By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
Time to clear out the notebook of some material gathered since the beginning of spring training more than two months ago:
Built for their ballpark
Relief pitcher Mark Lowe made a good point the other day when he said it takes more than a week for a team to settle in after spring training and begin to show its true self. If so, that’s a really good thing for the Mariners, who came off their lousy first road trip and went 7-2 in the first homestand at Safeco Field.
The Mariners were a much different team at home compared with those first seven road games. Safeco Field, with its spacious outfield and hard-to-reach fences, rewards a team that pitches, plays defense and sprays the ball.
That’s what the Mariners did.
They got fantastic starting pitching, with everyone except Ian Snell working so deep into the games that the bullpen remained fresh and effective. They played solid and, at times, spectacular defense, rarely giving away outs or runs. And they performed as advertised offensively, with Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins stressing out opposing pitchers and defenders, Jack Wilson and the bottom of the order contributing late in the homestand, the middle hitters reaching the gaps and corners at Safeco Field in lieu of much home-run power, and nearly everyone showing a patient approach.
The first homestand continued a pattern going back to the last six weeks of last season that indicates the Mariners are built for their home park. Since Aug. 16 last year, the Mariners have gone 24-8 at Safeco, although going into the current road trip they had gone 10-19 away from home.
The Mariners clearly look like a team built to succeed at their own ballpark, and they should only get stronger with the addition of Cliff Lee. But the game changes when the home-run distances shrink, and the Mariners must perform on the road, too, in order to be considered a bona fide contender.
Final spring training thoughts
Of all the positive and negative impressions from spring training, here’s one of each:
Positive: Minor league pitcher Michael Pineda. The 21-year-old Dominican is a giant, listed at 6 feet 5 inches and 243 pounds. On the mound, he seemed even bigger than that during the two times the Mariners’ big-league staff brought him up from minor league camp to see for themselves a kid with an electric fastball and knee-buckling breaking pitch. He gave up two hits and struck out three in two innings, and while there’s a strong temptation to call Pineda up if there’s a need this season, the Mariners would like to take a hands-off approach because of the elbow problems that limited him to just 441/3 innings last year.
Negative: Veteran first baseman/DH Ryan Garko. The Mariners signed him less than three weeks before spring training, thinking he could bring a strong right-handed bat off the bench and possibly platoon with Ken Griffey Jr. at DH. While Mike Sweeney won that right-handed DH job, Garko batted .220 and was waived. Claimed by the Rangers, Garko was 0-for-10 going into the weekend.
The $100,000 challenge
To spice up the monotony of hitting dozens upon dozens of ground balls to the infielders at spring training, third-base coach Mike Brumley (who’s responsible for the infield defense) occasionally would make an announcement: The next ball is worth $100,000.
OK, nobody would have to write a check if they muffed it, but the purpose was to make sure guys remained focused.
“You’re out there taking 50 ground balls, and the technique and rhythm can break down. But you say, ‘This ball is worth 100 grand if you catch it and throw it to first. How would you make it?’ They’ll think, ‘I guarantee I won’t lay back and let the ball come to me and shoot it from my back hip. It’s not worth (losing) 100 grand.’”
How did he do it?
Brumley played parts of eight seasons with six major league teams, including 1990 with the Mariners.
“I watch the game now and see these players, and I think to myself, ‘Man, I don’t know how I ever did it,’” Brumley said. “My dad (Mike Brumley Sr., who played with the Washington Senators from 1964-66) thinks he can still play right now at 73. I’m more along the lines of Whitey Herzog when he said the game has been really good to him since he stopped playing.”
Bucky’s best memory
Last week we wrote about former Mariner Bucky Jacobsen, who says his life is on the upswing again with his new baseball training facility in North Bend and his gig as a postgame analyst on KJR radio.
That story was the product of a long interview with Jacobsen and, space limits being what they are in a newspaper, there wasn’t room for everything. Here’s a little more from Jacobsen, talking about one of his best memories of that 2004 season:
“It was being able to sit and talk to Edgar Martinez about hitting,” he said. “That and meeting Jay Buhner, getting to know John Olerud a little bit, being able to say I played with Dan Wilson. I was a peer of guys I grew up idolizing. Let’s face it, I was still a fan of those guys I was playing with and they treated me like I was a peer.
“I’ll never forget being able to pick Edgar’s brain about hitting. There was the time we talked about hitting off Mariano Rivera. Edgar told me he throws a cutter most of the time, but he now has a four-seamer that he’ll try to throw and finish people off.
“It took me five or six seconds to get out of my own way and listen to what he was saying because I would get entranced in the fact that Edgar Martinez was helping me. That’s a memory that will never go away.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog