Catching up with the Mariners in Peoria

Feb 22, 2012, 2:03 PM | Updated: 6:06 pm

By Shannon Drayer

We will hear from Eric Wedge a bit later but I will give you some quick first impressions I got on my first day with the team.

Clubhouse felt good but I can’t imagine otherwise this early. The younger players seemed more comfortable now that they have a little big-league time under their belts.

I was stunned by the sight of Franklin Gutierrez in his workout gear this morning. He is much bigger, especially in the upper body and not only looks healthy but strong. He also looked relaxed, which I don’t think we ever saw last spring as he dealt with his stomach issues and his father-in-law’s accident.

Justin Smoak looks good and ready to get on with things. Last year was tough on him with losing his father and dealing with injuries. One thing people overlook with Smoak is that last offseason was tough for him, too. His father was not doing well and that had to have taken a toll. This offseason he was able to devote all of his time to getting ready for baseball. While Gutierrez looks more relaxed after putting his adversity behind him, Smoak seems more energized than he did the past two years.

The pitchers look like they are ahead of the game, which they need to be with the trip to Japan. Felix Hernandez is trimmer and as vocal as ever. Ichiro looks different in the batting box like I noted earlier. I chatted with him briefly after today’s practice and he told me that he enjoyed his offseason much more than the actual season. Understandable. He also said he spent much more time in Japan this year than in years past. He, along with everyone else, is enjoying the presence of Munenori Kawasaki, whose constant patter in various forms of English, Japanese and Spanish has lightened the mood.

Kawasaki is a huge fan of Ichiro and the resemblance from a distance is stunning. He has many of the same mannerisms as Ichiro as well as the same posture. He wears his uniform in the exact same way. When the first hitters group took the field for dead-arm BP he walked in with Chone Figgins. I assumed it was Ichiro. It wasn’t. Which led to another thing that jumped out at me.

Ichiro was in the middle-of-the-order batting group. When Smoak, Mike Carp and Gutierrez took the field for BP Ichiro was in the same group. His stance was completely different, more spread out and the leg kick was gone. He was following through with all of his swings and not chopping anything into the ground. Now, Ichiro has always put on brilliant batting practices so it is too soon to say that he will indeed take this into games, but it is very worth noting that it is very different. The question remaining is, did he make the change in reaction to what he did last year or did he make the change in preparation for this year. Is he looking for a different result, a result other than a hit? Will he try to drive the baseball on a consistent basis? Something to watch for.

Date Starting Pitcher
Saturday, October 1 @ 1:10 pm

Mariners Roof Report

Brought to you by
Sunny
High 78° | Low 55°
No game today.

Seattle Mariners

Mariners...
The Associated Press

Luis Castillo strikes out 8, surging Mariners drop A’s 5-1

A day after clinching a postseason berth, the Mariners jumped out to an early lead and beat the Oakland A's 5-1 on Saturday.
23 hours ago
Mariners Cal Raleigh...
Brandon Gustafson

Cal Raleigh’s walkoff highlights how important he’s become to Mariners

Cal Raleigh went from an early-season demotion to a valuable member of the Mariners, which was cemented by his walkoff blast on Friday.
23 hours ago
Mariners Carlos Santana...
Brent Stecker

Why Mariners’ Carlos Santana will be an important player in playoffs

As MLB Network's Jon Morosi points out, Mariners slugger Carlos Santana brings a few things to the table Seattle will need in October.
23 hours ago
Mariners Cal Raleigh...
Brent Stecker

The Mariners found the perfect way to finally end the drought

There was only one path for the Mariners to get back to the playoffs, and two products of that path delivered Seattle's clinching victory.
23 hours ago
Mariners...
Brandon Gustafson

‘It was the craziest thing ever’: Mariners end playoff drought and party is on

The Mariners ended their 21-year playoff drought in epic fashion Friday night and the party that kicked off was one for the ages.
2 days ago
Mariners Cal Raleigh...
The Associated Press

Mariners’ 21-year playoff wait ends on Raleigh’s walk-off HR

Cal Raleigh hit a walk-off home run in the ninth inning and the Mariners ended the longest playoff drought in baseball with a 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
2 days ago
Catching up with the Mariners in Peoria