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February 16, 2007 at 12:14 PM

Mariners make pitch to pitchers

Anyone wondering what manager Mike Hargrove told his pitchers and catchers behind closed doors the other day as training camp opened? Well, it went something like this: Get opponents to put the ball in play.
That was essentially it. The Mariners’ braintrust has staked its future on the ability of the team’s defense to turn ground balls into outs. If that doesn’t happen, then all of those winter acquisitions of rather-ordinary-looking ground ball pitchers will wind up generating some rather-ordinary-looking returns. In order for anything better to happen, the ball has to be put in play by opposing hitters. Sounds simple, but it wasn’t last season. On too many nights, the Mariners saw too many pitches thrown by their starters. Their relievers as well.
In fact, Seattle trailed only the gosh-awful Kansas City Royals and the Baltimore Orioles last year when it came to the most pitches thrown by American League teams. (24,224 by Seattle; 24,252 for Baltimore and 24,514 for the world champs of inefficiency — the Royals. Yes, even the Devil Rays were more efficient than the Mariners, horrific bullpen and all.
“We really want to lower our pitch counts,” Hargrove said. “I told the pitchers ‘When I give you the ball, I really don’t want to have to come back out and take it back. I want you to finish what you start. And to do that, you’re going to have to get outs in the fewest amount of pitches that you possibly can because I’m not going to take anybody much over 120 pitches in a game.'”
Hargrove said the Mariners are also working with pitchers this spring to lower their release times during wind-ups, to give “our catchers a better chance to throw people out.”
So, Day 2 is now over with no serious injuries to report.
Jose Guillen, quickly becoming a favorite topic on this blog, took a number of pitches the opposite way during batting practice — something he’ll have to do regularly this season if he is to give Seattle what it needs. Guillen apparently feels more comfortable going the other way since his elbow surgery. The one thing he won’t be doing as quickly is starting any Cactus League games in right field. The plan for now is to use him as DH the first 10 to 14 days in order to get his arm back to 100 per cent when he throws. Hargrove feels there is still a slight “hump” in the throws Guillen is currently attempting.
Jim Parque got to throw his first bullpen session of his spring comeback, tossing about 25 to 30 pitches, mostly fastballs with some change-ups, cutters and sinkers mixed in. Parque told me he barely slept on Thursday night and could hardly wait to start throwing outdoors to a real, professional catcher — as opposed to the indoor sessions he’d been having with a high school catcher at his Seattle-area baseball academy.
Another thing the Mariners are working on at camp is getting catcher Kenji Johjima to set up more quickly behind the plate. They feel that his tendency to do it later than usual cost them too many strikes last season. The theory is that if an umpire gets a longer look ahead of time at where a pitch is supposed to go, he’ll be more likely to call it a strike if the pitcher hits his target. Johjima spent several extra minutes working on this towards the end of today’s session. He told me afterwards that he’s always found it easier to set up early, rather than right before a pitcher goes into his windup. The reason he learned to hold off, while playing in Japan, was because he didn’t want to give opposing hitters a chance to sneak a peak back at the intended location of a pitch.
Now, he’ll just have to un-learn all that.
Keep the comments and the questions flowing in. Love to hear what you all really think.



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