Manager Pat Listach previews Rainiers, minor league pace-of-play changes
Mike Zunino was catching, Erasmo Ramirez pitching and Ben Gamel was hitting.
Except that was all at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma. Each are recovering from injuries and all three of the Mariners' expected starters appeared healthy during some simulated play during the Triple-A Tacoma practice.
Gamel (oblique) tagged right-handed Ramirez's final pitch with a liner that was almost to the wall in center field.
"That's an out," Rainiers manager Pat Listach barked at Gamel, who laughed.
Listach said Gamel will start at designated hitter in the Rainiers' season opener on Thursday at Cheney Stadium.
"Gamel looked great," Listach said. "I threw batting practice to him today and he looked great. His swing looks really good and he looks really healthy. He didn't hold back and he hit a lot of balls over into the schoolyard at Foss (High School) over there."
Mariners manager Scott Servais had said Gamel has been recovering faster than expected. They announced he'd miss up to six weeks on March 5.
Ramirez threw 40 pitches over two sessions on Tuesday in his recovery from a strained last muscle. And he's expected to begin his rehab stint with a start for the Rainiers at 5:05 p.m. Saturday at Cheney Stadium.
"I feel good," Ramirez said. "Except for just in the second inning I started moving too quick with my mechanics. I tried to go quicker and it gave me a little problem with my pitches. But my arm feels good and I got some control of my breaking balls."
Ramirez said the injury might have been a blessing in disguise. He said he feels stronger than before.
"You never expect injuries when you're in the offseason but it happened and it's hard to figure out how to come back and come back healthy and not lose yourself," Ramirez said. "But I've learned a little bit more about my body and how to execute pitches and doing exercises to keep my body in shape. My endurance during workouts is way better now and knowing how to work each of my muscles that were injured at the time was awesome. But you always want to pitch.
"I feel fine, so I just want to move to the next step and that's a game."
And for Zunino, he swung a bat for the second time in two days since learning he had what the Mariners said was a minor strain of his oblique muscle. That was on his final swing on the day before the Mariners' Opening Day last week.
He also caught for Ramirez during the simulated game.
"It's frustrating because it's stuff you don't anticipate," Zunino said. "The day before the season, all the work you put in ... but, you know, it's one of those things where you got to learn and you go and continue to learn your body and make sure you don't rush in the sense of come back when you're not 100 percent and that's the toughest part. Especially for a guy like me. I want to play."
He said he wasn't swinging any giant hacks at the plate during his Tuesday session. Servais has been confident they could see Zunino back with the Mariners by the end of his stint on the 10-day disabled list, which could set him up for a return on April 7 at typically frigid Minneapolis against the Twins.
"I took my first swings yesterday so today was going to be the true test for me," Zunino said. "We'll see. It's day by day. But it's one of those things where each day I've felt better. So that's the biggest thing."
Former National League All-Star outfielder Jayson Werth, 38, signed with the Mariners on a minor-league deal and has been catching up at extended spring training in Arizona.
Listach said Werth would likely join the Rainiers once Gamel is called back up to the Mariners. in the next two weeks.
"He'll be (in Arizona) for 10-15 days and get in playing shape and maybe come when Gamel goes up," Listach said.
Listach laid out the Rainiers' starting pitching rotation for when they open the season on Thursday against Sacramento at Cheney Stadium and beyond.
Right-hander Christian Bergman will get the first start, followed by left-hander Ariel Miranda on Friday, Ramirez on Saturday, right-hander Rob Whalen on Sunday and right-hander Max Povse after that.
"And all have big-league experience," Listach said. "So I expect big things."
The Mariners have said Ramirez won't be ready by April 11, when they need to add a fifth starter to their roster. So that will either be Miranda or Whalen.
But by that scheduling, Miranda's next turn in the rotation would slot perfectly for April 11. Miranda led the Mariners in innings pitched last season.
PACE OF PLAY
Listach voiced some of his displeasure with minor-league baseball's pace-of-play changes this year.
One of those is starting with a runner at second base during extra innings. The runner is whichever batter was the final out of the previous inning and that continues every inning until the final out of the game.
The other is the pitch clock. The clocks counts down from 15 seconds when there are no runners on base and it's 20 seconds when there are runners on.
It's all in an effort to finish games faster.
"I'm not a big fan," Listach said. "I think the game was meant to be played one way. I understand what they are trying to do, but to be honest I don't hear many people complaining about the length of our games. It's the big-league that are going three-and-a-half and four hours. Not the minor-league games. The minor-league games we've cut down pretty good and they are trying to cut it down even more.
"It's not like a soccer game where you watch 90 minutes and then go home. But at the same time, I understand what they are trying to do and we'll try our best to abide by the rules."
Listach said that the Rainiers called up 18-year-old shortstop Cesar Izturis Jr. to take up the spot vacated when Taylor Motter was recalled to the Mariners.
Izturis' father was a Gold Glove shortstop with the Dodgers and an All-Star in 2005. The younger Izturis signed as an international free agent two years ago.
Listach was asked if this Rainiers team is more fit to help the big-league club right away than he's had in years past.
"Most of the team that we'll open with on Thursday has been in the big leagues," Listach said. "Most of the guys have played and at least had a cup of coffee in the big leagues. So these guys will fit right in."