The Mariners are going to shift this year, and shift a lot. There is no question about that. Sometimes shifts are not your friend, though. Wednesday night was one of those times, as a struggling Nathan Karns was hurt early by the A’s beating the shift.
“We lost a couple last night,” manager Scott Servais said in his Thursday morning meeting with the media. “Unfortunately that does happen once in a while. You have got to give them credit, they put the bat on the ball. A couple of breaking balls right-handed hitters took the other way, which beat us last night. It happens, that’s part of it.”
Third base coach Manny Acta, who joined me on the radio pregame show, said you have to take the good with the bad when it comes to shifting but also pointed out that the shift is not a cure-all for a pitcher having a bad night.
“It’s going to happen,” Acta said. “We are playing percentages because of the data we have. When you play percentages it’s not 100 percent. It means once in a while you are going to get beat. Yesterday we didn’t get into very good counts and that favors the hitters. When they are ahead in the count they feel more comfortable at the plate and do stuff like that.”
It isn’t unusual to hear a pitcher bring up in a matter-of-fact way a hit that got through a shift after their outings. How accepting they are of the fact that the shift is now a part of their game is tough to tell with some at this point, though.
“A big part of doing it is convincing them that that’s the right thing to do and showing them that we are following data that has been taken for a lot of at-bats,” said Acta. “It is also personalized. It’s not using right-handers, left-handers, it’s for each pitcher depending on their velocity and their offspeed stuff.
“Yes we understand at times it is going to get frustrating, like yesterday could have been probably not a good moment for Karns because he was battling, but there are also a ton of times that balls are hit and everyone thinks it will go through but we have a guy there. Again it’s percentages. No one hits a ball 100 percent of the time to the same spot.”
Just as no hitter hits the ball to the same spot each time, each pitcher and each outing is different, as well, That will play into how shifts are utilized, too, according to Servais.
“Looking at it, knowing our pitchers are as important as the actual shift, what they have, what they are featuring that night, and you are reading the hitter and what he is trying to do,” Servais said. “But you have got to start somewhere and we have been very, very aggressive … We are learning. Last night wasn’t so good, other days have been really good.”
Shawn O’Malley, 3B
Seth Smith, DH
Robinson Cano, 2B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Steve Clevenger, C
Stefen Romero, LF
Dae-Ho Lee, 1B
Chris Taylor, SS
Daniel Robertson, CF
Taijuan Walker, P
Ketel Marte, who has been battling the flu for the past couple of days, was a late scratch from the lineup…Franklin Gutierrez never was in the lineup but did make an appearance in the clubhouse after missing the last five days with the flu. He didn’t look great but told me he was getting better. Servais hopes to have him back in the lineup Friday…But wait, there’s more – Joaquin Benoit, who pitched for the first time in nine days last night, was sent home sick Thurday morning…Steve Clevenger has been seeing a good amount of playing time despite the fact that a competitor for his position, backup catcher, has been brought in. After today he will have caught all of the Mariners starters in games.
• Upcoming probables: Friday vs. White Sox, Felix Hernandez; Saturday vs. Dodgers, Wade Miley; Sunday at Cubs, James Paxton. Hisashi Iwakuma is not on the schedule that is posted, but his pitch day would be Saturday. There is a good chance we see him in a minor league game that day.
• Servais confirmed that Iwakuma will follow Felix in the rotation and pitch the second game of the regular season in Texas.
• Early in camp, Manny Acta spent a lot of time working with Dae-Ho Lee at first base. He likes what he sees from Lee in the field. “The guy spent a lot of time DH-ing in Japan and Korea and he wanted to make sure he showed everyone he could play defense,” he said. “He’s got nice, soft hands. Anything he can get to he catches. His feet, they work well for a big man and so far, so good for him.”
• The Mariners will have a special guest in camp tomorrow as Servais has invited former Green Beret Nate Boyer, who spent time in Seahawks camp last year as a long snapper, to talk with and spend time with the team.