Day One In Peoria

I flew into Phoenix on Tuesday morning and took in my first day of Mariners/Rainiers spring training.

After the early flight touched down, I grabbed a rental car and immediately made a beeline to Peoria for the ceremonial first burger. Then it was time to go to the field.

The major league club was off on Tuesday, but there was a Triple-A game with the current version of the Rainiers facing Charlotte (White Sox affiliate) on one of the backfields. There was also a Double-A game between the M’s and White Sox organizations, on an adjacent field.

There was actually a small crowd at this game, because James Paxton was starting for your Rainiers. He’s still in competition for the Mariners fifth starter spot, it was his day to throw, and with no major league game they had him pitch the Triple-A game instead.

In front of a crowd which included most of the Mariners front office and manager Scott Servais, Paxton pitched five innings and allowed two runs – both solo home runs by left-handed minor league hitters. It’s worth noting that the wind was strongly blowing out at Field 1, making it a bit of a launching pad (the Rainiers hit a pair of home runs, too).

The Rainiers lineup featured some players who will be with the team in two weeks, and others who will not. Since there are still over 40 players in big league camp, we can’t get an accurate picture of the Tacoma roster just yet. Here’s how they started on Tuesday:

  1. Guillermo Heredia – CF
  2. Dario Pizzano – LF
  3. Tyler O’Neill – RF
  4. Mike Zunino – C
  5. Ed Lucas – 3B
  6. Steve Lerud – DH
  7. Tyler Smith – SS
  8. Daniel Paolini – 1B
  9. Tim Lopes – 2B

Managing this crew was Daren Brown, which was a bit of a surprise. Pat Listach is still helping in big league camp and will continue to do so until the end of the week, when he’ll move over to the minor league side and take command of his team. Brown – the former Rainiers manager – is the Double-A Jackson skipper this year, but for now he’s handling the Triple-A team in spring training.

Confusing, eh?

The Charlotte/White Sox starting pitcher was left-hander Nik Turley, who has a bunch of Triple-A experience. The Rainiers got to him with extra-base hits.

In the second inning, Zunino drew a leadoff walk, Lerud singled, and Tyler Smith hit an RBI double. Paolini grounded out to drive in a second run.

In the third, Heredia reached on a bunt single before O’Neill hit a long two-run homer to right-center. Shortly afterwards, Lucas pulled a solo dinger to left field and the Rainiers were up 5-0.

Tacoma would go on to win the game, 6-3.

Some observations:

  • Guillermo Heredia played well. The just-signed Cuban outfielder reached base with two walks and the bunt single, in four plate appearances. Not sure if he’s going to Double-A or Tacoma, but upon first glance he looks like a player.
  • Mike Zunino had two good at-bats. He drew a walk, and had a sac fly with a runner on third and one out.
  • Dario Pizzano went 1-for-4, but his hit was a well-executed hit and run single through the right side. Playing left field, he threw out a runner who was trying to stretch a single into a double.
  • Tyler O’Neill will not be in Tacoma this year, but he is a player to watch. Last year – at age 20 in the California League – he hit 32 home runs. He also struck out one out of every three at-bats. Tuesday, he went 1-for-4 with a homer and two strikeouts.
  • Left-hander Paul Fry relieved Paxton and worked a scoreless sixth inning, striking out two. The second strikeout came against a left-handed hitter who didn’t appear to have a chance.
  • Ryne Harper followed, and he showed an impressive breaking ball while striking out a pair during a 1-2-3 inning.
  • Forrest Snow pitched a scoreless eighth inning. He told me he’s been working in relief this spring but is expected to fill his usual swing-man role. He also said that the new Mariners regime is already putting more emphasis on winning in the minors than in the past.
  • Matt Anderson finished the game, allowing an unearned run after a rather egregious error behind him (the error was by a young, non-Rainiers player so we’ll give the kid a break). Anderson came up to Tacoma from Double-A at the very end of the 2015 season and he could pitch his way onto the Rainiers roster this year.
  • On the adjacent field in the Double-A game, Jordan Pries started and pitched two innings. He was injured for a good chunk of 2015, so it’s nice to see him healthy and in action. He was a key figure for the Rainiers in 2014.

On Wednesday the Rainiers play a day game over in Surprise, against Omaha (Kansas City Royals). I’ll attend that one, then swing by the major league night game against the Diamondbacks. A day/night doubleheader.

Links:

  • Here’s a check-up to see how the Mariners efforts to “control the zone” are working. Remember this, though: spring training statistics have been proven to be non-predictive.
  • The Times has a full report on Paxton’s start in the Triple-A game yesterday.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma faced the Dodgers and his friend Kenta Maeda on Monday afternoon. The Mariners prevailed, 6-3.
  • Oh no! The Salt Lake Bees major league exhibition game with the Angels got snowed out.

I’ll have a new post for you on Thursday morning with details from the day/night doubleheader.

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