By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — With the temperature right around 80 degrees on a cloudless day, it could not have been a better day for the Seattle Mariners’ first full workout of spring training on Saturday.
Of the 61 players invited to camp, 60 took the field, taking up nearly every inch of the Mariners’ sprawling six-field complex.
The lone absentee? Catcher Ronny Paulino, who is having visa issues in his native Dominican Republic.
“We’re still working on it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “Each day you hope you get good news that he will be here. But it should be in the next few days.”
Otherwise, every one else was present and accounted for and showing first-day enthusiasm.
“It felt good to get out there,” said left fielder Michael Morse. “It always feels good to get out there that first day.”
Before the workout, Wedge delivered his traditional opening speech to the players. For the returnees, the principle points and goals were the same, even though the words were different.
“I felt like I said what I needed to say,” Wedge said. “I just spent some time to talking to them about what we know that’s important in regard to being a Seattle Mariner, what our expectations are, and where we are at. Every year the message should be a little different, but you make sure you cover the things that are important that aren’t going to change.”
Part of the reason the message is different is that the Mariners aren’t a clubhouse full of kids anymore. Players like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Tom Wilhelmsen and others have gained valuable big-league experience and are no longer wide-eyed rookies. The addition of veterans Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez also make the clubhouse noticeably different as well.
“It’s definitely an experienced feel, especially on the position side,” said third baseman Seager. “You’ve got a lot of guys who have been around a long time and had a lot of success for a lot of years.”
Experienced or not, Wedge still delivers the speech in that intense manner that grabs a player’s attention.
“He definitely gets you so motivated,” Seager said. “He tells you exactly how it is. And he gets you ready to roll.”
Saunders’ swing tools
While some players were putting on batting gloves, and others slathered pine tar on their bats to get ready for batting practice, Michael Saunders grabbed a funny looking contraption from his bag. It was black rubber hosing that had been threaded through a cut up 12-inch piece of a water floatation noodle and tied off in a loop.
Saunders stepped into the loop and moved it up his torso, placing the noodle just under his left armpit near his ribs.
He took the first two rounds of batting practice with it.
So what was this apparatus for?
“It’s something for me to make sure I keep my left elbow in the right place for my swing,” Saunders said.
With swings being based on muscle memory, the tool is supposed to help Saunders find that consistent feel.
Using something like this isn’t new to Saunders. Last offseason, he decided to totally revamp his swing under the direction of swing coach Michael Bard — the brother of veteran catcher Josh Bard.
When breaking down Saunders’ swing, Michael Bard had Saunders using resistant bands and swinging a 60-ounce bat. Those things have not changed. But now as he fine tunes the swing this season, Saunders has added more apparatus to his routine.
“I’ve got some other stuff that you will see that you’ve never seen before,” he said.
Many of those tools will be used during Saunders’ early batting practice before the workouts.
Last season was a mild breakout for Saunders. In his first full season after the swing change, he hit .247 with 19 homers and 57 RBI.
Will the “noodle” and other teaching tools help improve on those numbers? Saunders is going to find out.
“The others guys give me crap about it, but this stuff helps me with what I want to do,” he said.
Reliever Jhonnny Nunez, who had missed most of the week with visa issues, arrived in Peoria on Friday evening and participated in the first workout on Saturday. … Morse hit a ball over the 30-foot batters eye in center field during batting practice. The distance to the fence in center field is 410 feet and the ball cleared the wall easily. … Alex Liddi also hammered a few pitches for home runs, including one that bounced a few times and hit a car parked some 50 feet behind the fence. … Justin Smoak continued to use the swing changes he implemented last season. Smoak starts with his hands much lower and there is minimal movement before he initiates the swing.