Mariners notebook: Setting the scene from spring training

Feb 22, 2016, 9:23 AM | Updated: 10:15 am
First-year manager Scott Servais is among several new faces in the Mariners' spring-training clubhouse. (AP)
(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Greetings from the desert, where this morning I kicked off coverage of Mariners spring training for my 15th straight year. Every year is a little different and this year could prove to be the most different of all as there are more new faces than ever. It was anything but business as usual at first glance and it became apparent quickly that it will take a little while to get to know this group.

New coaches, new manager, largely new front office, new players – heck, the hallways even look a little different with the welcomed addition of artwork celebrating both notable Mariners and players developed by the organization. Things look mostly the same in the clubhouse, but I did notice on the bulletin board more in-depth (and color-coded) daily assignments complete with daily inspirational quotes at the top. Vince Lombardi is getting a fair amount of play with a quote on the pitcher/catcher assignment sheet as well as a framed quote in the manager’s office. Scott Servais’ football side and Wisconsin background are coming through loud and clear in the early going.

As for the players, there a lot of new faces. And a lot of beards. And one really bad Felix Hernandez goatee, but I am not going to talk about that anymore. The clubhouse itself was very quiet this morning, much more so than in the past. Maybe because there are so many new players, maybe because the position players have yet to arrive, maybe because most were hanging out in the food room, where I am told there are new comfortable sofas to lounge on. Regardless, it was noticeable.

In the manager’s office, things were a little more lively. If the clubhouse is quiet, Servais embraces the challenge of bringing guys out a little bit. To that end, there are daily meetings where the focus is getting to know each other better. Servais wants his players talking. He wants to learn about them as individuals and wants them to learn about each other as well. Usually these things just happen, but Servais is taking no chances. As I have noted before in other posts, for all the talk of numbers and metrics we have heard with this new group, he puts an extremely high value on the importance of relationships. I am interested to see how this is received.

In addition to the morning meetings, there are chalk talks as well. Fundamentals are diagrammed on giant smart boards and talked through. “Control the Zone” numbers for the pitchers are being talked about as well with percentages for success in each count. A definite classroom aspect is being brought to camp with work being put in before they take the field each day.

Some things looked normal. The catchers – thank goodness for catchers – were huddled together this morning talking catcher. Chris Iannetta has the look and demeanor of the veteran backstop but it was good to see Mike Zunino right there with him as well. In another corner of the clubhouse, newcomer Wade Miley was getting to know fellow-pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma with the help of interpreter Antony Suzuki. It was great to see see Miley take the initiative as he asked Kuma about life in Japan.

Things will pick up as more position players arrive. The arrivals of Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz will no doubt inject a little life (and music) into the morning clubhouse. For now, things look and sound a little different which, in my book, is not a bad thing.

Stiff competition ahead for final bullpen spots

Servais confirmed that he prefers to go with seven relievers to start the season and he sees a 5-2 righty/lefty mix. With only one or two spots appearing to be open if everyone stays healthy, the competition will be stiff. This bodes well for the team in the long run.

“I think the one thing we have done with our roster is we have created depth behind it,” said Servais of the relievers. “There will be some very good pitchers that end up starting the season in Tacoma. They won’t be too happy about it but they are just a quick call away if we have an issue. We have more organizational depth in Tacoma than we have in the past.”

Notes

• The Mariners will go slow with reliever Charlie Furbush, who was shut down last season with shoulder tendinitis. He threw a bullpen session Thursday at what Servais called 75 percent effort. “We have time,” he said of taking it slow with Furbush.

• Reliever Joaquin Benoit will back off his work a bit after reporting tightness in his back and hamstring. Normal spring stuff for a 38-year-old.

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