It’s still early in spring training. The Cactus League is underway, with the M’s at 5-5-1 at this writing. Most importantly, opening day is looming a scant three weeks away on March 29th.
So what have we learned so far?
First and foremost, the Mariners are struggling with health. Early in camp, Before camp was underway, newly acquired first baseman Ryon Healy had surgery to deal with a bone spur in his wrist. Healy should return by the end of spring training. Whether this is enough to get him ready for the season opener against Cleveland is debatable. Soon after, news that number four starter Erasmo Ramirez suffered a lat strain. Tough news for a thin Mariner corps of starting pitching. He has not yet been scheduled to return to the mound, and being ready in time for the beginning of the season seems highly problematic at this point.
But wait, there’s more. Outfielder Mitch Haniger was held out for a hand injury. Nelson Cruz was hit on the hand by a pitched ball in a Cactus League game. Felix Hernandez seemed to dodge death when he was hit just below the elbow by a line drive. News today that Ben Gamel suffered an oblique strain and will be out 4-6 weeks.
This is a lot of news that isn’t so good.
But that doesn’t mean there is only bad coming out of Peoria. Marco Gonzales, competing for the fifth starter job, has had two outings worth five innings. He’s looked very good, employing the cutter he couldn’t use last year, moving the ball around and striking out eight while walking only one. Dan Altavilla seems to have overcome whatever was bothering him in 2017, looking great in his three outings.
In the field there isn’t a lot to get excited about. But there is a legitimate competition for the utility infield spot. Despite his lustrous locks and occasional power outbursts, Taylor Motter is getting serious challenges from both Andrew Romine and Gordon Beckham. It’s important not to put too much stock in spring training numbers, but Romine and Beckham have both had key moments in these early days of spring, when the regulars don’t play as much.
With Healy on the shelf, Tacoma stalwart Daniel Vogelbach and Rule 5 draftee Mike Ford are both getting a long look at first base. My own view is that’s great. Vogelbach, the key component of the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016, hasn’t had much opportunity to show what he’s got to the big league staff. So far he’s doing his part. Ford has shown his plate discipline, though his fully laced hitting-shoes don’t seem to have done their magic yet. Very small sample sizes for both players, but it’s good to see them getting a legit look.
News today the M’s are talking to Ichiro Suzuki’s agent. With Gamel out and Haniger’s hand tweaked, the M’s clearly need an extra guy. Even with Guillermo Heredia making an early return from his off-season shoulder surgery, they are still light at least one outfielder. Not sure if a 44-year old player with little power or inclination to take a walk is the answer, but he does have a connection to the Mariners of old. It was 17 years ago that a much-younger Ichiro won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. Frankly, I’d rather be looking forward for a solution to the outfield vacancy instead of the the Mariners’ past.
Not sure we are any closer to finding any answers to the Mariners problems-Paxton taking the next step, team health, and an improved offense. Maybe it’s too early to know, but the signs aren’t there yet. Too early to panic, but certainly not enough to excite me either.