The Mariners are pushing the pedal in Cactus League games to get a sneak preview of the havoc they hope to wreak on the basepaths.
PEORIA, Ariz. — When you envision the speed and athleticism the Mariners hope to exploit on the basepaths (and elsewhere) this season, the image definitely does not include Nelson Cruz rumbling around the bases, trying to score from first on a double, as he did earlier this week in Glendale, Ariz.
Manager Scott Servais later joked that he and hitting coach Edgar Martinez watched in horror from the dugout as Cruz was waved around third, yelling, “Stay there! Stay there! No! No! Noooooo!”
Predictably, Cruz was thrown out by a Randy Johnson body length, and then comically gestured toward third-base coach Manny Acta as if to say, “What the heck?”
But there’s a method to Acta’s madness this spring, as the Mariners push the pedal in Cactus League games to get a sneak preview of the havoc they hope to wreak when the regular season starts. Earlier that same game, Acta waved home Jean Segura as he scored all the way from first on a hit-and-run single by Robinson Cano. We’ve seen Jarrod Dyson score from first on a double, and also seen Dyson single, steal second and score on a base hit. We saw the Mariners successfully pull off a first-and-third delayed double steal in the very first game.
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The Mariners want to get in the habit of being aggressive. They want to put the notion in the head of opposing managers that playing the Mariners this season isn’t going to be as comfortable as it used to be. And they want Servais and Acta to get a handle on just how far they can push things — and with whom (cross Cruz from the list).
“Yeah, we’re pushing the envelope here in spring training,’’ Acta said. “We’re doing things that probably, normally, during the season we wouldn’t do. That’s what Scott is telling the guys. Everybody has a green light and we’re trying to see what guys can do. And if we have to pull in the reins a little bit at the end of spring training, we’ll do it. But right now, we just want to see what everyone is capable of doing.”
Here are the marching orders Servais gave Dyson, Segura and Leonys Martin, his primary speed guys, for spring training: “They’re just going to run nonstop, whenever they want. Just go. I think being smart, obviously, and picking pitches, but we have to create that mindset with all those guys.”
The Mariners think they can get 100 stolen bases from that trio, which isn’t unrealistic considering Dyson stole 30 last year in part-time play, Segura had 33 stolen bases with the Diamondbacks, and Martin had 24 despite a midseason hamstring injury. That trio by themselves could double the Mariners’ team total of 56 steals, which ranked 24th in the majors and 12th in the American League.
Mind you, stolen bases in isolation are not necessarily indicative of a successful team. The three leading base-stealing teams in the majors last year were Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Arizona, which lost 89, 94 and 93 games, respectively. The last time the Mariners finished in the top five in steals was 2010, when they were fourth in the majors with 142 – and lost 101 games.
A more apt role model would be the 2001 Mariners, who set the club season record with 174 steals, a total that led the majors, as did their 80.56 percent success rate. Now, we all know the Mariners, or probably anyone else, will never have another team that dominated like that one, winning an American League-record 116 games.
But what the Mariners would like to approach is the same diversity of weapons the 2001 team had. It featured four players with 20 or more homers, led by Bret Boone with 37. And it had four players with 30 or more steals, led by Ichiro with 56 and including Mark McLemore with 39 and Mike Cameron with 34.
Last year, the Mariners had the power aspect, somewhat surprisingly blasting 223 homers, third in the majors and their highest total since they moved into Safeco Field full time. But they didn’t achieve the athleticism and speed aspect envisioned by Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto as part of their master plan for the Mariners.
Dipoto continued that pursuit this past winter by trading for Segura, Dyson and Mitch Haniger, who is targeted to be the starting right fielder. They will surround the boppers — Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager — in the batting order.
“It gives us an opportunity to play a faster, more electric game that we’ve talked about for most of the last year and a half, and it’s something we’re all excited to do,’’ Dipoto said.
Of course, all that is predicated on Dyson and Segura, in particular, producing at the top of the order. The last player they acquired to juice up their running game, Chone Figgins, never provided the expected boost, hitting just .227 with a .302 on-base percentage in his three seasons in Seattle. As Servais put it, “You have to get on base before you can create havoc.”
Dyson had a .340 on-base percentage last year with the Royals, and Segura led the National League with 203 hits, so the potential is there to set the table for Cano (39 homers), Cruz (43) and Seager (30).
“We have quite a few dimensions in here, speed mixed with power,’’ Dyson said. “Both can be deadly.”
Cano got excited Monday when he saw Segura sprint around the bases on his single.
“Love it,’’ he said. “Love to see that. You have to give credit to Manny for not even panicking and just sending him. That was something that we needed last year. We didn’t have that speed last year and having guys get on base and steal bases. I hope we all stay healthy and we can do a pretty good job this year.”
Servais remembers his days as a catcher, and the headaches it would cause when they’d face a team like, say, the Cincinnati Reds with speedsters such as Reggie Sanders, Barry Larkin and Deion Sanders.
“They could do a lot of those things,’’ he recalled. “You always knew when they were on the schedule and when you were going in to play them. You’d start talking with your pitchers — ‘Hey, you’ve got to speed it up to the plate.’
“All that stuff comes into play. Hopefully we can put pressure on teams in different ways this year.”