PEORIA, Ariz. – Take an 85-victory season and add a Cy Young Award winner plus a reliever with a 98 mph fastball to an already strong pitching staff, and you have a Seattle Mariners team with great expectations going into spring training.
Pitching coach Rick Adair doesn’t want any of his guys doing that kind of math.
When Adair speaks to the 31 pitchers in camp before their first workout Thursday morning, he’ll make one thing absolutely clear: Nothing the M’s accomplished last year or this offseason gives them a free pass to respect. They must work hard to earn it.
“It’s really easy, with the year we had, to think that with the work we put in and the production we had, that it’s going to be easy to do it again,” Adair said. “This is a different year. The work ethic is important.”
Hard work will be the hallmark of the pitching staff in the 48 days before the Mariners’ season opener April 5 at Oakland. There’s much more to it than developing arm strength and a feel for pitches.
Take pitchers’ fielding practice, for example. The daily drills known better as PFP have caused some pitchers over the years to yawn at the monotony. On this team, they’re as vital as Cliff Lee’s curveball.
PFP is hardly an activity to keep the pitchers occupied between bullpen sessions. It’s the work on pickoff plays, rundowns, bunts, covering first base, and backing up third and home that can be the difference between winning and losing.
“What I’ll tell them at the beginning of this camp is going to be very similar to what I told them last year,” Adair said. “Pay attention to your routine and your side work. Pay attention to the details and the PFP. A lot of our success last year was because of how we controlled the running game.”
The Mariners have no tolerance for a pitcher who pays too little attention to opposing baserunners. Manager Don Wakamatsu made that apparent that last May when he publicly criticized Felix Hernandez, his No. 1 starter, after the Angels stole four bases against him in what became a one-run Mariners loss. Hernandez got the message, and so did the rest of the staff.
“We’ve got to handle the running game or reduce the (steal) attempts,” Adair said. “That’s very important from Day 1.”
Adair also will deliver a message that every pitcher has heard at every spring training: Nobody has won a roster spot in the first bullpen session, but many pitchers have thrown too hard too soon and taken themselves out with arm problems.
“Going out there and trying to impress on the first day is not the smartest thing,” Adair said.
What will he look for in those first bullpen sessions?
“I just want to see what kind of shape guys are in and if anything looks different, especially with the guys we had last year,” he said. “I want to find out how many times they’ve been (throwing) off the mound and where they are physically or mentally.”
In that category, one key reliever will be important to watch.
Sean White, whose sinker made him a go-to pitcher when the Mariners needed a ground-ball out last year, has worked throughout the winter to overcome tendinitis in his right shoulder. White battled shoulder pain the second half of last season and missed the final month of the season.
Adair said White has thrown well lately but six weeks of spring training will be the true test. The key is for White to maintain sound throwing mechanics, Adair said.
“Fortunately, I got to see him in his throwing program when I was in Seattle last month for FanFest,” Adair said. “And he threw off the mound down here (Monday). We talked about trying to get him back mechanically like he was. He’s kind of fought some shoulder issues his whole career. He seems to think it feels better, and he really looked good.”