SHANNON DRAYER

Mariners’ spring surprise Casey Lawrence using his resources

Mar 15, 2018, 9:40 PM | Updated: 10:57 pm
Mariners reliever Casey Lawrence has put a lot into throwing off hitters' timing in spring training...
Mariners reliever Casey Lawrence has put a lot into throwing off hitters' timing in spring training. (AP)
(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Heading into camp, there was very little room for surprise with the Mariners’ 25-man roster. The lineup and rotation were all but set. There were a couple of bench roles and maybe a bullpen spot to be had, but not a lot of room for a spring standout. A month and some injuries later however, a need has arisen in the bullpen and that need most likely will be filled by a spring surprise.

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Casey Lawrence was claimed off waivers by the Mariners from the Blue Jays in May 2017 and put right to work. While the Mariners liked his versatility, his 5.57 ERA with nine home runs in just 42 innings (27 appearances) was, in a word, underwhelming. He was granted free agency after the season ended but was re-signed to a minor league deal in late November.

Lawrence is in camp as a non-roster invitee and has made the most of his opportunities, however, allowing just one run in eight innings pitched in relief while walking one and striking out nine. Spring numbers are spring numbers, but command and a different look on the mound (according to his manager) has opened eyes.

“I’ve been adding little different things to my game that I haven’t had to do in awhile,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence, 30, admitted that after picking up some added velocity last year, his first in the big leagues, he found himself trying to throw his fastball by batters. That got him in trouble and sent him back to the drawing board in the offseason.

This spring his eyes and ears have been open to anything and everything that could improve his game in his first Mariners camp. Early on, the pitchers were encouraged in a meeting to try mixing things up on the mound with their deliveries to throw the hitters off. Lawrence took the suggestion and ran with it.

“I like the idea of as a pitcher being athletic out there,” he said. “As a pitcher you are just trying to disrupt hitters’ timing. Quick pitches, hesitation, It’s been fun starting to do that, but learning when and when not to do it has been a work in progress.”

That work has included studying. Lawrence watched video of former Blue Jays teammate Marcus Stroman, who is known to vary his delivery and timing. When the Giants came to Peoria he jumped at the opportunity to watch one of the best, Johnny Cueto, up close.

“As a reliever I am usually in the pen, but I asked those guys if I could come down to the dugout and watch him a little bit closer,” Lawrence said of Cueto. “I did that and had a close eye on him, his shimmy shakes and everything in between. So watching some video, picking some things up. Working on it in bullpens. Trying to do it to major league hitters is a different monster, but it has been fun.”

Lawrence hasn’t limited his study to the “shimmy shake.” He also has been studying teammates. Earlier this week, in addition to the coaches and special instructor Joel Piñeiro, Lawrence was standing on the sideline watching Mike Leake throw his pen.

“Any time I can sit there and watch someone like Mike – who I like to consider that I pitch similarly to – just sit there and watch how he works, what he is working on, pick his brain on how he throws his slider. Any time you can watch a guy like that, he’s so good, been so good. Just learn from him.”

In addition to continuing to work on his slider, Lawrence, who has been primarily a sinker-baller, is learning to elevate his fastball. At his disposal to aid in learning is the technology the Mariners utilize in the bullpens, and with instructors he’s not limited to just pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. but also assistant coach Jim Brower and bullpen coach Brian DeLunas.

“We have so many resources now,” Lawrence said. “Just sitting down and learning combinations of pitches I can use better, with the technology we have here and the coaches. It’s been fun. You have guys that are experts in different areas. It’s been very helpful.”

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Lawrence will have a chance to put everything he has learned this spring on display in an extended look Saturday. With split squad games that day, he gets the start against the Angels in Peoria and has been given as many as four innings to pitch.

Opportunity is there for him. If the Mariners go with eight men in the pen as expected, Lawrence could fit in nicely as the long man. With just one year at the big league level under his belt he is continuing to put his game together, and if Lawrence doesn’t make the opening day roster it is almost certain he will be called upon at some point in the season.

At the very least he will have made a good impression this spring.

Date Starting Pitcher
Friday, September 30 @ 6:40 pm Mariners' Logan Gilbert vs. Athletics' Ken Waldichuk

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Mariners’ spring surprise Casey Lawrence using his resources