PEORIA, Ariz. — Mariners manager Scott Servais opened his Saturday morning video media conference with a brief statement about the day’s workout, which would be lighter than usual with the first Cactus League game of 2021 scheduled for Sunday against the Padres.
“The plan for tomorrow’s game is we will play nine innings against the Padres,” Servais said.
Hmm, aren’t all big-league games nine innings?
Well, they were all nine innings. But we saw last season MLB making up postponed games by playing seven-inning games for doubleheaders due to COVID-19 protocols and the compressed regular-season schedule. The seven-inning doubleheaders will be used again in 2021.
But what Servais was referring to was the recent rules changes for spring-training games in Arizona and Florida. With a compressed schedule and a 75-player limit on players in big-league camp with no minor leaguers allowed, there were concerns that there might not be enough pitchers to cover nine-inning games early in the spring when starters are limited to two or three innings.
“We’ve been communicating with them; they’ve got plenty of pitching just like we do,” he said. “So we’ll play nine.”
Marco Gonzales will get the start for the Mariners with Kendall Graveman, Keynan Middleton and Anthony Misiewicz. The game will not be televised, but it will have a live radio broadcast on ESPN 710 and mariners.com
Per the operations manual agreed upon by MLB and the MLB Players Association, spring-training games that run through March 13 may be shortened to five-inning games or seven-inning games upon mutual agreement of both managers. Games that occur from March 14 until the end of spring training, which is March 30, can be shortened to seven-inning games.
Both teams have to agree upon the length of the game and notify the commissioner’s office before 5 p.m. ET. This will also allow teams to notify fans and broadcast partners in radio and television.
Servais hasn’t heard from Cleveland about Tuesday’s game length and its pitching status.
“We’re mapped out to play nine innings,” Servais said. “If somebody pulls back and says we’ve only got seven or eight pitchers today, then we’ll pull a reliever out and bump him to the next day. We can work through all that.”
Those games through March 13 could have an intrasquad or instructional league feel. The manager of the team in the field can end the inning before three outs being recorded if a pitcher has thrown at least 20 pitches. This is meant to keep pitch counts in check and not being forced to extend relievers. Starting with the games on March 14, umpires will enforce the three-batter minimum for all pitchers.
“We’ve all seen it where you make an error, he walks a couple guys, something happens and all of a sudden the pitch count gets up there and it doesn’t look like a pitcher will have enough pitches to finish the inning,” Servais said. “We will just call timeout and what we call ‘roll the inning” without getting the third out in that inning. The guys will just walk off the field and the other team will take the field, and we can continue on with the game.
“It happens a lot in ‘B’ games, instructional league games on the minor-league side. The No. 1 priority for everybody in baseball this camp is to get our players ready and make sure they’re healthy coming off the shortened season.”
Also different this spring, pitchers who are removed during a game may re-enter the game to reach their pitch count instead of throwing in the bullpen.
As part of the compressed schedule, the Mariners won’t have a game on Monday before playing a stretch of 26 games in 26 days before another off day, which comes the day before their final Cactus League game.
The Mariners won’t have any scheduled workouts on Monday. Servais has told them to use it for rest.
“I don’t necessarily think we need it, but you try to take advantage of where it is,” he said. “I will be honest. I wish we played five or six games before we had an off day.”
Gone but not forgotten
Numerous Mariners have made it clear they want to move on from the fiasco that was Kevin Mather’s comments to the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club. Many have grown tired of the subject and don’t want relive it.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten some of the derisive things that led to Mather’s resignation. In fact, they are wearing them.
On Saturday, J.P. Crawford removed his practice jersey to take batting practice. He was wearing a navy T-shirt with lettering in the team’s white and teal. But it was obvious this wasn’t a shirt the Mariners created.
It featured a two-word statement in block lettering and a name below it in a different font:
This is, of course, a reference to Mather’s characterization of Gonzales before calling him one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball.
Gonzales previously changed his Twitter bio to read “Very Boring” as well.
Those T-shirts were for sale at a variety of outlets and independent T-shirt places.