The Mariners’ J.P. Crawford watches batting practice during spring training baseball practice on March 16, 2022, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The Mariners’ J.P. Crawford watches batting practice during spring training baseball practice on March 16, 2022, in Peoria, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

3 things to watch as Mariners open spring training

Pitchers and catchers are schedule to report to Seattle’s complex in Peoria, Arizona, on Wednesday.

  • By Ryan Divish The Seattle Times
  • Tuesday, February 14, 2023 3:58pm
  • SportsMariners

By Ryan Divish / The Seattle Times

As the unofficial start of spring training looms with pitchers and catchers reporting to the Seattle Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Arizona, on Wednesday, there is a different feeling surrounding the organization.

The annoyance that was a decades-long playoff drought is gone and the usual questions about ending it are answered. It has been replaced by the warm memories of finding some success in the 2022 postseason and an intense motivation to make it an annual accomplishment.

Indeed, there is genuine excitement about the 2023 season that is different from spring trainings past.

With the majority of the roster returning from last season’s team that won a wild-card series and lost in the American League Division Series to the eventual World Series champion Astros and a handful of offseason moves to address positional needs, the Mariners are more vocal than ever about their expectations in 2023 — winning the American League West title and advancing as far as possible in the postseason.

“That’s the goal,” Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations, said at the pre-spring training luncheon. “Frankly, the goal last year was to win the division title. That will be the goal every year is to win the division, get into the postseason and try to do some damage. We’ve never been more convinced of this team’s ability to do those things than we were at the end of last season. We feel like this is a realistic goal.”

It will take months in the marathon that is the MLB season to see if those goals are realized. First, the Mariners have some questions heading into the season that need answering. As always the baseball gods will throw a few “curveballs” at the team, creating more questions as the season progresses.

Here are three things to watch over the next 7 1/2 weeks in the buildup to opening day vs. the Guardians at T-Mobile Park on March 30:

The left-field situation

Dipoto and manager Scott Servais announced they will use a platoon in left field with veteran AJ Pollock, who signed a one-year contract as a free agent this offseason, starting on days when there is an opposing left-handed starting pitcher.

Over his past four seasons, Pollock, 35, has a .304/.350/.593 slash line in 440 plate appearances vs. left-handed pitchers with 24 doubles, 31 homers, 75 RBI, 26 walks and 80 strikeouts. He posted a .286/.316/.619 slash line with nine doubles, 11 homers and 25 RBI vs. left-handed pitching last season.

As for Pollock’s platoon-mate, the Mariners said that Jarred Kelenic and Taylor Trammell, both once-heralded prospects, will compete to start on days when the opponent is starting a right-handed pitcher.

Presumably, Kelenic and Trammell will get plenty of at-bats during the spring against all pitchers in an effort to make a determination. There is a small chance they could keep both but unlikely. Kelenic seems like the early favorite. He’s got the edge in fielding, baserunning and power potential.

The Mariners will be watching for consistency in their approaches at the plate. Both young hitters have had swing-and-miss issues for various reasons. They’ve each spent the offseason trying to clean up their swings for more consistent quality contact.

Health and injuries

Nothing can derail an organizational plan like injuries. No team in baseball has depth to handle injuries at every position. The Mariners have a little more viable depth on the pitching side compared to the position-player group. An injury to one of their key players in their projected starting lineup even for a month would be suboptimal.

The Mariners have multiple players reporting to camp after offseason surgical procedures. While they are all expected to be ready by opening day, it is something to monitor since not all recoveries are without disruptions.

Dipoto said their top two bench players — Dylan Moore and Sam Haggerty — might be a little behind the rest when position players report Feb. 20.

Moore underwent surgery to repair a core-muscle injury in early December and suffered “a bit of a setback” in his rehab process. He might not be able to get into his normal routine in the first weeks of spring training.

Haggerty, who suffered a nasty groin injury — listed as a grade 2 adductor strain — at the end of last season, resumed full baseball activity last week, Dipoto said. There are indications that Haggerty needed offseason surgery to repair the damage though the Mariners won’t officially confirm it.

“He’s a little behind,” Dipoto said. “But he’s been hitting for quite some time. So he’s in a good place.”

The Mariners have their two best relievers recovering from offseason surgeries. Andres Munoz (right foot) and Paul Sewald (elbow and heel) started their throwing progressions but likely won’t be on the same schedule as other relievers.

Of course there is the concern of the career-high usage of young starters Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. The Mariners will slow-play their ramp-up to the season out of caution.

Effects of the WBC

With Luis Castillo and the Mariners in agreement that the early buildup to be ready to pitch in the World Baseball Classic wouldn’t be beneficial, no members of the Mariners’ starting rotation will be participating in the international tournament.

Dipoto won’t have to relive what happened to Drew Smyly in 2017. Acquired from the Rays to fortify the starting rotation on a veteran team with postseason aspirations, Smyly never threw an inning for the Mariners that season.

A late addition to Team USA that spring, he made one brilliant start for the U.S., pitching 4 2/3 innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits with eight strikeouts against Venezuela.

When he returned from the WBC, he made two middling starts and told the team’s medical staff that he had discomfort in his elbow. He was shut down with a strained flexor tendon. With the elbow not progressing after rest and rehab, he underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in June.

While the M’s don’t have a starter pitching in the WBC, they do have key relievers Matt Brash (Canada) and Diego Castillo (Dominican Republic) participating.

And of course, three of their best position players are playing. Superstar outfielder Julio Rodriguez and recently acquired outfielder Teoscar Hernandez will be starting in the Dominican Republic’s outfield, while starting third baseman Eugenio Suarez will play for Venezuela. All three are vital components to the Mariners lineup and expected run production.

“You’re worried about it, health-wise,” Servais said. “It’s early in the season, and these guys are playing at such a high-intensity level when they haven’t been doing that for a number of months. You’re always worried about injury. You want those guys to be healthy. These are key contributors for us going into the season. We did not have a good experience in 2017. It ended up hurting our season and our chances of winning that year. I’m always concerned about it.”

There are other factors beyond injuries.

“The fact that guys leave camp, there’s a little bit of the camaraderie, the chemistry that’s built up throughout spring training with guys that is lost,” Servais said. “There is a little bit of a, I don’t want to say worry. We’ll lose those guys for a few weeks, but as long as they’re continuing to play and they’re getting their reps in those games, they’ll be ready to go when the bell rings on March 30.”

Important dates

Feb. 15 — Mariners pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 16 — First workout for pitchers and catchers

Feb. 20 — Mariners position players report

Feb. 21 — First full squad workout

Feb. 24 — Cactus League opener vs. the Padres

March 8-11 — First round play for World Baseball Classic begins

March 15-18 — WBC quarterfinals

March 19-20 — WBC semifinals (Miami)

March 21 — WBC championship (Miami)

March 27 — Cactus League finale vs. the Padres

March 30 — Opening day vs. the Guardians at T-Mobile Park

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