PEORIA, Ariz. – The Seattle Mariners ran their first 27-out drill of spring training Wednesday and, well, they still haven’t reached 27.
It’s a situational drill in which the defense and baserunners attempt to record 27 consecutive flawless plays. Any mistake and the count goes back to zero.
At stake was a lot of hair.
Manager Mike Hargrove had told the players that they could buzz the heads of himself and coaches Dan Rohn, Carlos Garcia, Rafael Chaves and Mike Goff if they completed the drill in 20 minutes or less.
If not, the players would bear the consequences.
The drill lasted 45 minutes and might have dragged on all day if Hargrove hadn’t pronounced it finished so the Mariners could take batting practice. The count climbed and fell, peaking at 18, as Hargrove and the coaches pointed out the most miniscule of miscues.
On only the fourth play, when catcher Kenji Johjima made a wild throw during a rundown.
Johjima made another bad throw, and the coaches yelled “Zero!” again.
How picky were Hargrove and the coaches?
The count was climbing and Adam Jones was on third base when Goff stopped the drill and said, “That was a horse-bleep lead off third base. Zero!”
Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt caught a relay throw from the outfield and threw the ball back to the pitcher, and Hargrove stopped the drill.
“Run the ball back to the infield, don’t throw it in,” he calmly told Betancourt. And then, “Zero!”
In a moment of brilliance with runners on first and third, pitcher Julio Mateo pulled the old fake-to-third, throw-to-first play. Hargrove stopped the drill for a couple of words of praise, then handed out a bonus point.
“Do that a dozen more times,” Willie Bloomquist shouted.
Mateo, proud of his move as teammates applauded, stood on the rubber and tipped his cap.
Then someone shouted, “Balk!”
Moments later, Hargrove gathered the team around the mound and calmly gave his evaluation of the drill. Then he told the players what it cost them: $100 apiece, with the cash going to the coaching staff.
Opening day: In the nonsensical world that baseball sometimes can be, the Mariners will play the San Diego Padres today in a non-counting exhibition game.
It’s the annual charity game at Peoria Stadium and, although it won’t figure in the Cactus League standings, it will count plenty to the players getting ready for the season. Felix Hernandez will start for the Mariners and pitch one inning, followed by Kevin Appier (two innings), Matt Thornton (one), Marcos Carvajal (two), George Sherrill (one) and Jake Woods (one or two).
New man in center? Less than three hours after the Mariners announced Raul Ibanez’s $11 million contract extension, he trotted out to center field for a few plays in the 27-out drill.
What’s up with that? Are the M’s already trying to get their money’s worth out of Ibanez?
“I just went out there for a few plays so Jeremy (Reed) could give his arm a break,” Ibanez said.
Of course, the ball found him when one of the coaches hit one over his head during the drill.
“I didn’t realize how far it is to the warning track out there,” Ibanez said. “It felt like I had to run forever.”
Of note: Relief pitcher J.J. Putz (back spasms) played long toss again Wednesday and is scheduled to throw off the bullpen mound Friday. … Second baseman Fernando Vina missed his third straight workout because of a strained hip flexor. … Catcher Rob Johnson (back spasms) also didn’t practice, but is expected back soon. … Most of the Mariners had left the clubhouse by noon in order to play in their annual golf tournament with the Padres. There was a bus to take many of them, although some took their own cars. Richie Sexson had other transportation – an extra-long black stretch limo. … A major weather event occurred late Tuesday in the Phoenix area. It sprinkled. Unfortunately for residents starved for precipitation, the sprinkles didn’t come down hard enough to darken the sidewalks or end the record drought that reached 134 days Wednesday.