Jarred Kelenic, the No. 2 prospect in the organization, and Julio Rodriguez, the No. 5 prospect, made impressive plays to steal the show.
PEORIA, Ariz. — It was supposed to focus on preparation for the season, but it also provided a glimpse of the talent coming in a few years. The Mariners’ now annual base running/situational hitting game is a competitive break from the repetition of the spring-training workouts that can become monotonous.
But it was two of the Mariners’ top prospects who stole some of the show. Outfielder Jarred Kelenic — the No. 2 prospect in the organization — and Julio Rodriguez — the No. 5 prospect — displayed some of their immense talents during the game.
The game is a complete simulation with a full defense of players from the minor-league camp trying to make real plays for outs. Both Kelenic and Rodriguez did that in jaw-dropping fashion.
Rodriguez, 19, unleashed a laser of a throw from right field to third base as Tim Beckham tried to go from first to third on a single. The throw beat the sliding Beckham by at least three steps. Rodriguez then did a finger wag similar to Dikembe Mutombo, which elicited a few groans from the veterans in camp.
Not to be outdone, Kelenic made an equally impressive throw to third to get Dylan Moore, who also was trying to go first to third on a bloop of a single to center.
“Pretty awesome, pretty awesome,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “There’s a reason we like them. This was their first exposure to anything like this. It was pretty fun to watch. They’re special players. They’ll get an opportunity. There’s a good chance you’ll see those two guys in our Cactus League games.”
Servais introduced the game when he took over as manager. And while the exact rules and scoring aren’t shared, there is a winner and loser. The captain of the losing team usually has to hire a caterer to come in and feed lunch for the entire complex. The team captains were Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon. It appeared that Seager’s team prevailed but there was some arguing about the final score.
While there is a fair amount of trash talk, laughs and team building, there is a purpose.
“It’s something we’ve done different ways in the past,” Servais said. “Sometimes it’s competitive. It’s actually more of a base running workout than it is situational hitting. With a new third base coach with Chris Prieto being over there, it’s important to get a feel and look at some of the guys. It’s about the base running more than the situations.”
Two years ago, the Mariners were a hair-pulling, silly-out-making circus on the basepaths. After making it a focal point last spring, it improved drastically in 2018.
“Our decision-making was so poor the year before last, we came into spring training last year and focused on decision making,” Servais said. “You can’t be getting doubled-up on line drives, it’s the ground ball to short when you’re on second and you’re just running into an out. Those type of things we really wanted to stress.”
With the additions of Mallex Smith, J.P. Crawford, Tim Beckham, Dylan Scott and even Domingo Santana, the Mariners have added more speed. Prospects such as Braden Bishop, Jake Fraley, Dom Thompson-Williams, Shed Long and Evan White are all plus runners.
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“This is a different group,” Servais said. “The one thing this group brings is a lot more speed and athleticism than previous groups we’ve had. We do want to push the envelope. I think you’ll see us making a few outs on the bases this spring which is not a bad thing because we have to learn our personnel and them learn what our expectations are. You’ll see us very aggressive in stealing bases and balls in the dirt and things like that. When you take more chances, you’re going to be out a little more. But hopefully it allows us to get a good feel on where guys are at.”
The base running/situational hitting game featured plenty of talking, some good speed on the bases and comedic moments, such as Jay Bruce’s triple to the right-center gap and Servais, who does the pitching for it, making Eric Filia do his postgame wiggle and shimmy that he’s become infamous for in minor-league games.
“I’ve heard about and seen clips of it and I thought it was interesting,” Servais joked. “It’s his thing. You have to let guys be who they are.”
Dings and Dents
There was an injury on the first play of the base running/situational hitting game. Mariners prospect Kyle Lewis, who has been more than unlucky with injury issues, suffered a dislocated right pinkie finger on a slide into second base. Lewis, who is rated as the Mariners’ No. 8 prospect by Baseball America, dove headfirst into second, jammed his hand against the base and felt the pain. He stood up after being called safe, shook his hand and then looked down and saw his finger pointing at an odd angle. He motioned for the coaches and the trainers.
“It happens,” Servais said. “You can’t use kid gloves or wrap them up in bubble wrap, you have to play the game. Getting out and running the bases hard and playing like a real game is important.”
The Mariners medical staff took Lewis aside and put the finger back into place. Lewis wanted to rejoin the drill, but the trainers wanted him to have an x-ray as a precaution.
Lewis later appeared on the field to rejoin his teammates.
“I’m good to go,” he said.
Earlier in the workout during the live batting practice session, Felix Hernandez uncorked a wild curveball that hit Ichiro in the right leg, knocking him to the ground.
Ichiro saw the pitch coming and could be heard saying, “No!” But he was unable to get out of the way.
Hernandez came off the mound to check on Ichiro, who took a few minutes to get up from the ground. After talking with trainers and limping around briefly, Ichiro returned for another at-bat off of Hernandez.
At the end the of the session, Hernandez pointed at Ichiro, tapped his glove to his chest and said, “My bad, Ichi!”
“It’s OK,” Ichiro replied in English.
Asked about the leg later, Ichiro is said the leg was fine.
Mallex Smith, who is dealing with a right elbow strain, participated in outfield drills and other activities for a second consecutive day. But he’s still not cleared to throw or hit.
“He looked fine,” Servais said. “He was happy to be out there running around and firing balls in left-handed. He was doing fine.”
Rain, rain go away
A wet and cold winter in the Phoenix area could scuttle the Mariners first two Cactus League games.
Significant rain is predicted for most of Thursday. Seattle was scheduled to play its first game at HoHoKam Park in Mesa vs. the A’s.
“Looks a little rough tomorrow,” Servais said. “We’ll plan on going over there and getting it in, but understanding what the forecast look like, we may have to adjust on the fly. We’ll just have to wait and see. We have Plan B in place in case we do get rained out. Hopefully, we can get it in, but not looking real promising.”
The plan B would include starter Marco Gonzales and fellow starting pitcher throwing a simulation in the covered bullpens or they would pitch in a simulated game on Friday vs. the minor league players in camp.
“There’s probably only 1o to 20 percent chance that we’ll play,” Servais said.
The Mariners hope to find out before 10 a.m. Thursday if the game is canceled. Rain also is in the forecast for Friday, which could be a problem.