Scott Servais thought to when he first noticed Daniel Vogelbach begin to change.
He recalled spring of 2017, when Vogelbach abruptly learned that he would not start the season as the Seattle Mariners' first baseman. Not only that, but Vogelbach wouldn’t platoon either. The Mariners sent him to Triple-A Tacoma.
Vogelbach did not approve.
“Vogey was very upset,” Servais said recently. “He was vocal about it with both me and the general manager. And that’s fine. But when you’re vocal you’re going to get some feedback, which he certainly did.”
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Then Vogelbach became a Triple-A All-Star and was a late addition to the Triple-A Home Run Derby. The Mariners called him up in September and he spent this offseason fine-tuning his mechanics to draw more power.
Vogelbach gets on base. But what about his defense? And could he hit for better power?
And, for Servais, could Vogelbach loosen up?
He seemed to figure some of that out, which is why he was on the Mariners’ Opening Day roster after a big spring. Vogelbach re-packed his bags for Triple-A on Wednesday night, with Ryon Healy activated from the disabled list, but Vogelbach headed there in a much greater standing on the organization's depth chart than this time last year.
“When he went to Tacoma there needed to be some tougher conversations of what needed to get better,” Servais said. “He took it the right way. I think the biggest thing is his attitude. We’re starting to see the personality we had always heard about.
"We saw it last year in September. We saw it in this spring training. He’s the guy you want to root for. The happy-go-lucky guy. It’s Babe Ruth. Joke about it or whatever – he’s always got a smile on his face.”
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said on one of his recent podcasts that he sees more of a resemblance to late actor Chris Farley.
Vogelbach dressed up as the “Saturday Night Live” Chippendales character of Chris Farley as a rookie in 2016 as part of a team-building exercise.
Then Vogelbach hit a home run over the Hit It Here Café above the third deck in right field at Safeco Field in a 10-8 win over the Oakland Athletics on April 15.
“In ‘Tommy Boy,’ the scene in which the deer busts out of the car and Chris Farley turns around to Richard and says, ‘That was awesome!’ … That was my reaction to the Vogel-bomb,” Dipoto said.
The Mariners simply couldn’t ignore his torrid spring. He compiled a .407 batting average and 1.455 OPS (on-base plus slugging), even if his skillset didn’t necessarily bode well for regular playing time in their projected lineup.
But then Nelson Cruz sprained his ankle on a dugout step, meaning Vogelbach could DH.
And before Cruz returned, Healy then sprained his ankle in a postgame workout, meaning Vogelbach would stick around a while longer and play some first base.
That’s where Vogelbach has to improve, so he doesn’t have to rely on crushing baseballs on offense (He hit .204, 11-for-54, with two home runs). The Mariners typically trusted utility players Taylor Motter and Andrew Romine in late-game situations defensively over Vogelbach.
“He learned a lot, and sometimes, more importantly, you earn the trust of the guys you are playing with,” Servais said. “Everyone loved Vogey’s personality. He’s funny and he has a lot of energy and he keeps the dugout light and loose. But ultimately teammates are looking at, ‘Can this guy help us win?’ And I think they saw signs of Vogey really being able to help us going forward.”
Servais held his exit meeting with Vogelbach on Wednesday and said it was entirely positive.
“The biggest thing for me on Vogey, I thought he improved a lot defensively,” Servais said. “We still have some things to work on there, but he will factor into things for us at some point for us, no doubt.
“Range is never going to be Vogey’s thing at first. But catch the balls he’s supposed to catch. He has to get more aggressive going after pop-ups and feeling good about that. … Do I ever look to see Vogey winning a Gold Glove? Probably not. But can he be an adequate defender at first base? He certainly showed signs that he can do that.”
The Mariners have a place for Vogelbach if he can combine that with the offensive production he’s showed in the minors, with a career .287 batting average and .390 on-base percentage.
His move to Triple-A was simply inevitable. The Mariners committed to Healy when they acquired him from the Athletics and they’ve committed to an eight-man bullpen, which doesn’t leave room on the 25-man roster for a backup first baseman/DH.
“I thought the run Daniel Vogelbach had for us, I think Vogey has certainly showed some things and how he fits into our plans going forward,” Servais said. “Really had an outstanding spring training and carried it into a pretty good start into the season. Had some better games than others.
“I asked him what he learned and one of the comments he made was he has to continue to learn to use the whole field to hit. He absolutely murdered the home run at our place at Safeco, but understanding that on certain pitches you can do that but you have to stay consistent using the whole field.”
No more injuries?
The Mariners for the first time this season used the lineup they had projected all offseason they would have.
With Healy, Cruz, Mike Zunino and Ben Gamel all healthy, they all started together for the first time on Thursday in Cleveland.
But then Guillermo Heredia was hit by a pitch Wednesday night with Triple-A Tacoma.
Except Heredia is only expected to miss a few days, said Rainiers radio broadcaster Mike Curto. Heredia is with Triple-A Tacoma after the Mariners optioned him last week, though they’ve been adamant his stay in Tacoma would be short while they figure out whether he returns to Seattle or Ichiro Suzuki is a more permanent fixture on the roster.
Or if they decide add 38-year-old Jayson Werth, a former All-Star with the Washington Nationals who made his Triple-A debut on Wednesday, going 0-for-3 with a walk.
Servais also provided an update on right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma’s recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, saying he is expected to toss a simulated game against live batters on Friday before he potentially begins a rehab assignment.
How different will right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (0-1, 9.64 ERA) be compared to his first start? If he doesn’t improve, expect a long day for the Mariners against right-hander and reigning American League Cy Young winner Corey Kluber (3-1, 1.96 ERA).
Friday’s game starts at 4:10 p.m. at Progressive Field in Cleveland. It will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM radio.