In a spring training where the roster is basically set, the Mariners and manager Scott Servais must make a decision on that utility role. It’s one of the few position battles in camp. The competition has been pared to incumbent Shawn O’Malley and newcomer Taylor Motter.
PEORIA, Ariz. — It’s an odd aspect of the role on the roster. In spring training, a team’s utility player will often log more innings and more at-bats in the compressed month of games than they will in the first two months of the season.
Often, players in that role have competition for the last roster spot and playing time in spring-training games. Their performance in those games will factor in the decision.
In a spring training where the roster is basically set, the Mariners and manager Scott Servais must make a decision on that utility role. It’s one of the few position battles in camp.
Indians 14, Mariners 6, at Peoria Stadium
Notable: The Mariners got a solid two innings out of starter Hisashi Iwakuma, who allowed no runs and one hit Wednesday. But that’s where the Mariners’ pitching praise ends after a long night against the Indians.
In his second start of the spring, Iwakuma logged two strikeouts and one walk, improving on his previous outing, when he gave up a run and three hits vs. the Rangers. Afterward, the right-hander said that his balance felt better while expressing satisfaction with his fastball, which “had more life today.”
Player of the game: Given that he was 1 for 1 with a grand slam, Indians catcher Adam Moore probably has to take the honor, but the best Mariner was Kyle Seager. The third baseman went 2 for 3 with a double, and drew a walk. Seager is hitting .333 this spring.
Quotable: “It was fun, but it started to get old.” — Iwakuma, when asked about the mariachi band that followed Leonys Martin around on his birthday on Monday.
On tap: The Mariners head to Mesa on Thursday to take on the Chicago Cubs at Sloan Park. First pitch is set for 12:05 PST. Left-hander James Paxton will start on the mound for Seattle.
The competition has been pared down to incumbent Shawn O’Malley and newcomer Taylor Motter with Mike Freeman being removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to Class AAA Tacoma.
For both players, the next week to 10 days could be the key to Servais’ decision. While they were already playing heavily in Cactus League games, O’Malley and Motter figure to see their playing time increased with Robinson Cano and Jean Segura away from the team at the World Baseball Classic. Servais will use that time to really evaluate the competition.
“I think we’ll find out more here in the next week,” Servais said. “They’re going to play a lot. Back and forth between shortstop and second, get some time in the outfield as well. You may even see them show up at first base for a few innings here or there.”
Their skill sets are similar yet different. They’re capable of playing all positions on the field. O’Malley has the advantage of being a switch hitter and is a better overall base runner. He also has a track record with Servais and the organization, having played in 89 games last season, hitting .229 with a .616 on-base plus slugging percentage. He also started 23 games at shortstop and handled himself capably.
“I hope they trust me,” O’Malley said. “I put in a lot of work to be better there so if my number was called that I was ready to go. I’m grateful that they put me in the lineup. Hopefully I did a good enough job. And I will keep working at it.”
Motter was acquired in the offseason from the Tampa Bay Rays in a trade. He’s a right-handed hitter with more power than O’Malley and is a more natural shortstop with a stronger arm. He displayed some of that power with a deep homer to left-center on Monday.
“It’s been so long since I’ve played a consistent position,” Motter said. “I’d like to think I’m good at them all. But yes, I have played shortstop.”
At times this spring, it seemed as though Motter had the advantage. But O’Malley has played well and has a knack for making things happen when he’s in the game. The competition seems to be fairly even.
“Even though their stature is a lot alike, their skill sets are a little different,” Servais said. “I like what I’ve seen so far.”
Usually the ability to play shortstop is the separator in these competitions. But with the acquisition of Jean Segura in the offseason and the hope that he plays close to 150 games, defense at shortstop isn’t necessarily the most important aspect. Realistically, the Mariners’ utility player could see more time at first base, a corner outfield spot or used as a pinch-runner.
“Our shortstop is going to play a lot of games, hopefully Segura doesn’t get hurt,” Servais said. “But that is the toughest position to be able to man when you have to run someone out there. But Motter does have a history of it. O’Malley showed fine last year.”
There was a scenario where the Mariners could have kept O’Malley and Motter on the roster and not carried an extra outfielder since both can play there. However, Guillermo Heredia’s excellent spring showing and his continued growth might have scuttled that plan.
Both players understand they are in a competition. But neither will allow themselves to get overwhelmed by it.
“When you start doing that, nothing good comes from it,” O’Malley said.
Said Motter: “You just show up to the field every day and enjoy spring training and your teammates. You just want to play your game every day. I’ve got a lot of people to get to know and impress. I look forward to it.”