Spring Training Day One – Surprise Start

I woke up at 5:00 AM today and caught the early flight down to Phoenix. I was on the ground at 10:10 (my second straight Alaska Airlines flight that landed considerably early – nice work, Alaska!), in a rental car by 10:40, and pulling into the Mariners parking lot at the Peoria Sports Complex at 11:15.

I stopped by the Mariners PR office, where Tim Hevly handed me a spiral-bound Mariners media guide and a spring training press pass. I made a quick stop by the media workroom, where reporters Greg Johns and Shannon Drayer were kind enough to tell me the fast way to get to the field in Surprise.

Check into the hotel, grab an In ‘N’ Out Burger (double-double, fries, vanilla shake – sorry if you are reading this, Doc, I’ll try not to do it again this week but), and hit the road for the Rainiers game against Omaha on the back fields of the Royals complex.

By the time I drove there, found the secret free parking lot, and walked to the field the game was already underway.

As I approached the field, a large man in a Mariners jersey was finishing off his home run trot. I did not recognize this trotter – he was new to me. After saying hello to Tom Newberg, Dwight Bernard, and meeting Howard Johnson I learned that Mr. Home Run Guy was Rich Poythress, erstwhile Tacoma first baseman, and a man who is having a big spring training camp.

I settled in and started watching some baseball while quickly getting a sunburn.

Andrew Carraway started and coasted through the first two innings, but he gave up three runs in the third including a two-run homer to Chad Tracy. He got back on track and ended up going five full innings, allowing four runs and throwing roughly 80 pitches.

I talked to Carraway when he was done, he said he’s just beginning to get stretched out as a starter now. Since he was invited to big league camp, his MLB appearances were no longer than two innings so he’s just now getting into the starting groove again.

Brian Sweeney followed Carraway and tossed three super-quick routine innings. Sweeney said that he enjoyed playing for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic, and that it presented a nice break from the spring training grind.

The spring training grind – that was a theme. Everyone seems to be bemoaning how long this camp has been – it had an early start because of the WBC, and it seems to be going on forever. I suggested it was the longest spring training ever and Bernard (a baseball lifer) said “Nope! The year of the replacement players was longer.” He’s right.

In the fourth inning, Carlos Peguero launched a big fly to left field off left-handed Omaha starter Ryan Verdugo for a solo homer.

The Tacoma defense looked like this:

  • 1B – Rich Poythress
  • 2B – Eric Farris
  • SS – Carlos Triunfel
  • 3B – Alex Liddi
  • LF – Eric Thames
  • CF – Denny Almonte
  • RF – Carlos Peguero
  • C – Mike Zunino, Ronny Paulino, Brandon Bantz (3 innings each)

Oh yeah – ex-Rainiers star Adam Moore started at catcher for Omaha.

In the 6th inning Mike Zunino came to the plate and I decided to try to take a picture. I was aiming my cell phone through a chain-link fence and low and behold I got two shots – of the same pitch, which he ripped to deep left-center for a double off of sometimes major-league reliever Brian Sanches. Click to enlarge the photos.

The set

The set-up


Right before ripping the pitch to left-center.

I posted the second picture on Twitter and was immediately asked if Zunino was going to start the year in Tacoma. We just don’t know yet – and probably won’t know until Sunday or Monday. Believe me, I’ll tell you as soon as I find out.

The Rainiers lost the game, 4-2, but I wanted to point out three other highlights.

  • Ronny Paulino hit a slicing line drive down the right field line – a ball that barely went foul. The lumbering Paulino was running it out and as he was headed toward first base Hector Noesi started yelling “Triple! Triple! Triple!” When the ball went foul, even Paulino was laughing. Hector Noesi, eternal optimist. Paulino has hit a grand total of three triples over the last seven years.
  • Alex Liddi hit a screaming line drive off the very top of the fence in left-center field. It was probably the hardest-hit ball of the game, an absolute BB. He got a double out of it.
  • The mysterious Yoervis Medina pitched the ninth inning and set down the side in order. I stood right behind the plate and could see the radar gun where Carraway and Noesi were charting pitches: Medina was 94-96 mph on the gun, with fantastic movement on his fastball – movement that pitching coach Dwight Bernard said may have been supplemented by the “awful baseballs.” With that kind of velocity, it’s easy to see why Medina is still on the Mariners 40-man roster.

There was a bit of big news over on the other field.

The Double-A game was being played on the next field over, and I wandered over and saw that Chance Ruffin not only started the game, but he pitched at least four innings.

I asked some questions and it turns out it is true: Ruffin, who has been a short-reliever since his junior year of college, is being moved into the starting rotation for 2013. It is possible that he will be going to Double-A Jackson in order to make the conversion.

Ruffin has not been a starter since his sophomore year of college, at the University of Texas. I like this idea: Ruffin had a few outings with Tacoma last season where he threw over 40 pitches, and he was able to maintain his low-90s velocity in those games. If he can do that for 100 pitches, and improve his complimentary pitches a bit, he’s got a shot at making this work.

Sorry, no links today – I didn’t have time to do my baseball reading, due to travel. (Note: I actually did read a really good piece in the latest ESPN magazine on the airplane, about Joey Votto‘s approach to hitting. That’s worth tracking down).

Tomorrow the Mariners minor leaguers have a “camp day” and I’ll have a report on it in the afternoon.


2 Responses to Spring Training Day One – Surprise Start

  1. Mark says:

    Mike, Thanks, for the update. I am much more of a Rainier fan than M’s fan. I’ m sure you know this. Thanks.

  2. Mark says:

    Mike, This morning on KJR Wedge said that Zunino will start the season at AAA. Didn’t know if you had heard that?

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