Among the many players to report to camp looking in visibly better shape this spring is Blake Beavan, who is in a dogfight for a spot in the back of the team’s rotation.
The Mariners have Beavan, Kevin Milwood, Hector Noesi and Charlie Furbush fighting for only two spots after the top three of Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Hisashi Iwakuma, so something’s got to give. Not to mention the young arms of James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and Erasmo Ramirez trying to break into the majors possibly as early as this season. You know the M’s would love for Milwood to be there. Probably Noesi as well, since it would make it easier to sell the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda swap.
Then again, you could argue that having Beavan back in there would make the whole Cliff Lee-Justin Smoak deal look better. So, this will come down largely to whatever happens this spring.
Besides a lower-carb, high protein diet that enabled Beavan to shave off some weight as he built up muscle, he got a fair bit of his fitness from his wife, Allison, this off-season.
Turns out, she’s a bit of a cycling fanatic and does a 100-mile event in Texas each year known as “Hotter’N Hell Hundred”. This year’s ride occured in 110-degree temperatures and Beavan said she finished in about eight hours.
Beavan began cycling with her this off-season, doing a 20-mile and sometimes 25-mile circuit with her once a week.
“She didn’t want to kill me,” he said. “Because I’m kind of a wimp compared to her when it comes to riding bikes. It’s different, man. It doesn’t matter how strong your legs are. My legs are really strong, but it’s all about endurance and pacing yourself. Keeping a rhythm when you’re riding. There’s a lot that goes into it that I learned from her.”
“It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “I would be in the gym training and lifting weights all week just to get eady for it.”
Beavan said he’d need his entire week’s worth of gym training just to recover and then gear back up for another weekly session.
“The thing that kills me with the riding is the uphills,” he said. “You’ll be crusing straight ahead and then you’ll go down and you’ll be like ‘Alright’ and then it comes at you. You’ll be all the way down in the easiest gear when you do it just so your legs can go as fast as they can.”
Beavan hopes to do sessions twice per week next off-season. He might even ride with his father-in-law — who Beavan says can average between 17 mph and 19 mph while doing a circuit — if he’s allowed. Up to now, he’s been told he isn’t ready.
What happens baseball-wise for Beavan between now and then will depend largely on what he does with his head as well as his body. Beavan says he’d like his biggest improvements this season to be mental ones.
“I think the biggest thing I’d try to do this year is pitch smarter in the big leagues,” he said. “Not get caught up so much in the situations of the games to the point where you’re not thinking when you throw a pitch. So, in an 0-2 count, instead of throwing a breaking ball in the zone, you throw one outside the zone.”
Beavan learned that the hard way his second start of last season, in Anaheim, when Vernon Wells crushed an 0-2 curveball for a home run.
“Even though it was only this high off the ground,” he said, lowering his hand near the floor, “it just shows you what big league hitters can do to you if you make a mistake.”
There won’t be much margin for error this spring. The Mariners have to gauge their pitchers in a hurry, given the early opening of the season in Japan. They’ve put their pitchers on notice that everyone will be gauged from the time of the first intra-squad game.
Beavan says he welcomes the challenge.
“There are a lot of young guys here,” he said. “A lot of guys that haven’t been to the big lagues yet that are right there knocking on the door. For me to get half a season last year was a great opportunity, but nothing’s guaranteed. You can’t come into camp thinking you’ve got a spot. You want to keep that competitive fire and have someone always nipping at your heels. That way, it makes you want to go out and prove you deserve a spot.”