Mariners notebook: Add an arm to the mix plus Servais speaks
7:15 update…The trade for Chris Heston is official with the Mariners announcing they will send a player to be named later to the Giants in exchange for the right-hander.
“Adding Chris is another move in our continuing effort to build a deep and flexible pitching staff,” said Jerry Dipoto in the press release. “His composure and solid feel to pitch has produced positive results at all levels throughout his career.”
To make room for Heston on the 40-man roster Richie Shaffer has been designated for assignment.
Mariners manager Scott Servais sat down for his scheduled session with the media Wednesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings, and the full transcript provided by MLB can be found below. No breaking news came from his time at the mic, but here are some notes of interest that jumped out to me:
• Servais is ready to manage a roster with more young players next season and this will be interesting to watch. A large part of Year 1 was about establishing culture and they did that, as Servais said, both with their veteran core players and non-superstars. It was important to Servais that he create an environment where players from the outside could come in and feel at home quickly. By all reports, he accomplished that. Now, the young players – rookies – are coming. This will provide a different dynamic both on and off the field but we will also get to see Servais work with the type of player that, as a former farm director, he has plenty of experience with. In watching the interview, he looked and sounded genuinely excited to have this new dynamic.
• I’ve said this before but Servais confirms: Carlos Ruiz will be more than a once-a-week catcher.
• Curveball, curveball, curveball. Reporter from elsewhere doing a story …
• Consider the possibility of a 100-percent healthy Leonys Martin, plus Ben Gamel and Mitch Haniger in the outfield. Let’s not forget how outfield defense could help the pitching this season and how much it didn’t help the pitching last season. And the season before …
• Servais likes Mike Zunino, a lot, and will be very patient and give him time to continue to learn. They are not rolling the young catcher out there Opening Day expecting that he is a finished product.
• This time last year Servais had zero experience every day managing a ballclub. Over the course of spring training and 162 games, he states that the biggest eye-opener for him was the number of games he had to manage without a full bullpen available to him because relievers were down. One thing that could help a bit with that next season is the new 10-day DL. I have to wonder if he will make any changes to how he manages his ‘pen now seeing how a full year played out.
Two other quick notes before the transcript …
An official announcement has yet to be made but the Mariners are acquiring RHP Chris Heston from the Giants in exchange for what Jon Heyman is reporting to be a PTBNL. I don’t see this as the move for a starter. Heston looks more like a player that would be thrown into the mix for the fifth spot, not penciled into the rotation. Still, at a minimum, good starting pitching depth.
Finally, the Mariners will not be making any selections in the Major League portion of the Rule-5 draft Thursday as the 40-man roster is full. They can select players in the minor league portion.
Q. Jerry (Dipoto) talked about getting more versatile with the roster and he made some moves to do that this offseason. How does that help and how do you see that being different for next year?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I think looking at our club, where we are at the end of ’16, where we wanted to go forward, the core of our club is what it is, it’s very good in the middle of our lineup but getting a little older there, trying to infuse a little bit more younger talent and guys that are more athletic.
I think our outfield is going to have a much different look to it with us acquiring Mitch Haniger. We’re going to give Ben Gamel a chance to play. We still have Seth Smith. Trying to go that direction a little bit more and hopefully it will pay off.
Q. Did you feel hamstrung at this time last year by the roster?
SCOTT SERVAIS: In September, when we had the extra players, you saw maneuvering late in games when we had leads and putting some of those younger guys in the game just to cover more ground, especially at Safeco. So hopefully it will afford us to leave guys out there and let them play the whole game. You just don’t have the flexibility without the guys in September. I think it will definitely help our pitching, and a big improvement with our outfield defense.
Q. What does (Jean) Segura at top of the line-up do for you?
SCOTT SERVAIS: He had a phenomenal year last year, he might have led the National League in hits, if I’m not mistaken. Excited to have him. I understand he played second base most of the year. He will play shortstop for us. We’re okay at second base, we like who we got there.
He’s kind of in the prime of his career, when you look at where he’s at age-wise, experience-wise. I think he’s ready to take the next step as far as getting in a playoff-type situation and helping us to get to the playoffs. The fit is really good. Obviously we had to give up good players to get him, and we got some other ones in the trade. It’s a nice fit for us. He’ll be at the top of our lineup and we’re going to let him play. I think you have to let guys play and be who they are. Had a great year last year, and looking forward to him adjusting to Seattle real quick.
Q. With (Dan) Vogelbach, Haniger, you’re going to have young kids playing. Is there any secret to maximizing success when for young guys when you are managing them like that?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I think patience. Patience is probably the secret and the fact that they’re going to make some mistakes, it’s going to happen. There are going to be hot streaks and it will be fun to watch and times when they struggle. But we gotta be patient with it.
All of those players have done what they need to do at the Triple-A level and I think it’s up to us to give them an opportunity and see how it plays out.
Q. You get (Danny) Valencia, and it seems like if he plays to expectations fills a lot of holes for you?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Very important player for us. No doubt, the right-handed bat. We saw so many left-handers last year with (Robinson) Cano and (Kyle) Seager and how our line-up was put together and Smitty in there. So getting Danny, the right-handed bat, and he hit well against righties as well. So having his versatility, hopefully give Seager a few more days off. We will put him at third, he can cover first, he can run in the outfield but it’s a good fit or our ballclub.
Q. Felix (Hernandez) said you challenged him at the end of last year to come back stronger, and what do you expect from him this winter?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Last year is the first time Felix ever had a significant injury where he missed time. Leading up to that wasn’t the same Felix you guys are used to seeing, the production. The fastball has backed up a little bit. The changeup is still outstanding, the curveball, everything else is still there but with velo backing up, the command of the fastball was a little off some nights and it got him in trouble.
All great players are very prideful and Felix is no different. We talk a lot. Very close to the playoffs last year, Felix has never experienced that and I think he desperately wants to, and be a contributor in that type of situation.
So he’s going to pitch in the WBC for Venezuela. We’re going to limit his innings. He’s not going to go out there and throw six innings multiple times. But based on where we are at, I’m excited, I’m glad he’s pitching. I think he’s ramping up his workouts earlier and got more behind him than what he has in the past. It’s going to help us out once we get going.
Q. How do you see the Zunino combination?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Carlos Ruiz is a great pick-up for us. Having the veteran players on your club that have been there before is very valuable especially in that position. So what he’s going to be able to bring to our pitching staff, helping Zunino out, will be very valuable.
He understands where he’s at in his career. He’s transitioning into being that part-time player, backup-type catcher. But understanding that if Zunino has an injury for a little time you can fire him in there and he’s going to be fine. He can still hit a little bit, too, I think that gets overlooked. It’s a nice pick-up for us. I like everything I’ve heard about him. Talked to him a couple weeks ago, he’s down in Panama, catching up with him a little bit. He’s excited to get an opportunity with another ball club. Gotta learn a whole new pitching staff, he’d been in Philadelphia so long. He made the transition with the Dodgers very nice and fit in there well and he’ll do the same with us. I think it’s going to be a really nice fit.
Playing time-wise, there are not too many catchers that catch 120 games anymore. It doesn’t happen. So we will mix and match with how Mike is going and feeling and that will depend on how much he plays.
Q. Lefty in the bullpen last year was an issue, do you feel better about your balance?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Really do. I think it’s very valuable if you look at what other teams in our division have done or what they bring out there. With Houston picking up a couple of (indiscernible) very important. We have got a lefty to combat that.
Q. You gotta feel better about your bullpen in general. Leading up to the first day of the season last year you were still adding pieces.
SCOTT SERVAIS: Edwin Diaz has been huge. For him to come in and do what he did. (Steve) Cishek may be slow to start the season with the hip surgery that he had. Huge year, really nice year with Nick Vincent. (Evan) Scribner came back and was outstanding at the end of the year. Love what I saw with (Dan) Altavilla. (Zac) Curtis is another. We’ll have better options there.
Q. Jerry has made no secret that he’s been looking for a starting pitcher. How much if you could get a man in the starting rotation would help you guys right now?
SCOTT SERVAIS: It would be very valuable. You’ve got Felix, you’ve got (Hisashi) Iwakuma who had his career high in innings pitched. (James) Paxton really took a step forward. Behind that you’ve got (Ariel) Miranda and (Nathan) Karns, and other guys we filled in behind him. But if you could find another guy you could plug in there, I think everybody here is looking for more pitching. You can’t have enough of it. It would be nice to get. But to get, you have got to give up. To see how that mixes and matches.
Our front office guys have done a great job this offseason trying to improve things. And we had goals we tried to hit on and get younger, get more athletic. With the pitching, we gave up Taijuan (Walker) we are looking to plug that hole, too.
SCOTT SERVAIS: Well, I think consistency. We did get some lulls last year. We had some tough road trips.
You look at our schedule this year, we have a couple of tough ones, too, in August that could catch us.
We used a number of pitchers last year. We had some tough injuries on our club but I think the depth we had is going to serve us well and just stay away from those lulls.
I talked about it last year, you can’t win the division in April, but you can lose it. So hopefully getting off to a decent start is going to be important.
Q. What is Karns’ status?
SCOTT SERVAIS: He’s healthy. He feels good. I talked to him about ten days ago, feels good, healthy. He was shutdown at the end of the year with the back issue. He’s working out, full go, started his throwing program. He will come into camp competing for the rotation spots.
Q. When I looked at his numbers last year, he had the second lowest depth among the roughly 30 pitchers. What does that say about how he performed last year and going forward?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Didn’t have a lot of luck, that’s what it says a little bit.
But the thing with Nate, his stuff is there, good fastball, really good curveball, strikeout numbers are up there. Obviously he had some walk issues and just running deep pitch counts. So you are looking up a lot of times in the fifth inning and you’re sitting at 90 pitches. Hopefully he will get more pitch efficient. Making adjustments a little bit quicker. But health-wise, he feels good.
Q. How much different is it for you this year, last year you hadn’t worked with most of these guys, to have the year behind you?
SCOTT SERVAIS: It’s a lot different, a lot more comfortable. You kinda know going through an entire season, first of all, how long the season is, you know, and how important it is to be consistent. What’s the message you’re sending. And developing relationships with the players is very important. But I thought we took some huge strides at the end of the year, especially from our veterans group and seeing those guys stepping up and leading. And a lot of those guys hadn’t been in that position before, but they’re doing it and comfortable doing it and that’s really what it takes. The game is about the players and it’s their team. I think and felt that they took ownership of that at the end of the year.
We’re really looking forward to this year. I think the guys are anxious to get back and get after it. We’re starting to come up with our own identity. I think you saw it last year, a lot of the personalities on our club. And not only the superstars that we have, but it’s Leonys Martin, Edwin Diaz, it’s guys letting their personalities come out. We’re a fun team to watch and I think we’ll have a fun year.
Q. How much does the WBC change how you organize Spring Training?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Spring Training is longer this year because of the WBC, and unfortunately we’re going to lose five, seven, eight players. So Spring Training has to flow to it. You start off slow, you’re putting in your system and your bunt plays. And all of the sudden we’re going to lose some of our core guys there for a week to 10 days or longer. So it will be a little bit more challenging, but it does give our younger guys plenty of opportunity to settle in. We have three or four young ones, rookie-types that we’re counting on this year. So I look at the positive side of that, it will give us more time to spend with those guys. The WBC is a great event but it does disrupt Spring Training a little bit.
Q. Fundamentals early because of that?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Probably so. Certainly we were talking earlier our baserunning is something we need to address, it’s one of the things that’s hard to practice but certainly talking more about it, trying to emphasize some key points there and how valuable it is not to make outs on the basis. It got us a couple of times last year, so it will be one of the things we talk about in Spring Training.
Q. You’ve got (Shawn) O’Malley as a proven utility guy and you bring in (Taylor) Motter who has talent. When you do competition for a utility spot, what did you want out of that?
SCOTT SERVAIS: The versatility, being able to run all over the field, outfield, infield. The guy is going to have to play shortstop and be able to handle that position okay. Which Shawn O’Malley did a much better job in season than we thought he was capable of doing, based on what we saw in Spring Training. It will be a very competitive spot. You have Shawn O’Malley, Michael Freeman, we picked up Motter. Some guys that we feel are comfortable. And they all bring a different perspective to it, with O’Malley with the switch-hit speed. You’ve got (Mike) Freeman with the bat and Motter who can play everywhere and do it at a high level. So it will be a fun competition to watch as it plays out.
Q. Ben Gamel, you got a look at him last year. Is he ready to be an everyday guy?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I certainly hope so. You never know how guys are going to react to that. But a couple of things I was impressed with, even though you look at the numbers in the small sample size you had, he does a very good job of controlling the strike zone, doesn’t chase a lot. I know he hasn’t been a big home run hitter in the minor leagues, I think he will in the big leagues. So there is power there. Just having good, consistent at-bats.
I like how he plays. I like how he handled himself last year. He’s got interesting hair, which always makes it fun. We’ve got a few of those guys.
He’s going to get every opportunity to play and we’ve gotta give those guys a chance. Again, talking about getting younger and the only way to get younger is throw ’em out there and see how it plays out.
Q. There is a lot more home runs this year. It’s all the way through the lineup we’re seeing a lot of home runs. Does that change the way that you want to manage, like pitch selection usage against guys?
SCOTT SERVAIS: We certainly saw a ton of home runs at Safeco, some that surprised me many times, guys taking the ball out to the opposite field and the game. It’s not just at Safeco or our team, it’s with all the clubs. But how are you going to combat that?
You’re seeing more strikeouts going on in the game that you’ve ever seen. So guys are approaching their bats differently. I don’t think we’re going to combat that overnight. How are we going to deal with that? Keep the ball down. Unfortunately, our team last year, we did not have a bunch of sinkerball pitchers. We were more flyball pitches. It hurt us on certain days.
We have to control the home runs we’ve given up. More concerned about those than anything else and when we have given them up. We gave up some late in the games last year and that hurt, especially when you lose the game on that one swing. So we have to do a better job there.
Q. The last five weeks for Mike were tough, wasn’t quite as productive as the early start. What did you see in that, just thinking about what he was doing there?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I guess looking at it, excited about what Mike Zunino was able to do for us when he came back. Didn’t quite know, Spring Training wasn’t that great and went to Triple-A and the reports were good. And when he came back he gave us a shot in the arm, hit some home runs right away but more importantly his approach was better, his walk rate climbed he wasn’t chasing. When teams started to realize he wasn’t chasing that pitch, they quit going to it. So you saw them come off him a little bit more like they did the last four or five weeks and now he has to make an adjustment.
There is a lot of smart people in the league and in the game and scouting and look at video and how they’re going to approach you. So they made an adjustment on him based on the fact that he wasn’t chasing the breaking ball anymore and now he’s got to continue make an adjustment back. But Mike is in a good spot and got his confidence back and that’s what we were hoping to get out of last year.
Q. From a psychological standpoint, you don’t think it was a regression?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I don’t, not at all. He hit a big home run for us against Oakland, if I’m not mistaken. The confidence is back. He’s carrying himself the right way. He did a really nice job with our pitching staff, receiving, how he frames the ball and stuff. Big, big help for us since he was there and I think he’s getting to the point now he’s starting to settle in and get comfortable. But it’s going to be constant. It’s not like, okay, I figured it out. It’s going to be constant adjusting.
We love the power, I love his ability to control the strike zone. But the strikeouts are still there. So hopefully working on a two-strike approach and get more consistent with that.
Q. Picked a better defensive club, sounds like you are trying to get more athletic in the outfield?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I certainly hope our outfield will be better range-wise and tracking balls down. Leonys did a nice job for us last year but having the younger guys in the corners will help. Robbie had a great year defensively last year. And at first base with Dae-Ho and Lind, it was okay. Vogelbach has got things to work on. Valencia is not a natural first baseman. So we got some work to do there. Seager didn’t have a great year as far as error-wise but still a well above average third baseman, does a nice job there. Defensively, the biggest improvement I think we will see in our outfield.
Q. It’s going to helpful to give Leonys a day or two here and by the last year you weren’t able to do that?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Yeah, we have options to put in center to give him a day, whether it’s Gamel or Haniger played centerfield last year in Arizona, did a more than adequate job. And we have options there, which is important. You’ve got to give guys a blow.
One of the things I did learn my first year, as much as you want your core guys in the lineup every day, you gotta give ’em a breather. And I think it caught up to Kyle Seager last year at the end of the season. I’ve got to be conscious about getting him off his feet give him a blow even if it’s a DH day.
Q. There are more curveballs being thrown more in the league. Do you think that’s a trend in a league, pitchers going to higher percentages of their best secondary? And do you have guys in particular who may fit that mold?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Curveball guys? Felix has one of the better ones in the game, and some days he’ll use it more than others. Rich Hill, we saw him very good at our place one night. I think he threw 90 percent curveballs. He threw a lot. It’s something you can’t force, either a guy has a feel for it or they don’t. Some guys are more slider type guys, which a lot of guys that we have are. We don’t have a ton of curveball guys. Iwakuma has a slow one that he will mix in. You can’t create pitches because that’s the scouting report of what the other team isn’t hitting. You have to go with what you have and what your strength is.
Q. But if you have a really good one?
SCOTT SERVAIS: You should throw it.
Q. More conventional than the regular mix?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Major leaguers are pretty smart, they can make adjustments if they know it’s coming. Unless it’s Rich Hill’s. Sometimes you know Rich Hill’s is coming and it’s still tough to hit. But you can’t force it. If you do have the pitch and it’s an effective pitch.
I think with all the analytical stuff and the data that we look at and the group that we have upstairs to feed information down to myself and the coaching staff, they are quick to point out when guys are not using a pitch that could be a little more effective for them. We get that information all the time.
Q. I know part of the answer is you need the pitch to be able to do it, but the Indians against Toronto and especially in the World Series went into the series saying we’re going to throw a ton of curveballs. Can you go into a series with that mindset against specific teams?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I don’t have Corey, I don’t have Trevor Bauer. I have a different pitching staff. It’s great if you can do that and all those guys can do that. Our guys are wired a little bit differently and have different things to offer. So it’s a great plan if you’ve got the weapon.
Q. How much did you learn about Paxton last year?
SCOTT SERVAIS: He was our most consistent guy for a while. And talking about curveballs, he’s got a good one. He started landing it, and he became more effective. I thought last year was a huge year for him. If you remember his first start when he came back up, it was not good, okay. To his credit, he didn’t panic. He did make a little adjustment on his release point, I think it actually got lower. And we saw the velocity creep up a little bit. So really excited about the year he had. He took a huge step last year, now he’s gotta go out and do it again. He threw a number of games. The game he got hit in the arm, trying to go for a complete game against the Angels, pitched great in Kansas City. He had a number of really good outings for us. You’re going to get seven, maybe eight really good innings out of him. I guess from a trust factor I, trust him as much as anybody that we put in our rotation and send him out there.
Q. Is he your two?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Could be.
Q. Left, right?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Could do it. I do think Kyle was maybe one of our clutch guys, especially with two out last year. Those opportunities usually come in the five hole a little bit more. But talking, listening to guys, the two-hole, put your best hitter in the two-hole, he gets more at-bats, extra at-bat every couple of weeks. It’s valuable and it’s something we will discuss. But it’s nice to have some protection behind Nelson Cruz and I don’t know how you’re going to do much better than Kyle Seager there. It could go back and forth, but right now probably keep him in the five hole.
Q. We haven’t talked about Cano, you expect him to do what he did last year?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I would love it, especially what he did against the Astros, who’s going to be a tough team for us, this year. The thing for Robbie, he came in in a good frame of mind and in good shape last year in Spring Training. And he stayed with his workouts, especially during the first half of the season. Talking to guys that have been around him in the past, he’s working out more in season to maintain it throughout the year. He had an awesome year, not just at the plate and power but I thought what he did defensively was really, really good. With all the shifting we did and how many times we put him in the outfield and he was all in on it, he didn’t balk at it, he had no issues with it. And we saw the number of plays he made with his backhand and throwing across his body. It was one of the funner things for me to watch all season.
Q. Paxton is your No. 2 guy in your rotation?
SCOTT SERVAIS: We will have to look at that. He’s in the rotation. He’s at the top end of it, whether it’s one, two, three, we will look at how we match-up and how our season gets going. After that first time through the rotation, they all get their turn and you’re moving through.
I think the big thing with Pax was he pitched the entire season, he got hit in the arm and came back after a short time on the DL. But getting through the whole season healthy, really, really important for him. I think I heard earlier this week that there were only 15 guys who threw 200 innings. Just a few years ago it was more like 30 or 40 of those guys. Again, increased usage of your bullpen. We’re all looking at the numbers, pulling guys out right at that 95 to 100 pitch count. I would really like to see Pax because I think he is a horse and he can carry the workload. Like to see him get deeper into games and those guys are usually at the top of the rotation.
Q. Watching the playoffs, would you use Diaz differently?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Playoffs are different. It’s something we talked about in season with a younger guy. It goes back to the success of Andrew Miller. I think the interesting thing with Andrew Miller, kudos to him, he tipped his hat and said, I will pitch whenever you want me to pitch and I don’t need to close. They had a closer anyway.
Andrew Miller, where he was at contract-wise probably paid like a closer. But you have to be a big team player to do that and I tip my hat to him. But looking at Eddie Diaz and when you’re playing every day, you’ve got to be cautious there, if you’re going to fire him in there in the seventh, and run him back out in the eighth one night and the next night he’s in the ninth inning, in a perfect world for a fan you would love to see. Playing it out of the course of 162 games, it’s really hard to do that. You’ve got to be cautious where they’re at.
And it’s probably one of the first things I learned as a manager is how many nights you don’t have your entire bullpen available. This guy needs a day down. This guy is not available. It happens way more times than I ever anticipated, just where it’s at, the wear and tear and how the season goes.
The average fan doesn’t see that every night. Why wouldn’t he put so-and-so in the game here? He’s not available tonight. He’s gone four of the last five or five out of six and you need to give him a blow. A lot of that plays into it.
In the playoffs you got days off. It’s just a different animal.
Q. The end is in sight.
SCOTT SERVAIS: The end is in sight.
Q. Will Cishek maybe start the season?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I don’t know. He just started throwing. He feels good, but I think we have to be cautious with this one. It’s more how you end than how you start. It could be April 10th, April 15th, could be — I don’t know. We will have to wait and see when we get him in Spring Training and see how he is.
Q. At least you can kind of offset it a lot different than last year at this time?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Yeah, a lot different than last year at this time.