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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

February 18, 2007 at 6:35 PM

Big bats arrive

Nothing like a server shutdown on a holiday weekend! Sorry for the late posting, folks, but our paper’s blog server has been down all day and just got repaired within the hour when they called someone in off a beach someplace (I’m only guessing…). As you might have figured, the Mariners didn’t wait for us and quickly breezed through Day 4 of training camp with no further injuries to report.
Things start to drag a bit at this point in the spring. It gets a little tiring for all, coaches included, when the best there is to look forward to is a bunch of pitchers bouncing baseballs off their catchers’ masks in the bullpen. Speaking of which, I finally did corral Rene Rivera to ask him about all the trouble he was having with Felix Hernandez’s pitches the other day. Rivera told me that the movement Hernandez was putting on the ball was very good. But he also was having a tough time with the sun’s glare from in behind Hernandez. There isn’t much of a backdrop at camp, the sun comes up in the east, etc. — so, we’ll just leave it at that and move on.
Even manager Mike Hargrove is getting fed up with having only pitchers, catchers and a few position players in camp and can’t wait until everyone shows up for physicals on Monday and take the field as a full squad Tuesday.
“Watching pitchers pitch is like watching paint dry,” he said. “I enjoy watching them pitch, don’t get me wrong, but after 10 or so pitches, it’s time to move on.”
OK, then. This was even before the morning sessions began. Hargrove was no-doubt thrilled moments later when none other than LF Raul Ibanez and 3B Adrian Beltre both showed up ready to work out. They didn’t look too shabby in the batting cages, missing only a handful of pitches each. This time of year, the timing can look brutal on swings, but neither of theirs was way off. 1B Richie Sexson also showed up, but limited his workout to the weight room.
Beltre is sporting some curly hair this spring. He didn’t start seriously swinging in a cage until early January, about two months later than he’s done it the past five off-seasons. It’s part of his continuing plan to figure out how to prevent a third consecutive slow start at the plate with Seattle. Beltre did work on hitting drills in the cages, following through on some of the suggestions of batting coach Jeff Pentland. But one of Beltre’s working theories is that he’s been wearing himself down before the season even starts by doing too much bat work.
“Maybe I was swinging too much,” he opined. “It’s not like I didn’t hit. But I was doing more drills and less swings. If that works, maybe I’ll be doing that every year.”
Chatted briefly with Mark Lowe, who’s doing his best to stay optimistic despite an awful turn of events in what should have been a year to remember for him. He’ll visit with Dr. Lew Yocum today to see whether he’s clear to start rehabilitating his surgically-repaired arm. If given the green light, Lowe figures he’ll be back sometime between May and July, but couldn’t get any more firm than that.
Jose Vidro arrives on Monday and we’ll all be anxious to see what kind of shape he’s in. Was interesting to spot veteran infielder Rey Ordonez arriving at camp after the morning’s workout touting a New York Mets gym bag. Ordonez, of course, hasn’t been a major league regular since playing for the Mets in 2002 and should be little more than minor league filler here.
A couple of questions have been tossed my way and I’ll try to answer some here:
Q: How on Earth can you assume the AL West is there for the Angels to take?
A: OK, we’ll start with the fact that the fifth guy usually mentioned in their starting rotation, Kelvim Escobar, has the stuff of a staff ace. If he ever got any run support, he’d be a 20-game-winner by now. That rotation is beyond just being good. Even if Jeff Weaver’s kid brother has a sophomore jinx, there are still four other guys there that I wouldn’t want to face. Sure the rotation has health concerns, but so does every other in the division. That bullpen is also going to improve with the addition of Justin Speier to go with K-Rod and the most underrated reliever in baseball, Scot Shields. Don’t judge Speier strictly by his Toronto numbers from last year, since that team’s bullpen was gassed by mid-season from overuse and he was pitching hurt come late-July. When used in his role, Speier is lights-out and will help folks forget Brendan Donnelly in a hurry.
Pitching and defense wins games and the Angels are better defensively with Gary Matthews Jr. in center. Yeah, their offense stank the past two years, but even a small improvement should be enough to pile up wins behind that pitching. They got that small boost with Little Sarge and with Shea Hillenbrand, who is not a clubhouse cancer despite what you may have heard.
Of all the teams ahead of Seattle in the AL West, the Angels lost the least amount of talent. If Bartolo Colon makes it back before too long and is healthy, they’ve arguably gained the most as well and weren’t too shabby to start.
Q: You saw Roy Halladay in Toronto for years. How does Felix Hernandez compare to him at this stage of his career?
A: Extremely well, I’d say. Halladay had just turned 21 when he was a September call-up for the Jays in 1998, while Hernandez is entering his second full season and won’t turn 21 until April. Right now, Hernandez, coming off a 12-win season, is already ahead of where Halladay was heading into his third full year. That’s both win-wise and pitching-wise. Don’t forget, Halladay had to go back to Class A ball and completely rework his game and his mind in 2001. Hopefully, that won’t happen to Hernandez if he gets shelled a few times early.
Hernandez also strikes me as a little more sure of himself than Halladay was back then. An interesting side note is that both of them became fathers at roughly the same, young age. Whatever responsibility that brings with it and whether it quickens the maturity level is something I’ll leave for others to figure out. But Halladay to me has always seemed like an old soul before his time. I can’t believe he still hasn’t turned 30 yet. To me, he’s seemed 35 the past five years.
How do the pitchers compare right now, throwing the age factor aside? They don’t compare. Not yet. Halladay is a machine. A freaking robot programmed to win at all costs. While the folks in Seattle hold off-season press conferences to announce that Hernandez has been working out, the people in Toronto are on the phone to Halladay begging him to lighten his workload. Halladay is up every morning before 5 at spring training so he can get his physical drills in before working on his pitching. On game days, he doesn’t even remember talking to his wife. He is the epitome of focus and what it takes to win at the big league level. Halladay is also a fantastic person and one of his problems in 2001, worked out with a psychologist, was learning how to say “no” to people so he could buy himself the free time he needed to perfect his workout regimen.
Felix may one day win his Cy Young Award. But Halladay has dominated AL hitters for five years. He is what Hernandez should aspire to.



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