TORONTO – While J.P. Crawford has cemented himself as the Mariners’ everyday shortstop, he’s still far from a finished product in many ways.
He’s going to play more games in the 2019 season than he has played in the previous two seasons. There’s still six weeks and 37 games remaining in the 162-game marathon.
The Mariners want Crawford to finish his first season with them in a strong fashion. It’s part of the reason he was out of the starting lineup for the Sunday series finale against the Blue Jays.
“When we play in stretches where we play 10, 11, 12 days in a row, I’m not going to play him in all of them,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We’ve had a lot of off days here recently, so he’s been getting kind of a (rest) off his feet here and there. Today was a good day for it. I thought about it coming into the series that we would give him one of these days off. We’ll continue to do that the rest of the year.”
Crawford came into the game with a .238/.321/.383 slash line, 18 doubles, three triples, five homers and 38 RBI. He got off to a torrid start after being called up May 9, slashing .319/.383/.496 with 11 doubles, two triples, two homers and 21 RBI in his first 31 games. Since then, he’s slashing .165/.266/.301 with seven doubles, a triple, three homers, 17 RBI and 35 strikeouts in the past 37 games.
“Offensively, teams have made a few adjustments on him and are pitching him differently,” Servais said. “He’s grinding through it.”
Crawford is seeing fewer early fastballs while getting a steady diet of breaking balls in fastball counts.
Even with his struggles at the plate, he’s still been a solidifying presence for an infield defense that was awful with Tim Beckham as shortstop early in the season.
“He’s doing great,” Servais said. “He really is. The defense has been phenomenal. He’s learning. It’s been a really good first year with us and I want him to end it strong.”
While Crawford had a day off from playing, he still had other work to do, including a lengthy meeting with Servais and performance coach Jimmy Van Ostrand.
“We went through some things we want to focus on in the last five-six weeks with him,” Servais said. “It’s about getting a consistent program and routine with him. You can talk about the minor leagues all you want, but there is nothing like the big leagues. You travel different. You have different things that are on your mind, different worries and things you have to take care of at the big-league level than you do at the minor-league level and you have to play at the highest level.”
It’s something that is vital for big-league success. Nelson Cruz had a routine down to the minute and the only time he ever got surly was when it was interrupted. Mitch Haniger is so obsessive compulsive about his daily routine that even his teammates tease him about it.
“We do have a gentlemen that works for us that’s probably the most routine-oriented person I’ve ever met in my life and that’s Ichiro,” Servais said. “Players can learn from Ichi, they aren’t going emulate exactly his routine, but the fact that he realizes the importance and can pass some of those ideas along. Ultimately, it has to be each player’s and it’s always going to be a little different.”
The Mariners believe that once Crawford develops the proper preparation routine that includes lifting, conditioning, cage work and other physical maintenance, he won’t deal with some the physical and mental fatigue that he dealt with in July.
“It’s consistency,” Servais said. “It has to be his routine. I don’t think you hand somebody a piece of paper and say, ‘Hey do this.’ You figure out what works for you.”
A return to the rotation for Felix?
Felix Hernandez will make what is expected to be his final start of his rehab stint Monday for Class AAA Tacoma.
The Rainiers are playing Salt Lake City at Cheney Stadium with the first pitch set for 7:05 p.m.
“He’s good to go on Monday,” Servais said. “Hopefully he can go five innings; that would be great. The last outing with him was very positive. He felt great and felt really good coming out of it. Fingers crossed that continues. I’d really love to get him back again in our rotation at some point on the next homestand.”
The open slot in the Mariners’ rotation Hernandez would presumably be slated to pitch is Saturday. Seattle has Thursday off so there could be some manipulation and they could move that spot to Sunday as well.
“If he gets through this next one and feels good,” Servais said, “we’ll need that extra starter.”