SHANNON DRAYER

Notebook: Mariners taking a new approach to defense at first base

Mar 1, 2017, 10:17 AM | Updated: 11:57 am
Scott Servais wants to see the platoon of Danny Valencia and Daniel Vogelbach play off the line at ...
Scott Servais wants to see the platoon of Danny Valencia and Daniel Vogelbach play off the line at first base. (AP)
(AP)

This time last year, Mariners pitchers and hitters were getting used to utilizing the defensive shift more – much more. When all was said and done, the Mariners shifted over five times more in 2016 than they did in 2015. The shifts saved them runs, more than any other club in baseball, according to their own numbers.

This year there are some twists and improvements with their infield shifts. Scott Servais is optimistic they can do more with with Danny Valencia and Daniel Vogelbach at first base playing further off the line.

“That was something we wanted to do last year,” he said. “Our personnel wasn’t able or willing.”

Dipoto: Servais’ ability to manage veteran stars was a ‘revelation’ in 2016

Servais is asking for more from his first basemen than standing on the bag and receiving throws. Playing the shift so far off the bag is not easy and, for most, is something new that has to be learned.

“It all comes down to the first baseman being comfortable enough to get out that far,” Servais said. “The minute the ball is hit, he has got to put his head down and sprint to that base. A lot of times the ball will be in the air. It’s a challenge.”

Vogelbach in particular has embraced the challenge.

“He loves it, and I love the fact that he loves it,” Servais said. “That’s the fun thing of having young players – they’re eager. They want to go the extra mile versus wanting to stay in the comfort level.”

Something to look for when Cactus League games begin to be televised. Another thing to keep your eyes open for with the infield shifts: a new alignment.

“This year we are adding ‘the trap,’ trapezoid,” said third base coach Manny Acta, who sets the shifts. “It’s going to involve the shortstop. Instead of being just on the other side of the bag, he’s going to be on the other side, but also back in the outfield, just like the second baseman.”

It is basically a Big Papi shift, something you will see on left-handed power hitters who don’t run particularly well.

You can read more about Acta’s thoughts on the Mariners’ shifts and defensive philosophy in this story.

Lineup!

Leonys Martin, CF
Danny Valencia, 1B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Kyle Seager, 3B
Mike Zunino, C
Daniel Vogelbach, DH
Ben Gamel, RF
Mike Freeman, SS
Boog Powell, LF

Drew Smyly, P

Following Smyly on the mound will be Micah Owings, Casey Fien, Edwin Diaz, Thyago Vieira, Evan Scribner, Peter Tago and Max Povse.

Notes

• While Felix Hernandez has been getting ready for the World Baseball Classic and building up his pitch count to be ready early, his work has been directed toward the games he will play with the Mariners. It has not been business as usual as the Mariners want him to use his fastball more. On Tuesday, in his first start of spring training, we saw that. “He’s throwing more fastballs early, trying to get a feel for that,” said Servais. “When he gave up the run on the double to left field, that typically 90 percent of the time is a changeup out of Felix, and he didn’t. He threw a fastball, which I was OK with. I would like to see more of that particularly through the spring.”

• Nelson Cruz was all smiles in the clubhouse Wednesday morning. “Big day tomorrow,” he told the media. “I’m playing right field!”

• Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, third base coach Manny Acta, starting pitcher James Paxton, utility man Shawn O’Malley and Seattle Times beat reporter Ryan Divish will be our guests on the Cactus League Report on Wednesday night from the Salty Senorita in Peoria. We will broadcast from 6 p.m. to 7:30 Arizona time (stop by for the show if you are in the area) and heard on 710 ESPN Seattle from 5 to 6:30 Pacific.

Date Starting Pitcher
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