Moving in the fences is a good first step

Oct 2, 2012, 9:48 PM | Updated: Oct 3, 2012, 11:36 am

By Shannon Drayer

Two notes before I get to the fences: First, Wednesday’s game is a 3:40 start. It is listed on the pocket schedules as a 7:10 game but that was changed earlier this season. Game 162 starts at 3:40.

Note number two, I will be holding an end-of-the-season online chat Thursday starting at 11:30. Plenty to discuss so please feel free to drop by with questions. There will be more on the blog about this tomorrow.

To the news of the day …

The first move of the offseason will be to bring the fences in. From right-center to the left field line the fences will be moved in as much as 17 feet closer to home plate. The biggest change will come in the left-center power alley.

“Our goal was to try and bring an atmosphere here that wouldn’t punish pitching, but would also make it a fair ballpark,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said of the moves.

Listen to Zduriencik and the Mariners talk fences on “Beyond the Baselines”

Moving the fences was a topic that was discussed in previous offseasons, but early this season I began to hear rumblings that it could become a reality. In June, the wheels were put in motion to make the change with a committee being appointed to look at all aspects of what was happening with the batted ball at Safeco Field. Assistant general manager Jeff Kingston, who was on the committee, collected and analyzed all the numbers, but also took into account the psyche of the young hitters.

“We wanted to give the hitters a chance to where they felt if they really squared a ball up and hit it 390, 400-plus feet that they would be rewarded for it,” he said. “I think, ultimately, that is what really gets to hitters. That time and time again they don’t get rewarded for it and they start to change their swing. It wears on them, mentally.”

We have seen that here, with young and veteran hitters alike. Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre, even Bret Boone all have expressed frustration at trying to hit a ball out at Safeco Field as a right hander. As for the hitters on the club right now, throughout the season they said it was what it was and refused to use the park dimensions as an excuse for poor numbers. But you could sense the frustration.

Today, a couple admitted they indeed were frustrated from time to time.

“You hit those balls to the warning track and they get caught and it is a confidence thing,” Justin Smoak said. “It is a mental thing and that will be different next year. Knowing the fences are moving in, it gives you a little more confidence mentally and I think that is something everyone is looking forward to.”

Gary Hill has more on home runs that may have died at Safeco Field on his blog.

“It is real,” John Jaso said. “Guys square up balls to center field and you think, ‘That ball is gone,’ and then you see the center fielder camped out at the wall and you think, ‘How did that not get out?’ The adjustments, I think, are going to even it out more.”

Even it out, yes, but how much?

“It will still be a pitching park, but rather than an outlier, 28th, 29th, we think we will be closer to 20th,” said Kingston. “There will be a range, but we still think it will be a pitchers’ park.”

The pitchers appear to be on board. Zduriencik called Felix Hernandez Tuesday morning and told him about the changes. Felix was not surprised and not worried.

“Hey, it’s good,” he said. “It’s going to help a lot. They (hitters) are going to be more comfortable, not hit the ball too hard. I have no problem with it.”

As for personal challenges, Felix is not worried.

“When they hit the ball hard off me it is going out,” he said matter-of-factly.

So one more game with the old dimensions. Again, this is only move number one of the offseason. It no doubt will benefit the hitters who are here, but those hitters will still need help. It is time to add an impact bat or two. Moving the fences may help that as well. The park will be more hitter-friendly and hopefully more free-agent-friendly.

Move one could help facilitate move two.

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Moving in the fences is a good first step