Today was the first look Mariners fans had not just at the 2023 team, but at the pace-of-play initiatives instituted by Lord Manfred this off-season. Some of them were not so noticeable (I like bigger bases and I cannot lie). Others...were.
Don’t worry, there’s one the batters can see, too. Not ominous at all.
As is typical for Spring Training, the batters came out ready to swing away any pesky off-season rust. Julio wasted no time in getting his first hit of the spring, singling sharply through the five-hole off Padres starter Nick Martinez. Martinez then grazed Teoscar Hernández to put two on with two outs, but Eugenio Suárez, first-pitch swinging, grounded out to end the threat. And that was one of the longer innings of this game.
The Mariners started Robbie Ray, who, along with Logan Gilbert, is among those least-affected by the new pitch clock, being of the “grip it and rip it” mindset. However, not everyone was on the same page, as the Padres’ second batter of the game, Manny Machado, was hit with MLB’s first automatic strike of the spring for not being ready to receive the pitch with 8 seconds on the clock (being “ready to receive the pitch” means not just being in the box, but facing the pitcher, apparently). He would have his revenge with a hard-struck single, followed by a Juan Soto single that pushed Machado to third. Ray was fighting his slider command today, and walked old friend Nelson Cruz on four straight pitches to load the bases with just one out. He escaped the jam, however, by getting Ha-Seong Kim to ground into a double play, giving us a first look at the Suárez to Wong to France double play combo.
In case that was all a little too much change for you, you’ll be comforted to know that Jarred struck out chasing a high fastball to begin the second inning, and then Tom Murphy struck out on four pitches, looking very much like someone who didn’t take an at-bat last year. J.P. Crawford worked a nice 3-1 count off Martinez and then Mike Ford, getting a start at DH today in place of Tommy La Stella, who will apparently be out the next week with right arm soreness, smacked a solid double off the wall. Unfortunately, J.P.’s wheels aren’t quite up to in-season speed and he was a dead duck at home, courtesy of a perfect seed from Xander Bogaerts. Those Padres might be kind of good.
An exciting surprise awaited Mariners fans after Ray’s two innings of work: despite not being on the official available pitchers list, the first one out of the bullpen was Prelander Berroa, acquired in a mid-season swap with the Giants. Nick has everything you need to know about Prelander in his 40 in 40, which you should go read right away if you haven’t. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Berroa’s outing started by getting Padres outfielder José Azocar swinging followed by striking out Xander Bogaerts swinging. Quite an introduction to big-league camp!
He wouldn’t escape the teeth of the Padres lineup unscathed, though, as Machado hit his second sharp single of the day. That seemed to summon forth Berroa’s notorious command issues, as he fell behind Soto 3-1 before walking him. To his credit, Berroa gathered himself and struck out Nelson Cruz—20 years his senior—to end the inning without damage. And while Berroa’s fastball blazed with upper-90s heat, it was the off-speed stuff—specifically his slider—that he used to get ahead of both Azocar and Bogaerts. He’ll be an exciting story to follow this spring, for sure.
The Mariners got all their runs of the game in one inning, the third. Teoscar Hernández led off with a strong single against Weathers, and then Eugenio floated a spring-training special into no-man’s land. Jarred hit a ball hard but directly at the right fielder, and Tom Murphy was late on a fastball for his second strikeout of the day, and then by all rights the Padres and Weathers should have been out of the inning when J.P. parachuted a little ball into left field...that Juan Soto lost in the sun. To Soto’s credit, it’s his first season training in Arizona, and that sky can be tricky even for seasoned outfielders. Anyway, it felt like a pretty cheap way to take a 1-0 lead, but luckily Mike Ford—intent on making the most of his window—hit another solid double, scoring both Suárez and J.P. and giving the Mariners a 3-0 lead.
The legend of Mike Ford lives on pic.twitter.com/a5soRHDZY8— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) February 24, 2023
The game zipped along from there. If you enjoyed Diego Castillo Classic, you’ll love Diego Castillo: Pitch Clock edition, as his inning flew by with only a ground ball base hit from Padres prospect Jackson Merrill. Not to be outdone, Trevor Gott threw—I didn’t get exactly how many pitches, but certainly fewer than 10—in a 1-2-3 inning that featured both former Mariner Tim Lopes and a Nelson Cruz flyout to Leonys Martin, a sentence impossible to parse from a 2016 Mariners fan perspective. Penn Murfee also used his ur-slider magic to spin an incredibly fast 1-2-3 inning that featured an easy popout and two easy groundouts.
Unfortunately, the Mariners batters—now into the second and third lines—went down equally quickly. By the end of the fifth inning, the game was at the one-hour mark (1:18, to be exact). Things slowed down a little with the Mariners’ last two pitchers of the day, with Blake Weiman surrendering the first two runs of the day in the eighth, giving up a single to top prospect Merrill followed by an RBI double to the less-heralded Padres prospect, Matthew Batten. Tim Lopes would sting his former organization with an RBI single to cut the deficit to just one run before Weiman was able to get out of the jam with a nifty move where he go-go-gadgeted his arm out to snag a comebacker.
Riley O’Brien—grandson of the legendary O’Brien twins, and therefore subject to a long and warm recollection from Rick Rizzs, who was apparently good friends with...Johnny? I think it was Johnny—kept the Padres from scoring and secured the save, but it was a slog, suddenly slowing a game that had been zipping along at the pace of a jet ski to a dinghy rowed by Olive Oyl. Command has been the bugaboo for the younger O’Brien, and that reared its head in this inning, as he walked Rangel Ravelo, got into a protracted battle with (another former Mariner!) Luis Liberato before locking him up with a fastball Liberato just stared at, gave up a single to Merrill to make him three for three on the day and hit Batten with a pitch to load the bases. David Dahl hit a ball with some authority—that thankfully found Zach DeLoach’s glove in the outfield.
Total time of the game: two hours and twenty-nine minutes, and it honestly felt like those last two innings occupied two hours and nineteen minutes of that. Hopefully we will see a little more offense from the Mariners tomorrow against the Angels. As a reminder, that game is airing on ROOT Sports at 12:10, so you can check out the pitch clock in action for yourself.