Notes: HR barrage vs. Bauer; Sheffield sharp

March 23rd, 2021

The Mariners may very well have been the peskiest opponent this spring for reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. After drawing four walks against him in its first meeting with the right-hander, Seattle clobbered three homers in the fifth inning on Monday, chasing the Dodgers’ superstar free-agent signee in a 7-3 win.

Evan White began the barrage by nearly soaring over the batter’s eye at the Peoria Sports Complex on a center-cut fastball that he unloaded with a 108 mph exit velocity. José Marmolejos followed with another towering homer against a fastball, landing beyond the berm in right field with a 112 mph exit velocity. Mitch Haniger made it a hat trick by clearing the deepest part of the park in left-center field for his third homer of Spring Training, further putting his clean bill of health on display.

For White, timing up fastballs -- particularly in hitter-friendly counts, such as the 3-1 offering he had on Monday -- has been one of his key areas of focus after hitting much worse than his contact and approach would suggest, with a .162/.227/.351 slash line 37 at-bats this spring but with only seven strikeouts. And for Marmolejos, the favorite to break camp with a bench role flashed power that he’d not yet shown, at least at the big league level.

“The whole key is you make good swing decisions, and he worked himself into a very good count. … He has really hit the ball well the last seven days,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of White. “I keep joking with him that they don't really matter now. It matters on April 1, and hopefully they start falling in. But [if] he hits them like that, they go over the fence, nobody's catching those.”

Moreover, Monday’s game offered more offensive momentum ahead of Opening Day, with the club mashing 12 homers over its past seven games and posting stronger at-bats across the board.

Sheff sharp in penultimate tune-up
Lefty walked two with two outs but was otherwise sharp as he worked through some kinks, focused on throwing his breaking ball more and ramped up to five innings and 78 pitches in his second-to-last start of the spring.

At the mid-to-late stages of Spring Training last year, Sheffield was working on entrenching himself as a fixture in the rotation, whereas this time around, he’s established his rotation spot and is more focused on building on an impressive rookie season.

“I feel like I'm in a way better spot, just as far as comfortability, as far as just being in control of myself out there,” Sheffield said. “I just feel like I'm in a good spot. Last year was a little bit uncertain still. I still wanted to go out there and put up numbers and showcase what I could do because I didn't know ... if I was going to make the team or not. This Spring Training has been a little bit different, being able to work on things of that sort. But now, it's crunch time.”

Sixth rotation spot will come down to wire
The battle for the final spot in Seattle’s starting staff between Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius remains undecided, and each will get one final audition before the club finalizes its Opening Day roster, which Servais said he anticipates will happen this weekend.

The right-hander Dunn is slated to pitch Wednesday against the Cubs and the lefty Margevicius on Thursday against Oakland. Both have had shining moments this spring, with Dunn at times flashing some of the most-improved stuff on the staff. He’s also labored through a few of the command issues that have been prevalent throughout his first two big league seasons. Margevicius has carried over the strong showing he had in 2020, most recently throwing four scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Giants.

Regardless of which pitcher breaks camp with Seattle, with the workloads of the starting staff being monitored closely early in the season and the flexibility of the six-man unit, the other will contribute Major League starts sooner than later.

France will be emergency catcher
Ty France at one point thought his clearest path to the Majors was behind the dish, and he served as a catcher as recently as last season at San Diego’s alternate training site. So, while the Mariners have no intention of bringing him along as a catcher, they have approached the elite-hitting slugger about the possibility of being used in emergency situations.

With France the primary DH for 2021 and a backup at every infield position but shortstop, his ability to catch in a pinch gives Servais more of a safety net to install catchers Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens in the lineup on more regular occasions.