TOKYO — Just about the time they will become adjusted to it, the Mariners will be leaving Japan.
Following their workout Saturday and their first exhibition game Sunday, the subject of the artificial playing surface of the Tokyo Dome was a popular subject.
“This is the slowest surface I’ve ever seen,” M’s manager Scott Servais said.
That includes playing on the notoriously long infield grass at Wrigley Field during Servais’ playing days.
The turf at the Tokyo Dome was installed in the offseason. The new surface isn’t like the new generation of artificial surfaces that people have become accustomed to over the last 10 years. Those types of turf, which are popular in western Washington and also used in the Tampa’s Tropicana Field, are shorter. There is still the rubber packing underneath, but the turf in the Tokyo Dome is longer with artificial grass blades.
“Playing from the U.S. Open rough,” joked a player.
It’s a stark contrast to the dry, hard-packed spring-training fields in Arizona where ground balls seem to pick up speed.
“It’s why we took an extended infield/outfield in the workout to try and get used to it,” Servais said.
Mariners bench coach Manny Acta, who hits the infield/outfield drill, was taking noticeably hard swings with his fungo bat to try and get the ball to maintain speed on the turf.
“You see how hard Manny was swinging?” Gordon said. “He’s going to be sore after that.”
Besides the new turf, the set up for the infield is a throwback. The only dirt on the infield is at the pitchers mound and in cutouts around the bases. The rest of the infield is all turf, meaning most ground balls usually won’t touch any dirt which will reduce the ball’s speed with each hop. A ball that bounces on packed dirt maintains speed more. This sort of setup used to be common with the old AstroTurf fields like at the Kingdome and Metrodome. But Tampa went with a full dirt cutout in the infield for the Trop and Toronto followed a few years ago. It’s a closer resemblance to the rest of the fields in baseball.
Outfielder Mitch Haniger played in the Tokyo Dome with a group of Major League Baseball players in November before the turf change. The change in significant.
“It’s a lot slower,” he said. “You have to be really aggressive charging the ball. It bounces similar to being on grass but just a lot slower.”
For utility man Dylan Moore, he has to figure out a way to adjust to the turf at multiple positions — third base, shortstop and outfield.
“It’s very new, so it’s very slow,” Moore said. “It plays pretty true, but it’s just slow. We’ll make the adjustments. It will be interesting to see where infielders and outfielders play for fast guys as well as slow guys.”
Gordon lamented the turf possibly stealing some hits from him by letting fielders get to balls that would otherwise get through. But his propensity for bunting for base hits might be improved.
“That’s a good point,” he said.
It helped him in one of his at-bats in Sunday’s exhibition win over the Yomiuri Giants. Gordon hit a slow chopper to second that might have been an easy play, but the ball just died with each bounce, giving the speedy Gordon more time to get to first. The Giants’ second baseman charged hard on the ball but had no chance of making the play, giving Gordon an infield single.
Of course, the Tokyo Dome has its advantages for hitters. The short fences to left-center and right-center and the controlled climate make it ripe for home runs. Gordon, who is far from a power hitter, smacked a solo homer in his final at-bat on Sunday while Jay Bruce muscled an opposite field homer of the wall in left field. Seattle hit three homers.