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Five keys to a successful spring training

The Spokesman-Review

Spring training for the Seattle Mariners begins Thursday when pitchers and catchers conduct their first workout. Here’s what the M’s hope to accomplish before the season opener on March 31:

1 Patience at the plate

The Mariners’ .287 team batting average tied for second in the American League, but they were a free-swinging bunch whose impatience at the plate nullified efforts to play a small-ball style that is needed at Safeco Field. They were last in the league with 389 walks and seventh among 14 A.L. teams with 794 runs. Manager John McLaren will urge hitters to work deeper ball-strike counts and be more selective in the pitches they hit.

2 Pitch inside

This has been a long-emphasized but little-practiced goal for Mariners pitchers. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will mandate that his starters control the inside half of the plate and not allow hitters to get comfortable.

3 Find a left-handed setup reliever

With George Sherrill in Baltimore after the trade for Erik Bedard, perhaps the Mariners’ biggest void is replacing him in the late-inning lefty specialist role. The Mariners will have several candidates for that job – Eric O’Flaherty, Ryan Rowland Smith, Cesar Jimenez and Ryan Feierabend.

4 Integrate the coaching staff

Besides McLaren and hitting coach Jeff Pentland, the entire coaching staff has turned over since last year. Often, it takes most of spring training for new coaches to become familiar with each other and the players. McLaren is confident the coaches will have an immediate impact because of their wealth of experience, including three who’ve been major league managers – bench coach Jim Riggleman, third-base coach Sam Perlozzo and on-field consultant Lee Elia.

5 Stay healthy:

The addition of Bedard gave the Mariners a starting rotation that’s already considered one of the better staffs in the league. As the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox have learned with shoulder injuries to Kelvim Escobar and Curt Schilling, it doesn’t take much to create doubts. The Mariners aren’t deep enough to sustain a significant injury at any position.

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