Spring Training is mostly nothing, except when it’s not. These games have the energy of televised beer league softball contests, complete with unmoored players shooting the shit in the dugout, guys convincing themselves they can stretch every single into a double, innings just kinda stopping whenever they get boring, and games ending in a tie because time is running out. It’s truly wonderful and I hope nothing ever changes about it.
That said, teams like the Mariners often find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to take Spring Training seriously. While their opponent – the reigning NL Central champion Cubs – are squarely in win now mode, Seattle has to use the month of March to figure out what they’ve got. Sometimes that means Ljay Newsome and his 15.2 MLB innings facing off against Rizzo, Bryant, Báez, and several other World Series winners. Sometimes it means young players that the Mariners will rely on for years to come getting completely flummoxed by 86 MPH two-seamers. Today, we got all of those things within the first hour! Spring Training is better than most feature films.
In the first inning, Kyle Lewis put together the type of at-bat showed off his advanced approach. Climbing out of a deep hole, Lewis worked a walk against Zach Davies by avoiding the temptation of his lollipop fastballs that cut and dive around the strike zone. The other conductors of the Mariners hype train did not have the same luck in their first plate appearances. In the second inning, Jarred Kelenic rolled over on a first-pitch curveball for a harmless ground out. Cal Raleigh and Taylor Trammell also struggled with Davies’ low-velocity offerings. Raleigh struck out in his first trip to the plate while Trammell showed similar aggressiveness to Kelenic while getting the same result.
On the defensive side, Newsome missed badly on a changeup to Joc Pederson, giving a young fan on the berm their first souvenir of the spring.
Later on in the broadcast, poor Ljay, he of famously few words, was forced not only to speak into a camera for a national audience, but also re-live the home run he allowed. Newsome did provide some interesting insight into pitching, mentioning that he was trying to throw the change “strike to ball” and instead threw it…strike to more central strike. Other than that, Ljay said so much while also saying so little. We learned that his mom’s name is Linda. Bless him.
Things picked up after that, both in terms of Spring Training hilarity and gripping, eye emoji-inducing plays. First, feast your eyes on Jake Fraley. To his credit, Fraley ranged pretty far to his left to make an athletic catch on a Rizzo line drive earlier in the game. He also showed a really strong throwing arm to nab Báez trying for second base like an overzealous high schooler. Then, he did this.
The competition for outfield spots on the Opening Day roster is quite crowded. While Fraley still seems like the most likely left fielder on April 1, there is no question that Braden Bishop is a better defender and Jarred Kelenic is a better hitter. Don’t believe me? Watch Jarred and his quadruple-ceps muscle this ball through the wind and over the fence.
I will go on the record and say that Jarred Kelenic is good at baseball. He is almost certainly better than Jake Fraley, and could, at the very least, light a spark for this roster. Of course, this means he’ll probably start the season in Everett working on his first base defense. As the Mariners continue holding this weird auction for playing time between older outfielders and minor leaguers, Taylor Trammell raised his own card and entered the bidding in a big way.
Wind had nothing to do with this one. Absolute nuke from Taylor Trammell. pic.twitter.com/3Iim4zy7v8— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) March 3, 2021
Once the headliners left the game, making way for the Jordan Cowan, Eric Filia, and Aaron Fletcher-types, the Spring Training truly took hold. Mariner pitcher Vinny Nittoli – a 25th-round pick in 2014 who was re-acquired from Toronto – was unable to finish his inning before both teams decided to just fuhgettaboutit and move on.
In case you’re wondering, yes he’s Italian. I could tell by the Vinny Nittoli part, as well as the social media part, which includes retweeting DJ Pauly D. Nittoli did show some pretty good stuff, the problem is it always ended up over the meaty part of the plate. Here we see an example of that, as Nittoli stared down fellow paisano Anthony Rizzo and allowed a savory two-run tater (sorry, gnocchi). Just like a’mama used to make.
As the talent on the field got less and less big-league ready, ESPN tried to remind its viewers that MLB players were actually in attendance, or at least sort of. Jason Heyward was kind enough to do an interview from a golf cart, where he was hiding from the terrifying idea that it might rain at some point in the future. I thought it went really well. No notes.
Jason Heyward making sure ESPN never does a live in game interview again by becoming the 10th player to curse live on air pic.twitter.com/1OCKJggCnf— Baseball Doesn't Exist (@baseballdoesnt) March 3, 2021
People kept getting hit by pitches as the afternoon unfolded. Minor league pitchers, while great at wearing hockey numbers, are really bad at throwing strikes. Dylan Moore, who himself has been hit in the head by a pitch, was briefly shaken during his interview as he watched teammate Sam Travis take one to the dome. After Travis somehow stayed on his feet the whole time, shook it off, and stayed in the game, ESPN was able to return to its regularly scheduled programming.
That’s more like it.
Aside from a well-stroked Cal Raleigh double into the gap and the Jack Reinheimer ninth-inning blast that tied things up, I couldn’t tell you much about what happened at the end of the game. I was mostly focused on a bag of pita chips and Bitchin’ Sauce.
Bitchin’ Sauce, if you’re reading this, please let me promote your product in exchange for money. I think it’s very good and I would do a great job.