Mariners manager Scott Servais is entering his third season with the Mariners, but it feels like he’s been here far longer.
There was his inaugural season as a manager, coming off his role as an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Mariners won 86 games, improving their win total by 10 games from the season before and had them in the playoff hunt all the way until the final game of the season.
Then there was last season – when the Mariners used 40 different pitchers, 61 different players total (a club record) and 22 rookies because of myriad injuries. All those pitchers used – no team has ever used more during the course of a season. Never.
The team survived a spring training that had its share of minor injuries but encouraging performances from newcomers and holdovers alike. As Opening Day approaches, there’s optimism for the 2018 season and the chance to end the Mariners streak of nonplayoff appearances at 16 years.
Servais, in his office at the team’s spring training complex in Peoria, Arizona, sat down with The News Tribune to talk about the upcoming season.
Cotterill: I wanted to make sure I asked this question – do you get to pick what goes in your office?
Servais: Who do you think picks?
Cotterill: I just wanted to make sure.
Servais: Yes, yes I do (laughs) I pick what goes in the office.
Cotterill: My favorite is that photo (pointing to little girl with cotton candy at a Mariners game, face covered in sugar and eyes bulging).
Servais: That was one that just, I saw it online and I thought it was great. We were in a good spot in our season right there, too, and I had it blown up and stuck it in my office.
Cotterill: With all of the rotation questions you’ve received, do you feel like the way some of those pitchers have produced this spring have answered some of those for you?
Servais: I think our rotation, based on what guys have done in the past and where they are at right now and kind of where they project out, we’re probably a middle-of-the-road rotation team. The Astros, obviously on paper their starting pitching has a stronger track record. But I think we’re probably top six, seven or eight in the American League and middle of the pack in the game. We have a very good offense and a very good bullpen. Hopefully that makes a winning formula.
Cotterill: Talking about James Paxton, (Mariners pitching coach) Mel Stottlemyre really talked about just staying healthy. If he stays healthy he’s in the same conversation as Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer. Is that the theme with you, too?
Servais: He’s a No. 1 starter. All those guys are top-of-the-rotation guys and best in the game. What they do is they take the ball, are very durable and that’s been the one thing that has held Paxton back to this point is durability and staying out there and making 30-32 starts.
You know, that’s the only thing that’s short. The stuff is there, the development of his pitches, the development that he’s had mentally and how he approaches and attacks hitters – It’s all there. It’s just staying healthy.
Cotterill: What’s your favorite Ichiro moment so far?
Servais: I haven’t had many here in spring training. I would just say his inclusion in the meetings we’ve had has been very good. I just think he has so much respect from the other people in the room for what he’s done in the game and I thought when I interviewed Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Ichiro the other day – I thought his answers to the questions I threw out there were awesome. They were very insightful. It says a lot about the player he is and what he values.
Cotterill: If you’re meeting a player or coach for the first time, what’ your go-to joke?
Servais: I don’t have a joke. I’m not really a funny guy by nature. But not just as player, but like interns we’d hire or whatever, when I was in different jobs like as an assistant GM or whatever, my thing was – how did you get in that seat?
Cotterill: (Rangers pitcher) Cole Hamels said this isn’t college baseball in referring to the six-man rotation, and the Mariners are one of the clubs who have talked about using it at some point in the season. Why do you see the six-man rotation making sense for at least some portion of the season?
Servais: It’s all about keeping players healthy. The six-man rotation in theory is a great idea. The issue is do you have six viable starters? That’s a different thing.
If you are just going to punt on the sixth day because that guy maybe isn’t ready or he should be in Triple-A – then all the sudden you aren’t in a competitive game and it’s not helping anything and for every time that sixth starter starts it’s one less turn that the No. 1 guy might have. So now instead of every No. 1 guy making 32-33 starts now he makes 27-28. You have to balance that.
The game constantly changes. It evolves and people look at the numbers and make decisions differently because of it. When I say the six-man rotation – is it good, bad, indifferent? I don’t know. I do know that if you’ve got players that you’ve got to accommodate to keep them healthy, then it makes sense to me.
Cotterill: I’m going to throw a couple of rapid-fire questions at you. First –who is most likely to surprise some people this year?
Servais: Marco Gonzales.
Cotterill: What’s the next step for James Paxton in his career?
Cotterill: And who is your Pick to Click this year?
Servais: Kyle Seager
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677