Rainiers Power Up Against Chihuahuas

March 29, 2017

In a rematch of the Pacific Conference Finals from last September, Tacoma faced El Paso today on Field 3 of the Peoria Sports Complex.

Unlike the PCL playoff series which ended with an El Paso victory, today’s game ended in a 3-3 tie. As we’ve been saying all week: hey, its spring training.

Tacoma did hit a couple of homers, and there was an impressive pitching performance. Quick hits from today’s game:

  • Tacoma scored first, when Boog Powell lifted a solo home run against El Paso starter Cesar Vargas. Powell continues to have an excellent spring training – he had three hits today.
  • The Rainiers added another run in the inning: Dan Vogelbach singled to the opposite field, and scored all the way from first base when D.J. Peterson‘s single to left-center was misplayed by El Paso’s centerfielder.
  • Tall right-hander Max Povse started for Tacoma, working 4.2 innings and allowing two runs. He was facing something that looked like El Paso’s opening day lineup – basically the same guys who were with the Chihuahuas in the playoffs last year, minus Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Austin Hedges.
  • Povse was around the plate with his pitches and had a good pace on the mound. He is quite tall – 6-foot-8 – and has a high release point which gives him a downward angle towards home plate. He’ll probably start the year at Double-A Arkansas and join Tacoma later on.
  • Povse was pulled with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning, and lefty reliever Paul Paez got out of that jam and worked a scoreless sixth inning. Paez was a Minor League Rule 5 draft pick from the Mets organization, where he finished the 2016 season at Double-A Binghampton.
  • Vogelbach connected for a line drive homer in the sixth inning against reliever Mike Dimock. Vogelbach made sharp contact in all three games I watched this week.
  • D.J. Peterson played third base and handled the couple of grounders that were hit his way. Manager Pat Listach said Peterson will play first base, third base, and corner outfield – he’s been working with outfield instructor Brant Brown during camp.
  • Ryne Harper and Ryan Horstman finished up the pitching for Tacoma. Both have pitched in Double-A but never in Triple-A before. Harper had an easy 1-2-3 inning, while Horstman issued some walks over two innings.

We’re just four days away from the Tacoma club breaking camp and flying north, and there are still many questions about who will make the final roster. Today’s injury news (see below) is going to have a trickle-down throughout the organization, and there are still a ton of relievers in camp. The position players are an easier guess right now.

The final members of the opening day roster are going to fly to Tacoma on Sunday, have a few days to find housing and settle in, get moved into Cheney Stadium, and then travel to Sacramento for the start of the PCL season next Thursday.

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Strange Things Happen In Spring Training: The Walk-Off That Wasn’t

March 28, 2017

Tacoma played Round Rock today in a Triple-A exhibition game. The game was played at the Texas Rangers complex in Surprise, so the Rainiers were the visiting team and batted first.

All of which made Dario Pizzano‘s walk-off three-run homer in the top of the tenth inning rather unusual. It got even weirder when two more batters came to the plate afterwards.

Here’s what happened:

Before the game, Round Rock/Texas told the Rainiers that they had ten innings worth of pitching they wanted to use. The Rainiers, however, had only brought enough pitchers to cover nine innings.

So it was agreed that after the bottom of the ninth inning, no matter what the score was, Tacoma would bat in the top of the tenth – and then the game was over.

We reached the end of the ninth and Round Rock had a 7-4 lead.

The trotted out their new, tenth inning pitcher, as expected, and the Rainiers went to work. Brayan Hernandez led off and reached on an error. Tyler O’Neill singled sharply to left field. Dan Vogelbach drew a walk, loading the bases. Joe Rizzo hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring a run and making the first out of the inning. It was 7-5.

Up came Pizzano, and he lined a three-run homer to the right field corner to give Tacoma the 8-7 win.

Game over? Nope! The Rangers pitching prospect faced two more Rainiers batters before the day’s events came to an end.

Manager Pat Listach said “I guess we walked them off,” then looked at me and added “don’t tell anybody we got an extra inning to bat in!” Sorry, Pat.

Notes from today:

  • D.J. Peterson homered again – his second in as many days. He pulled a liner to left off Round Rock starter Ariel Jurado, who is considered to be a pretty good prospect.
  • Tyler O’Neill also went deep off Jurado. His homer was more of a fly ball to left center, and it was a bit of a wall-scraper as it just cleared the 365-foot marker. O’Neill had two hits on the day, but he also had trouble with the sun in right field on a catchable fly ball to the track that fell in for a double.
  • Tacoma started Christian Bergman on the mound, and he went four innings without allowing a run. He worked in the upper-80s with his fastball, but had an assortment of sliders and cutters which produced a bunch of infield grounders.
  • Round Rock tied it in the fifth inning against Rainiers reliever Jean Machi when a two-out error proceeded a two-run homer.
  • Dan Vogelbach doubled in a run in the sixth against Jurado. He had a couple of hard-hit balls today. It was interesting to note that even in minor league spring training games, both Omaha yesterday and Round Rock today played extreme defensive shifts against Vogelbach. Vogelbach DH’d today while D.J. handled first – I suspect we’ll see them share the positions for Tacoma in April.
  • The Rainiers pitchers for the final four innings were left-handers Kyle Hunter and Zac Collins. Hunter went two frames, allowing a run when a routine fly ball to center was lost in the sun. Collins also went two innings, allowing four runs.
  • The left side of the Rainiers infield was patrolled by teenagers for the second day in a row, as regular Tacoma infielders Tyler Smith and Mike Freeman are still in major league camp. Of note, an 18-year-old shortstop named Osmy Gregorio showed smooth skills with the glove and a strong arm.
  • Got my first look at Thyago Vieira, who pitched in the Double-A game at a neighboring field. A scout friend had Vieira’s fastball from 96 to 99 mph, and I saw two impressive breaking balls. His command was inconsistent, which is why he’s in Double-A right now.

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News From Rainiers Spring Training

March 27, 2017

I flew down to Arizona on Monday morning and took in a Rainiers exhibition game on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex. We’ll get to that in a minute – but first we need to cover the latest roster moves from over the weekend, to get up to speed.

There are some surprises here – the kind that strengthen the Rainiers.

Optioned to Tacoma:

  • 1B Dan Vogelbach
  • LHP Ariel Miranda
  • RHP Chris Heston

Reassigned to Minor League Camp:

  • RHP Cody Martin
  • RHP Jean Machi
  • LHP Nick Hagadone
  • C Sebastian Valle

The big surprises here are Vogelbach and Miranda.

Vogelbach was struggling to make contact in Cactus League play, striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances. The Mariners current leadership doesn’t like strikeouts very much, and they want to see Vogelbach put the ball in play more often. He’ll work on that in Tacoma.

Miranda was sent down because the Mariners want him to continue to work as a starting pitcher. There was an opportunity for him to make the big league club as a reliever, but the team would rather have more starting rotation depth at this point in time. Miranda will slot into the Tacoma starting rotation.

Heston and Martin are also expected to be in the Tacoma rotation, Machi and Hagadone are relievers. Valle is probably ticketed for Double-A.

Due to my travel schedule I got to the complex at 12:45 – just 15 minutes before the Triple-A game started. I had to pick up a credential and literally swipe a 2017 Mariners Media guide from the PR office (the office was empty; I grabbed a book and turned myself in to the authorities later). Said hello to a few friendly faces on the Mariners staff and walked out to Field 3, where Tacoma was playing Omaha (KC Royals).

Approaching the field I saw Rainiers starter Chris Heston get two quick ground outs. As I sat on the aluminum bleacher, a sharp grounder was pulled to the right side – and Zach Shank made a diving stop and threw out the batter at first to end the inning. Still doing it, the Shankster. It’s like there was no off-season.

Normally I would share the Rainiers starting lineup right now, except… well… stay with me on this.

Mariners outfielder Jarrod Dyson is nursing a minor hamstring issue, and he had missed the last few days. Feeling well enough to play, Dyson spent his afternoon on the minor league fields – leading off each of the first five innings of the Triple-A game for Tacoma, while also getting five additional at-bats in the Double-A game which was being played on an adjacent field.

Needless to say, this rendered the Rainiers lineup card inconsequential. In fact, every time Dyson got a hit (he went 3-for-5 for Tacoma), Class-A outfielder and top prospect Brayan Hernandez pinch-ran for him*.

So things were weird right out of the gate.

Some guys who were in there throughout the game:

Dan Vogelbach played first base. He does look like he has slimmed down a bit from the end of last season. He had one extra base hit, pulling a hard double inside the first base bag. He was also hit by a pitch once, and stayed in the game. His body language was good right after being sent down to AAA, so that’s a positive sign.

D.J. Peterson was in there – must have been the DH. He had Tacoma’s top highlight, a two-run homer pulled to left field in the second inning. He drilled a fastball from well-regarded Royals pitching prospect Josh Staumont.

Some other familiar faces started: Steve Baron caught all nine innings – great to see that he is healthy. James Ramsey and Boog Powell were in the outfield, and Shank was at second base.

There were some young kids from Class-A filling out the lineup. The M’s still have lots of Rainiers players in major league camp – about half of Tacoma’s team.

Got my first look at top prospect Tyler O’Neill, who we expect to see in Tacoma on opening day after winning the Double-A Southern League MVP Award in 2016. My impressions? Let’s hold off here. He didn’t really do anything today, going 0-for-3 with a strikeout, fly out, and a ground out. I should get to see him play two more games while I’m down here.

On the pitching side, Heston went four innings and allowed only one run that I noticed. Remember: no scoreboard in minor league spring training games, and I got sidetracked by conversation a lot. But I saw one run score against him in the third inning, without any hard-hit balls. I pretty much missed the entire fourth inning while getting caught up with Shane The Rainiers Outstanding Clubbie With The Long Last Name I Can’t Spell.

Paul Fry worked two innings and allowed some ground ball singles in his second inning of work. Fry was terrific in the final two months of the 2016 season and I’m excited to see if he can carry that over to the new campaign.

The pride of Sumner Nick Hagadone retired all three batters he faced in the seventh inning, striking out two. His comeback bid will be a fun early season storyline.

Omaha scored multiple runs in the eighth against Ryan Weber, and the Storm Chasers eventually won the game either 5-3 or 6-3. I’m glad none of you come here for the accurate reporting.

Emilio Pagan worked around a pair of singles in the ninth, notching three strikeouts. Like Fry, Pagan is a young reliever who had periods of success in his first shot at Triple-A last year.

A few notes:

  • Manager Pat Listach currently has hair. Haven’t seen that before – except on old baseball cards fans send him to sign. We’ll see if he shaves it for opening day.
  • It was Listach’s first day in Triple-A. He had been helping the major league staff all spring until Monday.
  • Speaking of hair, Pagan pitched for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and they all dyed their hair blonde. Pagan is sticking with the look for now.
  • I sat with Sam Gaviglio for an inning, as he did not pitch today. Pitchers not scheduled to throw in games usually linger around watching the game from the bleachers for 4 or 5 innings before heading to the locker room (saw Cody Martin too, but didn’t get a chance to talk to him yet). Gaviglio had a great time in the WBC pitching for Italy, highlighted by a terrific outing against the stacked Venezuela lineup. He’s competing to make the Rainiers rotation; he gave the team a big lift down the stretch last year.

On Tuesday Tacoma plays Round Rock in Surprise! I’ll have a report for you in the evening, probably around 5 or 6 o’clock.

We have had a late change to Tacoma’s coaching staff.

The Mariners added a fourth staff member to each of its minor league affiliates this year, to “improve the student-teacher ratio” in the words of farm director Andy McKay. An excellent idea, in my opinion.

Former major league stolen base expert Brian Hunter was originally named the Rainiers fourth coach, but today the team announced that Hunter is being reassigned, and instead former major league infielder Denny Hocking will be on the Rainiers staff.

Hocking has been a major league player, minor league manager, and minor league coach. He also once hosted a baseball talk radio show – he’s done it all!

Hocking was at the Triple-A game today, sitting with Listach, pitching coach Lance Painter, and new hitting coach Dave Berg.

Links:

* I jokingly asked Listach how he expected to win if he kept pinch-running for the fastest player in the organization. Spring training can be silly.


Upcoming Plans & Latest Mariners Links

March 23, 2017

We’re down to the last ten days or so of spring training, and the Mariners opening day roster is starting to take form.

With the end of the World Baseball Classic yesterday (wooooo USA!), teams will have all of their player back in camp and the final steps will be taken to pare down big league rosters.

Seattle had an unexpected development this week, with utility infielder Shawn O’Malley suddenly needing an appendectomy. He’s OK, but it is unknown how quickly he’ll return to peak performance.

This may clear the path for Tyler Motter to be the utility man to open the season, with the Mariners then carrying an eight-man bullpen. More on this in the links below.

Meanwhile the Rainiers roster will take shape.

I’ll be in Peoria watching Rainiers spring training early next week, and activity on this blog is going to pick up. You can expect daily posts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in the late afternoon after I get back from watching the Triple-A exhibition games.

Then we’ll be just days away from the start of the Mariners season, and a week out from the Rainiers.

So, lots coming up – including the free Rainiers Pre-Season Party this Saturday from 1:00 to 4:00 at Cheney Stadium. Don’t miss it.

Links:


M’s Trim Roster; Let’s Party This Weekend

March 20, 2017

The Mariners made six more spring training roster moves over the weekend, dropping the number of players in major league camp down to 45. Here are the moves:

Reassigned to Minor League Camp:

  • RHP Christian Bergman
  • RHP Andrew Moore
  • RHP Max Povse
  • RHP Ryan Weber
  • C Steve Baron
  • OF Tyler O’Neill

Three of these players are the organization’s top prospects: O’Neill, Moore, and Povse. None of them had a chance to make the opening day roster, but they received some valuable big league spring training experience. Now they’ll gear up for their minor league seasons.

We expect O’Neill to patrol right field at Cheney Stadium this year. Right now I’m thinking Moore and Povse open the season in the Double-A Arkansas rotation, with chances for mid-season promotions to Tacoma. That’s not based on any inside information or anything – it just looks like the Mariners have more experienced pitchers to place in the Tacoma rotation at the start of the season.

Bergman has pitched in 55 major league games, including 15 starts. He also has a track record of success in the PCL. He’s much more likely to begin the season with the Rainiers.

Weber has been pitching from the bullpen. He has major league experience and he’s another possibility for Tacoma.

Baron finds himself in the swell of upper-level catchers, a group which includes Tuffy Gosewisch, Nevin Ashley, Sebastien Valle, and Marcus Littlewood. We’ll have to wait and see how that all gets sorted out.

Make some plans for the weekend: the Rainiers are hosting their annual Pre-Season Party on Saturday at Cheney Stadium.

It’s an open house, free entry and free parking.

There will be ballpark tours, our concessionaire Ivar’s will have some free food samples, the kid’s play area will be open (note: it’s almost always open), and the Mariners spring training game will be on the video board.

Hours are 1:00 to 4:00 pm.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: those of you who are season ticketholders can pick up your tickets at the party.

See you Saturday!

Links:


Links Round-Up

March 16, 2017

We have lots of links for you today, catching up on the last couple of days of spring training.

Hopefully you got a chance to watch the World Baseball Classic game last night between the USA and Venezuela. It was a Mariners and ex-Rainiers special, with Felix Hernandez squaring off against Drew Smyly and Adam Jones.

Felix looked great, going five scoreless innings allowing just three singles. Most importantly, he did not walk anybody – something to keep an eye on all year as he transitions to more of a finesse pitcher.

Smyly was also impressive against a Venezuela lineup which looks like a major league all-star team. He was on a strict 60-pitch limit and was impressive throughout it.

And then there was the former Rainiers outfielder Jones, who tied the game with an eighth inning homer – his second crucial, clutch hit for the US in the tournament. The US eventually won it, 4-2.

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M’s Make First “Cuts” Of Spring

March 13, 2017

It’s just about mid-March, and the Mariners feel comfortable enough to start trimming their major league spring training roster. Nine players were shifted to minor league camp this morning, and another was traded.

Our annual reminder on the terminology: during spring training, a player who is on the Mariners 40-man roster and is cut is “optioned to” the minor league team that he is expected to open the season with. A player who is not on the 40-man roster and is cut is “reassigned to minor league camp,” with his minor league team determined later.

Here are today’s moves:

Optioned to Triple-A Tacoma:

  • LHP Paul Fry
  • INF D.J. Peterson

Optioned to Double-A Arkansas:

  • RHP Thyago Vieira
  • LHP Zac Curtis

Reassigned to Minor League Camp:

  • C Marcus Littlewood
  • C Tyler Marlette
  • OF Kyle Waldrop
  • RHP Peter Tago
  • RHP Dylan Unsworth

No surprises in this first group. By getting moved to minor league camp, these nine players will get more opportunity to play in spring games on the minor league side of the complex, and get better prepared for the upcoming season.

The Mariners still have 53 players in major league camp, and they will open the season with 25 on the roster.

It had been a few days and Dealin’ Dipoto’s trigger finger was getting itchy, so he made a trade.

The Mariners sent switch-pitcher and (former) likely Rainiers reliever Pat Venditte to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Double-A outfielder Joey Curletta.

I see this as a space-clearing move. There are far too many Triple-A-or-better relievers in camp, and this move cleared one out while adding to the outfield depth.

We’ll miss out on the fun of seeing a switch-pitcher this year. At least we got to see it a bit last season.

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