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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mariners open spring training determined to not miss the playoffs again this season

J.P. Crawford (3) of the Seattle Mariners turns a double play as Ryan Noda (49) of the Oakland Athletics is forced out at second base in the fifth inning at RingCentral Coliseum on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023 in Oakland, California.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

PEORIA, Ariz. – The chance to reset and rebound from their failures of last season made the offseason, which normally goes by in an instant, seem interminable for manager Scott Servais and the Mariners.

With pitchers and catchers taking the field for their first official workout of spring training, the process of moving on from the disappointment of failing to return to the postseason in 2023 took another step forward.

“Sometimes the offseasons go by fast,” Servais said. “It’s like, ‘Wow, we were just here doing this.’ I can speak for myself, the coaching staff and a number of players that this offseason went slow. I couldn’t wait to get back at it again based on how we finished last year.”

The disappointment and frustration from being eliminated after Game No. 161 started to intensify as the MLB postseason progressed and finished.

“It was hard to watch the playoffs play out the way they did with two teams in our division getting to the championship series and one winning it all,” Servais said.

Like every other camp in MLB – yes, even the Oakland A’s – there’s a feeling of optimism and excitement as warm as the Arizona afternoon sunshine.

But there is also an air of focused determination from the returning core of Julio Rodriguez, catcher Cal Raleigh, shortstop J.P. Crawford, first baseman Ty France and pitchers like Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Matt Brash and Andres Muñoz. They felt the high of the postseason in 2022 and the sting of being left out last season.

“I think everybody in here was (mad) with how the season ended last year and left most of us with a sour taste in our mouth” Raleigh said. “We came up only a game short, but it doesn’t matter.”

The motivation is welcomed, but Servais would’ve rather had it stem from the desire to return to the postseason for a third straight season instead.

“We’d love to be in the postseason every year,” he said. “I thought we should have made it last year, but we didn’t. You’ve got to move on from it. Today’s Day 1 of starting fresh and figuring out how we get back in there again.”

He couldn’t recall a spring training where so many position players reported to camp early. Rodriguez, Crawford and the reacquired Mitch Haniger were all here well before the required dates, along with several other players.

“We still have a very young team, and we’ve got guys that have a lot to prove yet,” Servais said. “But with the way our season ended, it was a sour note. I felt it talking to guys throughout the offseason as we made changes to the roster. Talking to the core players that were definitely going to be back here, they have a little chip on their shoulder.”

Raleigh spent most of his offseason in Arizona, working out at the facility. He wasn’t surprised to see so many of his teammates arriving early to put in work.

“You come in here and you already see guys ready to go,” he said. “It’s great to see everybody here early, and it’s always a good sign. It’s good that people are getting in the training room, getting in the weight room and getting acclimated.”

Dings and dents

Even though he spent the last few weeks of the 2023 season on the injured list due to elbow inflammation, when the Mariners acquired right-handed reliever Gregory Santos from the White Sox a few weeks ago, it seemed like a steal of a trade. Seattle gave up a pair of minor-league prospects in outfielder Zach DeLoach and right-handed pitcher Prelander Berroa.

Unfortunately for the Mariners, the hard-throwing Santos wasn’t out on the field with the rest of the pitchers and catchers for the first official workouts, but it wasn’t due to his elbow.

Instead, Santos felt some discomfort behind his shoulder area a day after throwing an impressive bullpen session at the Mariners complex a few days ago. The discomfort is in the teres major, a small muscle that runs lateral to the scapula.

Seattle didn’t want to take any chances of making the situation worse for Santos.

“We will slow play him,” Servais said. “We just want to be careful with him.”

With spring training lasting almost six weeks, the Mariners believe Santos can still be ready by opening day. It would be different if he were a starting pitcher that needed to be built up.

Fellow right-handed reliever Eduard Bazardo is also being slow-played after feeling discomfort in his shoulder following a live bullpen session before he arrived at spring training.