Drayer: Inside Mariners’ day as they found out MLB will delay season
The Mariners attempted to go about their business as usual Thursday morning, preparing for split-squad games despite on and off torrential rain and the imminent announcement that their spring training would be suspended.
At 10:05 a.m., games in the Florida-based Grapefruit League got underway. Shortly after, the Mariners’ home half of the split squad in Peoria, Ariz., was cancelled due to rain. Pitching and lineups were adjusted and players went through their routines in the batting cages. At 10:30, the media held its daily session with Mariners manager Scott Servais who confirmed that yes, Marco Gonzales would be the starter on opening day, “whenever that took place.”
At about 11:15, the players were pulled out of the cages and off the field for a team meeting. At 11:45, the bus that was scheduled to leave for Surprise, Ariz., was still parked outside the clubhouse door. Then at noon the official announcement came: The remainder of spring training games had been canceled and opening day 2020 had been delayed by at least two weeks. Minutes after Mariners CEO John Stanton got off the phone for what was a unanimous vote by MLB owners to take such action, he addressed the media in Peoria.
In light of the national emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it was time to put baseball on the back burner.
“We ultimately are all people who love the game of baseball but this is a far bigger issue for all of us,” Stanton said. “We are trying to work our way through it together. I believe that this is going to be something that will have a lot more twists and turns to it.
“I don’t have a high degree of confidence that we will start on April 9, but I have a high degree of confidence that we will continue to make good judgments and keep in mind the health and safety of our players, our front office staff, our media and our fans in the decision making. I’ve never been more confident that is the guiding principal for MLB and it certainly has always been the guiding principal for the Mariners.”
As Stanton spoke, minor league players could be seen and heard going through their work in the bullpen six-pack, the outdoor weight patio and on nearby Field 1. The major leaguers who had already put in their work for the day were heading for their cars. They will be back Friday as the plan is to keep them in Peoria, on a schedule, working out. While for some clubs staying with the team through the shutdown is optional, for the Mariners it will be mandatory.
“Bluntly we think that the players are safest here at the complex,” said Stanton. “We can make sure they are cared for, continue to give them reinforcement on safe distancing, safe behavior as opposed to having them get on commercial airline flights and go home to a variety of situations and a variety of locations, and the fact is as of right now there are very few test-positive cases in Arizona so it is probably a bit safer to be here than other places.”
The day before, Servais had addressed the issue of keeping the players going through an anticipated shutdown. While at the time there were not solid plans in place, bullpens can be thrown, hitting can be done in the cages, intrasquad games can be scheduled.
“One thing about ballplayers is they can adjust quickly,” said Servais.
For now the hope is the delay will be just the two weeks at the start of the season. According to Stanton, MLB believes that they can still play a full 162-game season if they start April 9. Due to the current situation, however, that date appears to be a hopeful yet soft target. Questions remain about how they will get ready once there is a definite start date. Will a handful of spring training games be scheduled? Will teams perhaps be allowed to carry extra pitchers at the start in order to lessen the load on the starters? There are a lot of questions for the pitchers in particular about arm maintenance through the shutdown that will no doubt need to be answered.
“I’ve never done it, we will have to find out,” Mariners pitcher Kendall Graveman answered Wednesday when asked the delay in the middle of building up arm stamina. “I’m sure that Woody (Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth) and Scott and all of the coaching staff will figure out the best route. It will be open communication for us to figure (out) is it to stay around 60 pitches in three innings in sim games, or is it to decrease the load, or is it to continue to increase the load as if we were getting ready for an opening day.”
There is also the mental aspect of having everything come to an abrupt and uncertain stop.
“We were at the stage of spring training where we were really looking forward to a season,” Graveman said. “Everybody feels they were getting prepared for a season. To have it come to a halt, mentally we have to still stay involved and try to become better as baseball players and not get complacent.”
How this looks for the Mariners the next couple of weeks remains to be seen. Routine is so important in this game and it appears that while there may be perhaps a couple more off days here and there for the players, Servais will look to keep the group in a routine as press forward to the return of baseball and some sort of normalcy for everyone.
“This is something that is bigger than all of us and the important thing is we do the right thing as far as protecting fans, protecting people at the ballpark,” said Servais. “It’s way bigger than playing a baseball game or a few weeks of games.”
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