The Mariners still have a healthy contingent of players still participating
PEORIA, Ariz. — It was a bittersweet return for Tyler O’Neill. He was happy to be back at the Mariners’ spring training complex, but not playing in the second round of the World Baseball Classic was frustrating.
O’Neill was back participating in Mariners’ workouts on Tuesday morning after returning from Miami, where he represented Canada in the WBC. The Canadians went 0-3 in pool play. O’Neill had one hit in the three games, the last of which was an 8-0 loss to the U.S. on Sunday. But the crowds, the frenzy and the competition left a lasting impact on O’Neill.
“It was good,” he said. “Great experience for me, again. Anytime playing for Canada is another step up, from Pan-Am (Games) to Premier 12 to WBC. Hopefully we can get in the qualifiers next year and do it again in four.”
Admittedly, O’Neill isn’t used to playing in front of such large and vocal crowds that he experienced at Marlins Park.
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“I think the only thing that would come close is playing Taiwan in Taiwan because they’ve got 25,000 people doing their chants and everything,” he said. “It’s the same thing the Dominican Republic has with their 30,000. I’d kind of experienced it before, but that was on a different level. It was great to play in front of a bunch of fans. Playing in an All-Star environment, a postseason environment in the big leagues was a good thing to experience.”
While the noise was evident in television broadcasts, O’Neill said that the decibels are lost through the screen. Communication on the field was nonexistent at times because there was no chance of hearing his teammates.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “You’ve got to really be there to hear the noise. You can’t grasp it on TV. If the ball was in the air, you basically just rely on your instincts and who has the better positioning. You don’t have too much communication going on.”
O’Neill still got his work in during the frenzied four days away from the Mariners.
“We had full pregame every game, so there definitely wasn’t any shortcuts going on,” he said.
O’Neill didn’t participate in Tuesday’s Cactus League game in Peoria, but he will likely be ready to play on Wednesday.
“It was nice to break the routine to start, but since we’re out, it’s good to be back and get going with the career,” O’Neill said.
Right-hander Yovani Gallardo, who pitched in Mexico’s rotation, is slated to return on Wednesday. Mexico was eliminated from pool play in Jalisco, Mexico, despite defeating Venezuela 11-9 in a pool play tiebreaker.
*** It’s projected to be an all Mariners’ starting pitching matchup on Wednesday night in Game 2 of Pool F at Petco Park. Lefty Drew Smyly will get the start for the United States.
“I hope it’s just like Miami,” Smyly said of the atmosphere. “Miami, that was an unbelievable atmosphere down there playing those games. It really got I think everyone’s adrenaline pumping right from the start. It’s just a whole another element when you’re playing country versus country, the best of everybody. It just really is a great atmosphere to be a part of. So we’re expecting a lot here in San Diego.”
Smyly was in the designated pitching pool to start the WBC, meaning he couldn’t throw in the first round. He is likely to square off against his new teammate — Felix Hernandez. While Venezuela hasn’t announced its starting rotation for the second-round pool, Hernandez would be working on normal rest and is likely to start that game. The Mariners’ ace would be making his second start of the WBC for Venezuela. Hernandez pitched 2 2/3 innings, giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
“It’s going to be great,” O’Neill said. “I actually saw Drew when we were shaking the U.S.’s hands wishing them good luck. Hopefully they do well in the second round there. I’m rooting for them.”
Smyly was originally supposed to pitch just the one game for the U.S. But manager Scott Servais wasn’t certain if that agreement was still in place. Something that didn’t seem to please him by his reaction.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” he said. “At this point, I’m done predicting anything. These rosters change and plans change daily, by the inning if you watch some of these games. We’re not the only team that has been affected. The competitive nature of people, you’re going to want to play these guys, you want to play the best players and try to win these games and sometimes that takes over.”
*** Servais has been careful not to be overly critical of the WBC and the number of his players absent from camp. While general manage Jerry Dipoto has championed the WBC and having players participate, Servais has been reticent to say such things. It’s not an ideal situation for him.
“Not just us, I’m sure it’s affected other teams as well,” he said. “I feel like it’s affected us probably as much as anybody, but I’m only looking at our camp so that’s a little bias opinion. But when you take the 2-3-4 hitters out and a big part of our club and the pitching on top of that, we knew coming in this would be a different camp. I think we’ve got some things accomplished and have plenty to work on still. Our pitching hasn’t been very good the last few days and that needs to get tightened up. But it is what it is. It doesn’t do any good to complain or look negatively at it. The biggest thing for the guys that are away is they’re getting their at-bats, Smyly will pitch tomorrow night and get his innings in and keep gearing up toward opening day.”