The former Brewers second baseman brought with him a recently broken-in outfielder’s glove, an optimistic attitude and a new haircut for his new role as infielder/outfielder/part-time player with the Mariners.
PEORIA, Ariz. – A new team, a new role, a new position and even a new haircut?
Rickie Weeks arrived at the Mariners’ spring-training complex Wednesday ready for a fresh start with a new organization after spending his entire career with the Milwaukee Brewers.
He brought with him a recently broken-in outfielder’s glove and an optimistic attitude for his new role as infielder/outfielder/part-time player. But it was what he was missing that was most glaring upon first glance.
Gone are the familiar, long dreadlocks that he had been growing since the 2008 season. Weeks’ hair was cropped close and tight under his Mariners cap.
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“It was just personal preference, I guess,” he said. “I got them cut off about two months ago.”
It’s a decision Weeks had considered the past couple of years.
But any amateur psychologists looking for some deeper meaning to the change in conjunction with his departure from Milwaukee after 12 seasons are overanalyzing the situation.
Weeks’ response when asked why he made the change: “No reason.”
You just got tired of them?
“Pretty much,” he said.
Changing a hairstyle is much more simple than the change Weeks will be going through on the field. After playing second base his entire professional career, the Mariners have brought him in as a utility player. He will see time in the outfield and serve as a backup at second, third and maybe first base.
Weeks took part in the outfield portion during the 30 minutes of individual defensive drills. Outfielders coach Andy Van Slyke had two groups of outfielders catching fly balls and line drives off pitching machines. Weeks was in a group that included Austin Jackson, Nelson Cruz and Endy Chavez, and he made all the plays. He might not have been as polished, but his athleticism was obvious.
“It was good,” he said. “It came pretty natural to me. There are some things I still have to work on, obviously. Today was the first day; I think it went pretty well.”
Weeks isn’t foreign to the outfield. He played there in high school, started some there his freshman year at Southern University and took some fly balls before spring training.
“Today it brought me back to high school,” he said. “That was the last time I played outfield full time. It brought back memories.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon expects that most of Weeks’ outfield play will come in left field, where he could share time with Dustin Ackley.
McClendon hates to box himself in by using the word “platoon” to describe the situation. But it’s easy to see Weeks and his career .834 OPS against left-handers getting starts in those situations (instead of Ackley, who has a career .553 OPS vs. lefties) and Ackley and his career .751 OPS vs. right-handers playing against right-handed starters.
The possible move isn’t a slight or message to Ackley, who had a brilliant second half of last season.
“I don’t think that was it at all,” McClendon said. “We’re trying to get better, and Rickie Weeks is a good player that can help us win ballgames. I think the combination of both of those guys out there should produce a very productive left field. If you have a combination of 20-25 home runs and 100 plus RBIs, now you’ve got something.”
A message sent
McClendon met with the team as a whole and delivered his annual message about what he expects from them and this season. He wouldn’t give too many details.
“I don’t usually share my messages,” he said. “I will share this with you. One thing I will tell my players, and I’ve told most of them already is that expectations are very high, and that’s OK. I understand it. But we can’t get caught up in expectations. We’ve got to get prepared to get ready for the grind of a 162-game schedule, and it starts today. If you want to be a champion, it doesn’t start in April. It starts in February. And I think they’ll be up for the task.”
Asked about goals, McClendon said he has some in mind without sharing them.
“We all set goals, and you always want to reach high,” he said. “And you try to attain those goals, but you also have to be realistic and you have to be fair to expectations. ”
• Only two pitchers – Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Hultzen – threw bullpen sessions Wednesday. It was Wilhelmsen’s first bullpen session of the spring. He was set back a few days because he was in Florida for his arbitration hearing. The plan is for all pitchers to throw two bullpens and then move to two live batting-practice sessions to prepare for Cactus League games.
• Expect to see Justin Ruggiano in center field some this spring and during the season. “One of things I have to be very cognizant of is making sure I give Austin Jackson the proper amount of rest,” McClendon said.