The Mariners are employing some new drills and equipment to help improve their pitchers' fielding.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Scott Servais loves football. The Mariners manager made that clear at his hiring press conference. Born and raised in Wisconsin, he is, of course, a diehard Green Bay Packers fan while also maintaing a bond with University of Wisconsin. He also added Ole Miss to his list of teams he watches/follows with both of his daughters attending the university. And he isn’t afraid to use that passion for football in his baseball life.
He’s taken football philosophies on team building and preparation and incorporated them into spring training. Whether it’s morning meetings, “chalk talks” in the classroom to go over things on the field or other forms of motivational techniques.
This year he’s added a new wrinkle on the field for his pitchers. While attending a football practice at Ole Miss, he saw some nets with targets hanging in the middle of them. Long snappers for Ole Miss would use those to snap footballs into for practice and repeitition. Servais thought about the monotony and tired ways of doing pitchers’ fielding practice and decided that the nets might bring a new challenge and fun with them.
Mariners’ pitchers definitely need the fielding work.
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“We have to keep adding,” he said. “We made 11 errors last year throwing from our pitchers to bases. We’ll tighten it up a little. We’ve got a couple things that will hopefully make it a little more fun and challenging and get their focus a little better in that area.”
On Wednesday in the first full workout for pitchers and catchers, the nets debuted on Fields No. 4 and 5. And they led to some interesting results.
The first throw to the net was from Felix Hernandez on comebackers to the mound. It hit off the metal frame and shot over to the dugout, almost hitting a few people watching.
“Sorry,” he yelled.
The nets provided a challenge for many pitchers. Non-roster invite Peter Tago got rattled by them and missed the net on five straight times. Hernandez had a few wayward throws, yelling and mumbling in frustration.
“Those were different,” he said. “It’s kind of hard. I think a first baseman catches those.”
Even Dae-Ho Lee?
“Oh easy,” he said.
For pitchers like Hisashi Iwakuma and Nick Vincent, who are strong fielders, the nets posed no issue. Baseball players loathe change. And this was certainly something different.
“I don’t know if I like those things,” Hernandez said with a chuckle.
“Whether the pitchers like them or not, the nets are staying. And score is being kept.
“We tallied where we are at,” Servais said. “It will turn into a very competitive contest going forward the next four or five days. We’ll have some fun with it.”
The fun will hopefully lead to improvement.
“You have to place importance on it,” he said. “We’ve talked to our coaches about coaching it up the right way. We’ve got a different system on how we’re going to teach it this year. You’re always trying to get better.”
Here’s some video of the drills