It’s Opening Day In The Majors

March 29, 2018

Hey, it’s opening day!

In the majors.

We still have a week to wait in the minors. The MLB and MiLB schedules are mismatched this year, for the first time that I can remember. This will be particularly stark at the all-star breaks, which are not at the same time.

The Mariners open at home and host Cleveland tonight at 7. It’s a nationally televised game on ESPN or you can watch our local broadcast on Root.

Seattle set its opening day roster yesterday. You can see it right here.

The final decision hinged on whether Ichiro was ready to play or not. He’s OK, so Taylor Motter was optioned to Tacoma, and Kirk Niewenhuis was re-assigned to minor league camp. We should have both on the team next week.

We had some other important news regarding our veteran team.

Gordon Beckham is back. After having an excellent performance in the Cactus League, Beckham opted out of his contract on March 24 to see if he might get a better shot at a big league job elsewhere (since the Mariners infield is set). A couple of days later he re-signed a minor league deal with the Mariners, who clearly still like him, and Beckham will open the season with the Rainiers.

Outfielder Ben Gamel may be rehabilitating with Tacoma right out of the gate. Reportedly he is about ready to start playing in games. He’s going to work out with the Rainiers at Cheney next week while the Mariners are on the road, and then will be activated for a rehab assignment when he is ready – which could be very soon.

And then there is Jayson Werth. Yes, Jayson Werth. The Mariners signed the former Phillies and Nationals star to a minor league contract earlier this week. Now 38-years-old, Werth has not been playing this month so he’ll need some time in extended spring training before he comes to Tacoma.

Werth is interesting. He’s made millions in the game and is obviously not doing this for the money. He must have a tremendous desire to continue playing. He is from a baseball family: his father Dennis played for the 1978 Tacoma Yankees and helped win a PCL Championship for our city.

At this point it is not known how long it will be before Werth joins the Rainiers.

Lots of opening day links – you can read stuff all day until first pitch. Here we go:

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Mariners Roster Nearly Settled

March 26, 2018

Seattle made a number of roster moves over the weekend, trimming the group down to what is nearly the 25-man opening day team.

Congratulations are in order for former Rainiers first baseman Dan Vogelbach, who was told he has made the team. Vogelbach appeared to have a very slim chance of cracking the roster when spring training began, but he had great at-bats, produce offense, and showed improved defense to earn a spot. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to play in some games.

Vogelbach making the big club makes it appear that local product and Triple-A veteran Matt Hague will be the Rainiers regular first baseman. The other first baseman in camp, Rule 5 pick Mike Ford, was returned to the New York Yankees in compliance with the Rule 5 draft stipulations.

The Mariners released veteran infielder Gordon Beckham on Friday. Beckham had an “out” in his contract: if he wasn’t on the major league roster by March 24, he could declare free agency. Beckham had an excellent spring but there was no room on the major league roster, so he’ll try to latch on with another club. This hurts the Rainiers, who would have benefitted from Beckham’s veteran presence.

Additional moves:

OPTIONED TO TACOMA

  • Left-Handed Pitcher: Ariel Miranda
  • Right-Handed Pitcher: Chasen Bradford

RE-ASSIGNED TO MINOR LEAGUE CAMP

  • Catcher: Tuffy Gosewisch
  • Infielder: Zach Vincej
  • Right-Handed Pitchers: Christian Bergman, Ryan Cook

Miranda, it appears, is the Mariners No. 5 starter. Seattle won’t need a fifth starter until at least April 11th, so we should get at least one Miranda start in Tacoma.

Bergman will go into the Tacoma starting rotation, and seems like a candidate for the opening day slot along with Miranda and Rob Whalen.

It looks like Casey Lawrence has made the M’s roster as a long reliever, although that is not yet official. They need to add him to the 40-man; when they do that he’s on the team.

One final area of concern is the health of Ichiro Suzuki, who has had a calf problem. He has a couple days left to see if he’ll be ready for Thursday’s opener.

A Rainiers related look at the last few Cactus League games:

On Friday the Mariners and White Sox played to a 5-5 tie. Dan Vogelbach hit another home run – his sixth of the spring. Kirk Nieuwenhuis also hit a homer, and Danny Muno had a two-run double. Erik Goeddel pitched 1.1 scoreless innings from the bullpen.

Saturday saw Felix Hernandez return to the mound and pitch well in a 7-3 win over the Chicago Cubs. This game was played almost entirely by the players who will make the Mariners opening day roster, as we are near the end of the exhibition schedule.

Sunday the Mariners out-slugged the Padres, 11-7. Rainiers catcher Tuffy Gosewisch hit a double and drove in a pair of runs. Puyallup High School product Scott Kuzminsky retired the only two batters he faced in relief.

We should be getting a tentative Rainiers opening day roster early this seaon. The Mariners start a full week ahead of the Rainiers on March 29, and the Rainiers are only staying in Arizona for one extra day before coming to Tacoma this weekend. They’ll work out at Cheney Stadium for a few days (weather permitting) prior to the season opener on April 5.

Links:

 


Final Dispatch From Arizona

March 23, 2018

For the third and final day of my spring training trip, we’re going to recap the proceedings bullet-point style. This is because I’m short on time, on my way to the airport right now.

  • The Rainiers hosted Colorado Springs / Milwaukee Brewers at the Peoria Sports Complex on Thursday.
  • The lineup included players who had been in there the previous two days: Ian Miller, Braden Bishop, Cam Perkins, Junior Lake, shortstop Chris Mariscal, and catcher John Odom. For the first time this week, Zach Shank was in the lineup starting at third base. Matt Hague and Danny Muno also got into the game later on.
  • Mitch Haniger was getting some swings in. He hit in most innings, batting either second or third. He grounded out a bunch of times but had a bloop single in the seventh.
  • Ian Miller showed his speed in the outfield, making a catch in deep left after a long run. I didn’t see him get a hit today, but I should note that he had a couple of hard-hit singles in Wednesday’s game which I forgot to mention in the previous blog.
  • Braden Bishop connected for a two-run homer in the third inning. He pulled a pitch from Sky Sox starter Bubba Derby over the left field fence.
  • Tacoma started left-hander Anthony Misiewicz, who pitched in Double-A last year. He got roughed up in the first inning but settled down the next couple of innings. Apparently, but not confirmed, that name is pronounced “mi-shev-itch”
  • Mike Morin followed from the bullpen, pitching scoreless ball through the fifth. Puyallup High School product Scott Kuzminsky tossed a scoreless sixth inning; a scout told me he was 90-92 mph on the fastball.
  • Cam Perkins hit a grounder down the third base line in the fourth inning that I thought the third baseman was going to field. But he didn’t, in fact he didn’t even touch the ball, which rolled all the way down the foul line to the left field fence, and by the time the Sky Sox left fielder tracked it down Perkins had himself an unexpected triple.
  • Triple-A veteran and Twitter character Tim Dillard pitched in relief for the Sky Sox. I’m already planning on interviewing him for the pregame show if he is with the Sky Sox when they visit Tacoma.
  • Rainiers manager Pat Listach stopped by and watched an inning or two before he had to return to major league camp, where he is still helping the big league staff. He said he discusses the team every day with Daren Brown, who has been acting as Rainiers manager during these spring training games.
  • Celebrities in the crowd included Tacoma Rainiers clubhouse manager Shane Hickenbottom.

There are still lots of questions to be answered about the final Tacoma roster. They have about ten days to make final decisions before the team flies north and gets ready for our opener on April 5.

In the major league exhibition game on Thursday night, the Mariners had a thrilling win. down 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth against the Texas Rangers, Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit a game-tying home run, and three batters later Mike Ford hit a walk-off RBI double. Earlier in the game Taylor Motter launched a homer.

Links:


Who’s Pitching? Surprise!

March 22, 2018

On Wednesday your brave blogger battled over 25 traffic lights along Bell Road in order to witness a Tacoma Rainiers vs Omaha Storm Chasers exhibition game at the Kansas City Royals minor league complex in Surprise. We were rewarded with a trio of homers, an Alex Liddi sighting, a rare double play, and a funny moment.

Fewer Triple-A players appeared in Wednesday’s game as compared to Tuesday’s, probably because it was an away game. Most of them played all nine innings.

Outfielder John Andreoli, catcher David Freitas, and outfielder Junior Lake each hit home runs. Lake’s was an opposite-field shot off established Kansas City Royals reliever Kelvin Herrera.

Lake and Andreoli are in the big outfield group as we enter the final ten days of minor league spring training. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ian Miller, Cam Perkins, Andrew Aplin, Braden Bishop, Chuck Taylor, and Dario Pizzano each can make an argument they should be in Triple-A to start the season, and the Rainiers aren’t going to carry nine outfielders. It will be either four or five. Something’s gotta give with this situation.

Omaha had former Tacoma Rainiers and Seattle Mariners third baseman Alex Liddi in its lineup. Liddi hit .259 with 30 home runs and 104 RBI for Tacoma in 2011, making his major league debut that September. He bounced between Tacoma and Seattle in 2012 and 2013 before moving on to the Orioles and Dodgers organizations. He played for the Royals at the Double-A level in 2015, then spent the last two seasons in the Mexican League. Now the native of Italy is back with the Royals at age 29, hoping to secure a spot on the Triple-A Omaha roster.

There was a rare strike-em-out, throw-em-out-trying-to-steal-home double play in the eighth inning. With runners at the corners and two strikes on the batter, the runner at first took off on the pitch. The batter swung and missed for strike three, and catcher David Freitas threw down to second. Second baseman Danny Muno received the throw, the runner at third broke towards home plate, and Muno fired back to Freitas who tagged him out. Score that play K CS 2-4-2 DP.

Several pitchers who aren’t necessarily tabbed for Triple-A pitched for Tacoma. Left-hander Spencer Herrman started and worked the first three innings, and then 2017 draft pick Seth Elledge pitched the fourth inning.

We got to the fifth and Tacoma sent a new pitcher to the mound, a lefty with the name Rodgers on the back of his uniform.

I look at the Mariners media guide – no Rodgers. I check the printed minor league roster they hand out at the front desk in the Peoria office. No Rodgers.

After walking to the gate by the dugout, I look at manager Daren Brown and wave him over.

“Who is Rodgers?” I quietly ask.

“I don’t know,” says Brown. “They just told me to pitch him. Two innings.”

Hitting coach Roy Howell is sitting there, laughing. “It’s Rodgers,” he says like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.

Double-A pitching coach Ethan Katz is walking our direction.

“Ask Ethan,” says Brown. “He’s the pitching coach.”

Katz moves right in front of us.

“Who is pitching?” I ask Ethan, whom I have never met. “He’s not in the book or on the roster.”

Katz looks up and says “Rodgers.”

“What’s his first name?”

Silence.

“Rodgers. We just picked him up from these guys yesterday,” Katz said, pointing in the general direction of some Royals players.

“He came to the field and went to the wrong dugout,” Brown chirps. “So I put him in the game.”

Rodgers retired six of the seven batters he faced over two scoreless innings, immediately making himself known.

After getting back from the game, I was able to do some sleuthing. Colin Rodgers pitched at Advanced-A in the Royals system the last two years, and he’s a 23-year-old left-hander.

Later last night I found out that Rodgers was one of four Class-A or Double-A pitchers the Mariners acquired from the Royals on Tuesday. Apparently the Royals had too many guys to fill out their lower-level pitching staffs, and the Mariners had a real shortage of arms, so the teams worked out a deal.

The Mariners added a relief pitcher to the Tacoma mix, claiming left-hander Dario Alvarez off waivers from the Chicago Cubs and optioning him to Tacoma.

Alvarez has pitched in 56 major league games for three different teams, most recently the Texas Rangers last year. He has limited PCL experience with Las Vegas and Round Rock.

There was quite a show in the major league exhibition game last night: Mike Zunino homered in each of his first three at-bats. He had a chance for a fourth one, but was held to a single. The Mariners beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-4.

Links:

Today is my last full day in Arizona. My goal is to watch the Triple-A game, then try to track down Rainiers manager Pat Listach who is still in big league camp, along with the rest of the Rainiers coaching staff.


Cano Crashes Rainiers Spring Training Game

March 21, 2018

The first day of the annual spring training trip was a great success. Sunny skies, about 75 degrees, arrived in time to hit the In ‘N’ Out before the Tacoma Rainiers faced the El Paso Chihuahuas on the backfields of the Peoria Sports Complex.

In minor league spring training games, the rules can get a little foggy. Yes, there is a real opponent, and there are umpires, but… well, substitution rules are completely lax, a player recovering from injury might bat in every inning, and often innings are ended before there are three outs.

Tuesday’s version of the Tacoma Rainiers included a couple of major league players, several guys we’re likely to see at Cheney Stadium on April 5th, and a handful of lower-level Mariners minor leaguers.

Ariel Miranda started on the mound and worked the first two innings, allowing one run. Miranda is still in big league camp and may make the Mariners opening day roster. Apparently he needed to get a couple of innings in, because there he was pitching in the Triple-A game out back.

The Rainiers big ringer was Mariner star Robinson Cano. Cano is shaking off a tight hamstring and was cleared to hit today. And hit he did: Cano batted third in every inning, taking a total of eight at-bats. He went 2-for-8 over the game, getting a pair of line drive singles off San Diego Padres left-handed pitching prospect Eric Lauer. Cano made contact in every at-bats – in fact, I don’t believe he swung-and-missed a single time in eight plate appearances. One thing Cano did not do was run: each time he reached base, Ian Miller immediately pinch-ran for him.

The Rainiers were managed by Double-A Arkansas skipper and old pal Daren Brown. Pat Listach is still helping the Mariners coaching staff in big league camp, so Brown is temporarily running the Triple-A team during exhibition games. Brown told me he’s intentionally screwing up the Rainiers by practicing nothing but bunt plays and suicide squeezes. He was joking. I hope.

Tacoma’s starting nine was: Braden Bishop, Andrew Aplin, Cam Perkins, Junior Lake, Danny Muno, Joey Curletta, Joe DeCarlo, Adam Law, and Chris Mariscal. In the later innings we saw David Freitas, Matt Hague, Chuck Taylor, and John Odom.

Some notes from the game:

Bishop hit leadoff and reached three times, with two singles and a walk. A very nice showing for the UW product. The Mariners have a Triple-A outfield logjam and with just 31 games of Double-A experience under his belt, Bishop still appears ticketed for Arkansas to start the season. We’ll see him in Tacoma eventually.

Left-hand swinging Andrew Aplin pulled a double into the right-center alley to drive in a run in the third inning, and the hit came off a left-handed pitcher. We never really saw Aplin at full strength in 2017; he’s certainly in the outfield mix as camp winds down.

Cam Perkins has the look of a player who might put up some big numbers in the PCL. He’s had good numbers in the pitcher-friendly International League; can’t help but think the offensive environment of the PCL might be something he’s going to enjoy. He pulled a sharp double down the left field line in the sixth. Someone told me he’s a huge Purdue basketball fan so he’s probably feeling good about everything right now.

Muno was doing his thing, drawing a walk and hitting an RBI single through the middle. I’ll try to catch up with him today and find out what position he’s been focusing on this spring.

Got my first look at Chuck Taylor, and he delivered in his only at-bat by fighting off a tough pitch and dumping a two-out RBI single into left-center in the eighth inning. Taylor tore up the Texas League for three months last year, tapered off down the stretch, and then re-ignited in the Venezuelan Winter League where he hit .333 in over 200 at-bats. He’s never played in a Triple-A game before, but he has earned a chance.

Andrew Moore pitched four-plus innings and did not have his best stuff or command. He gave up a bunch of singles and Padres top prospect Luis Urias had a two-run triple. Two innings were “rolled” before three outs were recorded – I think he was on a 20-pitch per inning limit.

Reliever Shawn Armstrong looked solid in the seventh inning, getting a double play ball to escape an inherited jam, before walking a couple of guys but escaping the eighth.

El Paso starter Eric Lauer didn’t just pitch the first four innings… he actually batted twice. It was weird seeing a pitcher bat twice in a no-rules exhibition game, but the Padres play N.L. ball and he needed to get some hitting practice.

Two Chihuahuas of note: former St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig is attempting a comeback; he reached base a couple of times. El Paso also has former Rainiers and Mariners corner man Cole Gillespie, who played in the Mexican League last summer.

On the major league side, the Mariners had an offday on Tuesday.

Monday saw the Mariners lose to the Angels, 8-4. Dan Vogelbach hit another homer, and Danny Muno came off the bench and tripled. Christian Bergman started and went 4.1 innings, allowing for runs but only one was earned.

Roster moves:

Optioned To Tacoma

Right-handed Pitcher: Rob Whalen

Whalen still has a chance to be the Mariners fifth starter. They don’t actually need a No. 5 starter until mid-April, due to off days on the schedule.

Also, the Mariners signed veteran PCL right-handed reliever Erik Goeddel to a minor league contract. Goeddel has pitched in 98 games for Las Vegas since 2014, getting numerous calls to the majors with the Mets during that time. He has a career 3.96 ERA in 110 major league games, and a 5.39 ERA in the PCL (reminder: Las Vegas is a launching pad). Goeddel is a product of the UCLA baseball program. We’ll pencil him into the Tacoma bullpen.

Links:

Today the Rainiers play Omaha at the Kansas City Royals complex in Surprise! Check back for a report tomorrow.


Rainiers Round-Up; We’re Off To Arizona

March 19, 2018

We have a big week ahead here on the blog, as I make my annual spring training trip. I’ll be watching the minor league games, checking out some of the new players in the organization who could be Rainiers on April 5.

You can expect reports from three days of Triple-A action on the back fields of the Peoria Sports Complex. The first report will go up either early Tuesday evening, or late Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, let’s get caught up on everything that happened the past few days.

There have been a few more roster moves:

Optioned To Tacoma

  • Catcher: David Freitas

Reassigned To Minor League Camp

  • Right-handed Pitchers: Shawn Armstrong, Mike Morin, Art Warren
  • Outfielder: John Andreoli

Additionally, left-handed reliever Sam Moll has been lost on waivers to the Toronto Blue Jays. We’ll scratch him off our potential Rainiers roster.

Rainiers related reports from the last few exhibition games:

On Thursday the M’s took down the A’s, 6-2. Taylor Motter hit a grand slam. And while he definitely won’t be with the Rainiers, we should note that Edwin Diaz struck out the side on nine pitches – an “immaculate inning.”

The Mariners edged the Rangers on Friday, 9-7. Dan Vogelbach continued his monstrous spring training, launching a homer (he even hit it off an established major league left-hander in Matt Moore). Rainiers shortstop Zach Vincej also went deep with a solo homer. Kirk Nieuwenhuis returned to action and went 1-for-4.

Saturday the Mariners mutated into split quads and played two games, winning both. A 4-1 victory over the Angels was decided in the ninth inning, when infielder Zach Vincej hit a bases loaded triple to snap a 1-1 tie. Casey Lawrence pitched four scoreless innings and now has a 0.75 ERA on the spring. In the home game against the Angels, Marco Gonzalez and the major league relievers combined on a three-hit shutout in a 7-0 win. The Mariners hit three homers, including another by the red-hot Dan Vogelbach, but Ryon Healy returned to action which makes it hard to see how Vogelbach can crack the opening day roster – this is becoming a story to follow; Vogelbach is forcing his way into the picture.

The less said about Sunday’s 16-3 loss to Cleveland, the better. Rob Whalen started and had his first rough outing of the spring. Eugene Helder – who served as an emergency fill-in for Tacoma a couple of times last year and figures to play at Class-A Clinton this season – got into the late innings and hit a single.

Links:


New Rules For Extra Innings

March 15, 2018

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is on a mission to shorten games and improve pace of play, and Minor League Baseball has been a testing ground for him.

First we installed the pitch clocks, and they worked very well to quicken games – until the umpires stopped enforcing the rules in 2017.

Now we have a new rule for 2018: if a game reaches extra innings, a runner will be placed at second base to start the inning. The runner will be the final batter from the previous inning.

This rule has recently been added in international competition, including last year’s World Baseball Classic.

The initial response to the rule change via social media was overwhelmingly negative. It absolutely infuriates baseball traditionalists; we’re changing a 125-year-old rule here.

There are reasons that it makes sense in the minor leagues.

For one, the player development people with the teams love it. They don’t want to tire out relief pitching prospects with over-worked minor league bullpens, or risk injury when a position player comes in to pitch in the 12th inning.

In recent years, longer extra inning games in the PCL have been decided when teams bring a position player (usually the utility infielder) in to pitch. This typically happens if we reach the 12th or 13th inning.

For purposes of competition, is it better to have a game decided by which team’s utility infielder can walk fewer batters, or by starting innings with a runner at second base and a real pitcher on the mound?

Personally, my biggest concern with the runner at second base rule is that the extra innings strategy will get boring. Bunt the runner to third, intentional walks to set up force outs – essentially, the extra innings will all begin with the bases loaded and one out. Especially the bottom of the extra innings, if the game is still tied.

The new rule puts an end to the marathons. It’s hard to image a game reaching even the 12th inning with a runner at second base to start each frame. The 100-or-so of us who were still in the ballpark at 12:45 AM for the conclusion of the Scott Savastano Game will never see anything like that again.

Will we miss the marathons? I suspect not. It seems that once 11 pm rolls around the ballpark empties out, and when we are still playing at midnight it’s in front of 100-200 diehards. Most people have to go to bed sometime.

One suggestion that was not addressed in the rule change announcement: are we doing this in the playoffs, too? I hope not.

There were additional changes made in regards to pitch clock settings, including limiting pitchers to 15 seconds between offerings when there is nobody on base.

This will only happen if the umpires enforce the pitch clock rules. We’ll find out in April if the umpires are actually going to make the players do this.

Also, we’ll be counting mound visits just like in the majors: six per game, for each team, with a few exceptions.

Here’s the official announcement with the details of the new pace-of-play regulations.

The Rockies beat the Mariners on Tuesday, 8-7. Rob Whalen continued his excellent spring, pitching five innings and allowing one run while striking out nine batters. Gordon Beckham had two of the Mariners 14 hits; he’s hitting .400 in the Cactus League.

Yesterday Mike Marjama homered to help the M’s defeat the Giants, 5-4. Taylor Motter had three hits, and Christian Bergman pitched 2.1 innings.

Big weekend at the ballpark: the first S2 game is Friday, and a good crowd is expected. Then the Rainiers annual Preseason Party is Saturday at Cheney Stadium, starting at 2:30. Come on out!

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