PEORIA, Ariz. — Genuine “Whoa!” moments are fairly rare in spring training. Home runs that clear the batters’ eye in center field at Peoria Stadium are rarer still.
Cue up newcomer Rickie Weeks as the leadoff hitter in the bottom of third inning Saturday on a 1-1 change-up from Arizona lefty Andrew Chafin.
Boom.(See it here)
Weeks sent a soaring drive that cleared the 40-foot blue wall that serves as the batters’ eye. Cleared it easily. That wall is 410-plus feet from the plate.
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“I kept waiting for the ball to hit the wall, hit the wall, hit the wall…,” center fielder Austin Jackson said. “Then…whoa!”
Weeks broke hard from the box because, until this year, the ground rules at Peoria Stadium stipulated that any ball that hit off the wall was in play.
“That’s the first thing I thought about,” he said. “I thought it was going to hit off the wall. I was trying to bust it around first base. Then it clicked in a split second.
“I looked up and saw the yellow line and thought, `OK, it’s a homer.’ That’s when I (slowed to a fast trot). But I didn’t know it was going to go over the wall.”
The blast erased a 1-0 deficit. The Mariners carried a one-run lead into the ninth inning before Arizona rallied for a 4-3 victory. The Mariners gained a split Saturday by winning 11-7 over the Chicago White Sox in Glendale.
All pretty routine stuff — except for Weeks’ swing.
“I thought he got it off the end a little bit…no, I’m just kidding,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “I told him that, and he said, `No, I got it.’ That’s incredible.”
Weeks, 32, spent 12 years as a second baseman in the Milwaukee system before signing Feb. 13 with the Mariners as a free agent.
The Mariners became interested once Weeks agreed to shift to a utility role. They view him as a a veteran right-handed bat who primarily figures to share time in left field with Dustin Ackley.
“His track record speaks for itself,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He’s a veteran player who knows what he’s doing at the plate. We’re a club that last year was starved for runs. So he fits nice.”
He did Saturday, although Weeks sought to downplay the blast, which marked his first hit of the spring after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Friday’s loss to the Los Angeles Dodger in Glendale.
“I’m just trying to get back in the groove of things,” he said. “I played (Friday), and my whole thing (Saturday) was just trying to slow down. That was my first game back, and I was jumping a lot.
“I was missing off-speed pitches in the zone that I normally can handle. Today, I just told myself to just wait a tad bit longer and try to react.”
Teammates were having none of it.
“I’ve seen guys go off (the batters’ eye),” Zunino said. “But clean over it? That’s incredible. That’s quite a display.”
It's also rare.
Noted strongman Mike Morse did it in 2013. Long-time minor-leaguer Mike Wilson did it in 2007. There might be others. Not many, though.
“It always feels good anytime you hit a home run, period,” Weeks said. “I don’t care if it’s a cheap one. A homer is a homer. It feels good to hit them.
“I’ve hit some long ones before but, to me, it’s just one of those things. I’m never going to be too high or too low. It was a good swing.”
CHOI CLEARS WAIVERS
First baseman Ji-Man Choi will remain in the organization and rehab from a broken leg at Triple-A Tacoma after clearing waivers.
The Mariners designated Choi, 23, for assignment Thursday to clear roster space after lefty reliever Edgar Olmos, who returned to the club after Major League Baseball voided Texas’ Feb. 24 waiver claim.
The Rangers sought to have the claim voided after an examination revealed Olmos had a shoulder injury.
Choi is expected to miss four-to-six months after undergoing surgery Thursday to repair a fractured fibula in his right leg and a torn deltoid ligament.
He suffered the injury the previous day when he landed awkwardly after leaping to catch an errant throw.
CHANGE FOR HERNANDEZ
Change in plans: Felix Hernandez will now make his spring debut one days earlier than previously planned. The revised schedule calls for him to pitch Tuesday against Colorado at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.
Hernandez threw a bullpen workout Saturday in preparation for his start after overmatching a collection of minor-league players Wednesday while throwing live batting practice.
That schedule positions Hernandez to get five outings prior to his projected start on April 6 against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
Lefty James Paxton is tentatively scheduled to make his spring debut March 17 against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale.
Paxton threw his first official bullpen workout Friday and reported no day-after soreness in his forearm. He jammed both of his forearms when he reached to catch him after tripping in a pre-camp agility workout.
The tentative schedule would permit Paxton to make four spring starts.
Danny Hultzen saw further progress Saturday in throwing his second session of live batting practice: his breaking pitches had more snap.
“When I can just throw it and throw it for strikes,” he said, “that when I know it’s better.”
Hultzen threw a 30-pitch session, which should position him for his first game action in more than 18 months at some point in the next few days. He underwent major shoulder surgery on Oct. 1, 2013.
“That’d be great,” he said. “That would be the first time in a really, really long time that I’ve been in a real game.”
YOUNG TO KANSAS CITY
Former Mariners right-hander Chris Young is a free agent no longer after reaching agreement with Kansas City on a one-year deal for $675,000 in base salary with $5.325 million in possible performance bonuses.
Young, 35, resurrected his career last season with the Mariners by going 12-9 with a 3.65 ERA in 30 games. His 12 victories matched a career high, and his 165 innings were his highest total since 2007.
It appears Young will open the season in the Royals’ bullpen.
The signing came one day after former Mariners reliever Joe Beimel agreed to a one-year deal with Texas.