” Drayer said. “I think what I saw in spring training (with Canzone’s defense) really kind of reassured things. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a plus outfielder, but I don’t think he’s going to be what he was last year. You’re hoping that he’s going to be OK (defensively), but to see those things happen in that game, that was kind of tough.”

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Salk pointed out how the defense might be a departure from what fans have gotten used to seeing in recent seasons at T-Mobile Park.

“I do think it’s going to be something that we’re watching for this year,” Salk said, “and it’s not something we’ve had to watch for for quite some time because for the most part their defense has been really special over the course of the last three to five years.”

The Mariners’ defense has played a key role in strong pitching numbers by Seattle, too, which is a big reason it will be a storyline in 2024.

“That contributes to the pitching and that contributes to the wins,” Drayer said of the Mariners’ defense. “It’s extremely important, and if you didn’t know it before, you see a game like that and you see how it can impact things. And it’s important right now, especially when you’re down your two top relievers (Matt Brash and Gregory Santos), you don’t want to be giving anything extra away. You don’t want to make it any tougher on anybody. I think we’re going to see them score runs. I don’t think we’re going to see as many one-run games, but you’ve got to play clean baseball and last night’s game was not clean.”

Listen to the full Brock and Salk conversation with Mariners insider Shannon Drayer of Seattle Sports in the third segment of the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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