SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: Mariners break down keys to their turnaround on offense

Apr 22, 2024, 10:44 AM

Seattle Mariners Cal Raleigh Josh Rojas Jonatan Clase Mitch Garver...

The Seattle Mariners celebrate scoring three runs on April 20, 2024. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

(Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The answer from Seattle Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh was telling.

After he went 4 for 4 with a home run and a walk Saturday night in a 7-0 win in Colorado, Raleigh was the natural choice for the walk-off interview on the Mariners Radio Network broadcast. In his previous 11 games, he had recorded just seven hits. If this was a breakout game, the question was what he had done to change things. Was there extra time put in the batting cages with the hitting coaches? Was an adjustment at the plate made?

According to Raleigh, the fix was far greater than a tweak with his mechanics.

“No, I think it’s just doubling down on the game plan,” he said. “I think we could stray two different ways. We could abandon ship or we can really double down and try to do what we need to do to win games and change the culture. And I think we did a great job today of committing to our plan again and being stubborn to what we’re trying to do at the plate. And it’s a team thing, it’s not an individual thing.”

In other words, it was more of a team fix than a Raleigh fix. The plan he spoke of committing to was not just for the game that night but games each night, and doing so as a team, changing a culture. It was a plan that was understood and touted by many in spring training with the phrase “buy-in” perhaps the most prevalent over that month and a half. Yet when the club traveled north, the team approach and results that followed appeared to have been left behind.

The Mariners getting off to a 4-8 start and struggling to score more than two runs a game for a stretch did not help. In his pregame and postgame media sessions, manager Scott Servais (while patient) began to express displeasure in having only a few hitters in the lineup on some nights following the approach. Behind the scenes, he and the coaches went to work. What was easy to grasp and execute in the sunshine of Arizona during spring training was getting away from players under the lights of big league stadiums where all the numbers count.

It was time to take a step back, simplify, and regain their footing.

“I feel like what we have done in the hitters meetings of simplifying stuff and giving very simple directives to both sides has really helped our hitters and been a growing moment for myself,” said Brant Brown, the Mariners’ new offensive coordinator and bench coach, this weekend on the radio pregame show. “You have to taper the needs of the group to what info you bring, but they really responded. And I think what we are seeing is hopefully something we can do throughout the year, in that we make choices in the at-bat of what we are going to do, not what they are going to do to us.”

In simplest terms, put the “offense” in offense. This can get complicated with the amount of information that is available to hitters. To that end, a change with the daily hitters meetings has been made this year with the hitters themselves much more involved.

“I think we have done a good job as a team of voicing what things we like to see in the meetings, what things we don’t really care to see, and put together a pretty good process,” said third baseman Josh Rojas, who leads the team with a .311 average and .392 on-base percentage.

Part of that process each day is going down the lineup in the hitters meeting and having each player voice his plan. Rojas has found this exercise to be very valuable to him.

“I think it just holds you accountable,” he said. “For me personally, I actually like voicing what the plan is out loud. And that way when the guys around me see the results, they kind of know that, ‘OK, this was his plan, this is where he was susceptible,’ and now they can cater their plan to that versus guys have no idea where guys stand. If I know (Jorge) Polanco was up there looking for a certain pitch and he was exposed on a certain pitch the guy was throwing, I now can adjust based on what he saw.”

Teammates using teammates as resources?

“Exactly,” said Rojas. “That’s what we are trying to do with a team approach.”

It’s a piece of the puzzle that occurs in-game and a piece Servais saw neglected when the team was struggling. Too often a player could be seen on the bench, head down pouring over the images of their at-bat on an iPad. Ideally that head should be up, studying what is in front of them in the game.

“A lot goes into the gameplan,” said Servais, who last week told the media that a concerted effort to get players off the iPads during games had been made. “You’re hunting pitches. You will have information, you will have track record. Does this guy have history of struggling (to get) in the strike zone early or with a particular pitch based on his last couple of outings? You take all that information and you put together a gameplan. And it’s up to our guys to go out and execute it. Some nights it works perfectly, other nights it doesn’t because the guy is landing his breaking ball or he is more effective locating his fastball to a certain side of the plate. You (can) have the greatest plan in the world, but you have to watch the game.”

You can attack the pitcher on your own or you can do it with nine others. It’s not tough to see how the long innings can evolve, and this likely has played some role in the recent uptick in numbers. Raleigh believes it has.

More: MLB insider says Mariners limiting use of in-game tech is a good call

“The difference is you’re seeing a lot more walks,” he said. “You’re seeing a lot more guys getting good counts. I think that’s the big thing is guys are looking for what they want, what they want to do, what they want to hunt, what they want to hit. And instead of what the pitchers (are) trying to do them or maybe chasing all around the zone, chasing to one spot is kind of the key.”

Since April 10, the Mariners have gone 7-3, and in that time they had a best in baseball 12.8% walk rate. They have also seen some improvement with their strikeout percentage in that time, seeing it drop to 25.1%, seventh-highest in MLB.

Was this a good 10 days, or a trend? Time will tell. For now, Brown and others see the offense at the very least on the right track, with the help of seeing what they had bought into in the spring work for a time in the regular season.

“For me it’s just about the execution,” Brown said. “You cannot cover everything in the big leagues on the plate. You just cannot. I think what we have done really well is we’ve made choices of what we are going to give and what we are going to take, and we have stuck by them. And I think if we can do that – this offense is fully capable of it – I think they are finding out now if they do it, we’re really good. So hopefully that gives them a little bit of confidence and reiterates the strength in which when we mind our manners – we execute our plan, not their plan – is that in most cases we are going to have a really good game.”

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