Mariners' manager Scott Servais discussed the first day of live batting practice, the new rule changes from MLB and how will handle mistakes from players.

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PEORIA, Ariz. — The progression of the pitchers’ throwing program moves to another level today with the first round of live batting practice segments.

Basically, a pitcher will throw off the mound to hitters in the cage for about certain amount of time. It’s a typical drill in a throwing program as they build up for games.

“It’s a get-comfortable feel for our pitchers,” manager Scott Servais said. “They call it live BP, but it’s for the pitchers — get a hitter in there, get out on the field. All of our guys will be throwing all their pitches today and be out there for eight minutes. I’m sure they’re looking forward to it, far more than our hitters.”

Hitters don’t enjoy live BP early because they generally feel they are behind the pitchers in their preparation and aren’t used to seeing live pitching.

“Guys will be swinging if they want,” Servais said. “Some guys will just track. But they won’t know what is coming.”

“Track” means to go up there and do everything that you would normally do in the box for a real at-bat. But when the pitch is thrown, all you do is watch the ball come out of the pitchers hand and follow its path to the plate and determining if it’s a ball or strike. It’s just a drill to get a hitter’s eyes focused on seeing the ball all the way to the plate.

Many young hitters, who want to impress coaches, will take their hacks. Servais did the same in his playing career.

“I actually got in there and hit because I wasn’t a good hitter,” he said. “I took all the swings I could get. It was easier for me because I was into what the pitchers had, so I had a better feel for what was coming. So I tried to make myself look good and hopefully the GM was walking around back in the day.”

Here’s the live BP pitchers scheduled to throw:

  • Field 3: Wade Miley, Steve Cishek
  • Field 4: Taijuan Walker, Justin De Fratus
  • Field 5: Joel Peralta, Donn Roach, Blake Parker

 

Rule changes

MLB and the MLB players association announced rule changes for slides and plays at second and pace of play. 

The new rules surrounding the plays at second are a big change. Some of it is based off this Chase Utley slide that injured Mets infielder Ruben Tejada in the playoffs.

The gist from the release …

Under new Rule 6.01(j), which has been added to the existing Rule 6.01 on “Interference, Obstruction, and Catcher Collisions,” slides on potential double plays will require runners to make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base. Runners may still initiate contact with the fielder as a consequence of an otherwise permissible slide. A runner will be specifically prohibited from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a “roll block” for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder. Potential violations of Rule 6.01(j) will be reviewable using instant replay. Also reviewable will be “neighborhood play” calls, which previously were exempted from replay review. 

“That’s going to be a little bit different,” Servais said. “We’ll talk to our players about it today. I guess the best way to describe it is it’s more like the college rule. You have to slide in a direct path to the base. If you slide over the base, that’s not a good thing, you’re going to be called out, as will the batter. That’s a big deal.”

The review of the neighborhood play is also a major change. Before, fielders were given the discretion of being in the neighborhood of second base on double play turns. It was a way to protect players from staying at the bag too long and being taken out even more by a baserunner.  That changes now since the new slide rules presumably offer them protection.

“I’ll be curious to see how that affects pace of play because I believe a lot of managers will be challenging that play” Servais said. “We’ve got to talk about it and re-teach it with our players and let them know it’s going to be important. The veteran players are used to doing it a certain way, so they’re going to have to hang in there a little longer.”

Servais wasn’t as concerned with the pace of play and his mound meetings, which are limited to 30 seconds

“I don’t think it’s going to be that big a deal,” he said. “The umpire will come out and remind you or say, ‘Let’s go. Break it up. Let’s move on,’ or whatever he says when he comes to the mound. From what I understand, the clock will start as soon as the manager or pitching coach leaves the dugout and steps onto the field. The umpire will come out and put his hand on my shoulder and say, ‘It’s time. Let’s go.’”

Servais wouldn’t say if he’ll be sprinting out of the dugout to the mound.

“I don’t know,” he said. “There are some managers that sprint out to the mound. Everybody has their own style. I don’t know what mine is yet. I haven’t done that. So we’ll work on that as well.”

 

Discipline and accountability

Because he has no past managing experience, it’s difficult to know how Servais will handle situations that eventually arise in a season. How about if a player makes a costly mistake, physical or mental, or seems to be lacking focus? What will he do?

“I’m very respectful of players,” he said. “I will not blow my top, so to speak. Maybe a few years ago I would have with a young minor league player. I think with veteran players, first of all, they know when they screw up and make a physical error. Sometimes they need to be reminded on the mental stuff.”

You might not see it in the dugout. Like past managers, they try to handle it out of the range of television cameras.

“That’s more of an off to the side, in the runway thing,” he said. “I prefer that the coach that is in charge of that particular area address it first. If it doesn’t get better, then I probably have a sit-down or talk. Ask, ‘What’s going on? What are you thinking here? Run this by me.’ Most times guys are going to say, ‘Yeah, I screwed up, skip, I got it.’ You do have to hold them accountable, but that will be my style.”

When it comes to disciplining a player or pulling him, there is no hard rule to it. Servais will handle it by the situation. It might not be an immediate benching in the game or the next game. It might not be at all.

“I think you have to know the personalities,” he said. “Not everyone plays the same. Some guys are going to play a little bit more fiery with more energy and up-tempo, some guys play at slower pace. You have to know the individual and what allows them to play at the top of their game. It is a challenge to operate by doing that. When I say be who you are, I have to be true to it. I have to be consistent. I know where you are headed. Everybody plays it a little bit different, at the end of the day it’s about results and performance. But how I handle those situations, I think you handle them all differently.”

Servais seemed to think that the question was implying about Robinson Cano and his running to first. It was clarified to him that it was more about moments of lack of focus from players in the past – not knowing situations, mental lapses on the basepaths and forgetting the number of outs.

He said he would handle any discipline based on the situation.

 

Also …   

Matt Calkins wrote about players embracing the philosophy of the new Mariners’ regime.  Servais leans heavily on the teachings of football for certain aspects of his philosophy. One thing that is noticeable is a quicker pace during practice and between drills. This isn’t an accident. It’s very different from past spring trainings.

“The way baseball typically practices, we typically practice slow,” Servais said. ” So we’re trying to pick up the tempo a little and do some things a little bit differently. You’ve heard me talk often about trying to do something different and make sure the players are aware the environment is a little different here. But they were great yesterday.”

Servais knows that could be an outlier.

“It’s the first day, it’s easy,” he said. ” Everybody is happy to be back first day. Check back in about 20 days and see where we’re at. But upbeat, really comes from our coaching staff. Those guys have a lot of energy and are excited to get out there and get to know the players and yesterday everything went very well.”