Winter Meetings interview with Scott Servais

December 12th, 2017

Q. What did you learn last year besides injuries are a pain in the butt?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I learned how to deal with injuries, there was no doubt about that. Using 40 different pitchers was a challenge and unfortunately kind of became the story of our season. We just couldn't overcome it.
I thought we did a lot of good things throughout the season to hang in there. I think at one point in August we maybe had one of the Wild Card spots but weren't able to keep it going through September. So I think you have a chance to reflect as a ballclub and an organization and try and move forward and take that next step.
Q. What do you think about the two deals, acquisitions that you have so far?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Excited, I am. It's a great fit for the ballclub, . Obviously we saw Ryon a lot the last year and a half and he swung the bat very well against us and looking at him and playing first base predominantly and getting him comfortable over there and up to speed. But we like the bat, like the upside of the player, he's got power, continue to focus on controlling the strike zone to get the most out of the power and what pitches to hit.
Newest acquisition of Dee Gordon is very exciting. Trying to identify -- we saw the impact that the speed and athleticism can have in our outfield last year with Dyson and Gamel and Haniger running around out there, and Heredia taking a chance. Dee Gordon is a proven Major League player. He's an All Star we're asking him to play new positions. Dee is getting after it. He was already out yesterday taking fly balls, trying to get comfortable out there. He's going to try to turn himself into a Gold Glove centerfielder.
So excited to have him on the club, not just what he does in the lineup every day, ultimately making the adjustment to centerfield, but he brings energy, excitement to our ballclub, and he did a nice top of the order him, and Segura, how ever it matches up, to go in front of the guys in the middle, I like our lineup a lot.
Q. In honor of Shannon, are you planning on going with Gordon and Segura as 1-2?
SCOTT SERVAIS: In honor of Shannon. Shannon likes to be on top of the lineup construction in Seattle.
Right now we would probably go with Dee Gordon at the top with Segura. We'll see how it plays out as we get into Spring Training, and like I said, our lineup is very deep. I think you start looking at the bottom of the lineup and you got Healy and Haniger and Zunino and Gamel, those guys have all put together nice stretches last year and nice seasons, and that's what it's going to take. We have a tough division. The American League continues to get tougher, and you have got to have a deep lineup.
Q. Have you talked to Dee about moving to center and how has he responded?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Absolutely we talked about it. We had obviously Jerry in doing the deal with the Marlins, the Marlins knew where we were headed about it and gave Dee a little bit of a heads up. I think Dee was surprised, rightly so, but I know talking with him just a couple hours after the deal he understood where we're going and said to me and I know he said to Jerry as well, if this is what makes the ballclub better, then let's get after it. I will turn myself into a quality centerfielder and that's what he's going to do.
Q. How big of a challenge is that for him?
SCOTT SERVAIS: A guy that talented that athletic and that fast, you're looking at different things that he's done throughout his career, going back on pop-up at second base, he's got unbelievable range and that's what we're using to hopefully take advantage of that in the outfield and running the balls down, and offensively just do what he does. He's been very good getting on base I think he's scored over 110, 115 runs last year. If he does that again this year we'll be in really good shape.
Q. Jerry said that Nelson's gathered a large group of your players down in Miami to work out as a team down there. What do you think of that that getting all these guys to go down there and work out together for a couple weeks?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I think it's fantastic. It's something that in the exit meetings at the end of the year, I know it's an idea that Nelson had brought up to me I thought it was tremendous. Really pushed for him to do that, and it really should be done with the players themselves. There's not going to be any club personnel down there, no coaches whatever. Guys just spending some time together in the off-season working out, and Dee Gordon is going to join the group, Ryon Healy will join the group. So anytime you can do those things away from the field, it helps with the team building as we go into Spring Training knowing what's ahead of us.
Q. Nelson likes to work out in the off-season, I imagine those won't be easy workouts?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Those will not be easy workouts. Nelson, I'm sure, will have his training guru down there, Ian Glen will be there and I know Nelson's looking to have a big year. He's had a big year every year he's been with the Mariners and he's just looking to continue to get better, even at the age he's at. Nothing surprises me anymore with Nelson.
So I appreciate the leadership and him stepping out and trying to set things like this up and the other guys jumping on boards.
Q. What are your feelings about Felix at this stage of his career, what does he need to do?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I think Felix will be the first thing is he needs to stay healthy. It is going to be about his health. He's had an unbelievable career. People in Seattle have been able to enjoy that, but they haven't been able to enjoy watching Felix pitch in playoff games. He knows kind of where he's at in his career. Trying to do some different things training this off-season to be ready. He doesn't have to get ramped up as early as he did last year. There's no WBC this year, which is a good thing for the Mariners but for us to get where we need to go, I think it's -- everybody knows Felix has maybe taken a step back in the velocity of the fastball. He has not lost his know-how, his field of pitch, his competitiveness is all still there, and that's what we need. If Felix can give us 30, 32 starts this year, he'll put up his numbers and we'll be just fine. But I think the expectations, and he set the bar very high, he did it to himself, are not quite where they were before. We realize that. He has actually wanting to show people he can still be the King and I would love to see him again.
Q. We talked about this for a couple years now but does he have to buy into the fact that he's not the dominant pitcher that he was?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I think you saw that at the end of the year. I know had a couple stars in Oakland where he did not have even kind of where his stuff is at now, his stuff was not good that day, but figured out a way to get through six innings. Keep the ballclub in the game, win the game. That's what we are looking for, the innings, the bulk. And only way to do that is you got to be out there. You got to be healthy.
Q. Do you feel like you've had him for two years and you really haven't seen the best of him yet?
SCOTT SERVAIS: No, I haven't. Just looking from afar before I got the opportunity here in Seattle, so looking forward you're looking for that guy to anchor down your rotation, the guy you give the ball to, and we can take a deep breath here. We started to be that guy. I haven't seen it out of Felix yet. It's there. We've seen it for a game here, a game there, but there's nobody more competitive that wants the ball and wants to take the ball and produce for the Mariners.
So keeping him healthy, getting him off to a good start, maybe change up a few things in Spring Training on how he kind of revs up for the season, something we're looking at probably going to need.
Q. Paxton how good can he be?
SCOTT SERVAIS: The sky's the limit, really. He really carried us in the rotation, as banged up as we were we were able to hang in there last year because Paxton was giving us consistent 6, 7 innings every time out so you could kind of give the bullpen a little bit of a breather on those days. It's going to be really important for us to continue to progress. The confidence level is what really is the difference in Paxton. He is aggressive on the mound. His demeanor on the mound has changed dramatically, not just on the mound but also in the clubhouse as leader. Understanding that not just the day you pitch, but the other four days are important into being a good teammate and trying to draw the rest of the group in and talking amongst the pitching staff, and he's really kind of embraced that role and it's great to see.
So this is the step forward for James Paxton. I know people talked about it for awhile but you've seen the success, the confidence. Now the health, we got to keep him healthy the whole year and go from there.
Q. Some teams are trying to modify with five-and-a-half-man rotation, with all the off-days and stuff to keep guys healthy. You had some guys with injury issues. Are you going to try that throughout the year to try to get your guys extra rest?
SCOTT SERVAIS: It's something we talk a lot about, and I know a lot of the guys that are proud, they want to make their 34 starts, but it's about keeping them healthy keeping it going. You saw what happens when they're not healthy. So we talked a lot about it.
To do that you got to have five, six -- six guys, run a six-man rotation that you feel comfortable about giving the ball and not just run out there, but you're only lasting 2 1/3 or 3 1/3. So you got to have not just the quantity but the quality to do it as well. So it's something I think we can do. We do have a lot of off-days early, so you might not see us break out of camp that way, but at some point during the season we could pull back and put an extra guy in the rotation.
Q. How do you see your rotation beyond Felix, Paxton?
SCOTT SERVAIS: , acquiring him, I thought he did a really nice job coming. Build him up. He was in the bullpen in Tampa, and we got him back. He'll be in that mix to fill out the rotation. we'll see. We traded for him last year. We saw some glimpses. The struggle with Marco was to get through that lineup the third time. After having a full season away from the Tommy John now, probably look to him to add the cutter back into his repertoire, which is going to be really important. It's a pitch that he used a lot before he got hurt. He didn't use it at all last year. So he'll add that back into the mix and most of the left-handers who throw like he does in the league, they do have the ability to cut the ball in on right-handers. So it's going to be important for him to get the feel of that pitch better.
Q. The bullpen depth, kind of key here the way you talk about using your starters?
SCOTT SERVAIS: It is. You got to have depth, multiple guys that can do more than just inning. I think that's really important. You saw the importance of that, and as the game kind evolves the guys who can throw the multiple innings they're not pitching every day, but they can go two or 2 1/3 really, really valuable. So we're still working through our bullpen. I certainly like the back end of it. I think that once we acquired last year, I loved our bullpen. Unfortunately, when Phelpsie went down, it changed things. We put a little bit more workload on the other guys, and we came up a little bit short at the end because we weren't quite deep enough there. So it's one of the things we're trying to address this off-season.
Q. About Otani being in same division, what was your reaction and how are you going to prepare now you have to face him?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Yeah, obviously he's a talented player. We got to spend a little time looking at how he does it and visiting with him, but he made a decision he's going to be with the Angels we will see him a lot. He's a really talented player and I'm sure we'll have plenty of battles as the years go forward.
Q. Scared to see him face against him?
SCOTT SERVAIS: No, no. Respect. Not scared. Respect.
Q. How do you see him as a pitcher and as a batter?
SCOTT SERVAIS: He's a good player.
Q. You spend much time I know thinking about how you would use a guy like that. It's kind of a big picture baseball question but a guy that can do multiple things like that, how big a challenge is that?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Oh, it's a challenge. I think the two-way guy, how do you keep him healthy, keep him going on the mound and keep the bat going as well. There's no doubt it's a challenge. All the teams that had talked about possibly bringing him in, I'm sure they all came up with a plan of how to do it. Everybody's going to look at it a bit differently. I do think it will be interesting to see how it plays out. It could open the door for more players. You see it in college, don't see it in pro ball, but more guys that do have the ability with that kind of athlete to give it a shot, but it will be a testing ground. We'll see if he can do it.
Q. Three years ago at this time we were coming off a season where offense really cratered and a lot of people were talking about how speed was going to become a big part of the game, instead we got a bunch of power. So first, why do you think that happened and B, just how important is speed in the game today?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Well, I think the people that saw us play last year, saw the value of speed certainly in our outfield, turning a lot of balls that ended up in gaps turning them into outs. So the athleticism, the speed defensively has been huge. Where the power's come from in the game, obviously we're going to focus on it. You see guys I call it hunting their pitch, shrinking the strike zone and trying to drive the ball out of the ballpark and getting the ball in the air more consistently. I think that's the biggest change. Hitters are more aware mechanically in their swings, what they need to do to get the ball in the air and not chasing pitches, but sitting on their pitches and trying to pull the ball in the air. The result has been more home runs.
Q. Why do you think that trend happened?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Why do you think?
Q. I get paid to ask the questions.
SCOTT SERVAIS: And they get paid to hit it out of the park (laughing). That would be my guess. Obviously guys are getting rewarded. I think there's a record number of guys last year who hit over 20s home runs in the league but they are, they're hunting their pitches. They're not missing it, they're trying to get it in the air, and they're getting rewarded for it.
Q. It like you guys are probably set up to go to a 13-man pitching staff again. Did you get pretty comfortable having that extra reliever last year?
SCOTT SERVAIS: We have talked a lot internally 12, 13, you can go back and forth based on kind of your schedule, who you're playing, the matchups, the off-days, things like that, that play into it. I think that with how our season played out last year we had to carry 13. We needed an extra guy in the bullpen. Our starters were not getting deep into games and you needed the extra arm. But a lot of teams, I would say probably more than half, in the American League carried 13 last year, and we'll be open to looking at 12. If there's a way that the extra position player can help us at a certain time. But a lot of it will play into schedule and there are more off-days this year, too, that will really help the bullpen.
Q. Does that require that your bench be really versatile?
SCOTT SERVAIS: It does, yes. The guys on the bench have to be a little bit multiple positions. Certainly in a perfect world the super utility, that's where the Taylor Motters, the Romines really play into this thing because they can play all over field.
Q. It really does look like though for the most part your position guys are set. Jerry would say that he didn't think that but he didn't think he was going to do anything major when it came to a (inaudible)?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I do, I like our team a lot, our position player group, our lineup, we are athletic, we have power, we got speed. The backup catcher position is one that will kind of play out as we get through Spring Training, which is an important spot. I think as much as we like the growth and step forward that Mike Zunino took, he still needs days off. He can't play every day, and the guy you put back in there, I thought was with us last year, did a nice job but probably looking at somebody a little bit younger that we can control and give that guy an opportunity.
Q. Zunino do you feel like turned the corner where he's going to be more consistent moving forward?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I do. I always think there's going to be the hot streaks and cold streaks. The thing that I'm as much excited about, obviously the bat has been great. He hit the ball out of the ballpark, got the average up there, but really saw a step forward with his game calling and game management behind the plate. I think a lot of it had to do with his confidence level. He just felt like he was really contributing offensively.
And to that point the adjustments we made in our coaching staff kind of going with three pitching coaches with the bullpen coach Jim Brower, assistant pitching coach, who is going to work with very close with Zunino in the game calling and game planning, along with Mel being there, will only help.
The game, as much as we get excited about offense and home runs, we saw it last year, it's about pitching. Certainly getting in the playoffs you got to have the horses on the mound and hopefully getting more out of the guys we have and Zunino playing a big part of that will help us.
Q. You got Gordon in center, I assume Mitch pretty much every day in right, is Gamel kind of split time?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Could, yeah. I think that Gamel and Heredia, yes, splitting up time or one thing that's great about Guillermo, he can play all three positions very talented defender/ Guillermo can and Haniger can, and I got to believe Dee Gordon can. So you really got four guys that could play in centerfield and all over. So you can mix and match with those guys to keep them fresh, but we are young and I think a people don't give us enough credit for the job that we have done in turning over the roster to get young look at Cano and Cruz, and seems like Felix has been around forever, and those are four. Those are our stable guys but adding the Hanigers, the Gamels, Dee Gordon in his prime Segura is in his prime. We have gotten a lot younger the last couple years, and we don't get enough credit for it.
Q. Lorena Martin is going to be really involved in player rest and everything, how is that relationship going to work? Is she come to you and say hey this guy is really beat up, he needs a day or how does that work?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Yeah, Lorena Martin is on board as our director of high performance, overseeing all of our medical, mental skills, nutrition, strength and conditioning, everything. I'm really excited to have her on board. It's a different perspective. She hasn't been around baseball a lot, so she's asking a lot of the questions that we have never really thought about. Well, that's the way it's always been done. Doesn't make it right, and we're trying to get up to speed with what's going to know in other sports, and it's a huge step forward for us, and incorporating a different perspective.
She will be involved in everything from sitting down with us, explaining how Spring Training plays out and the schedule and how to get guys enough rest, and as we get going through the season the sleep patterns of players. Nutrition is so important for these guys to recover because it is a grind. People don't give enough credit to how long the season is. And keeping guys healthy and on the field.
But my relationship with her will work very closely together. She will have a say. She's not going to tell me who hits second or third or fourth, but maybe importantly staying out ahead of it, being proactive instead of reactive. If you give this guy a day right now, it may help him down the road. Sometimes as a manager you need that perspective because you can get so locked into today's game, instead of look at the bigger picture, so I think it's going to be a big, big plus for us.
Q. Do you have a blueprint of Kuma and when's going to start throwing again?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Iwakuma is coming along really well. He's kind of ahead of schedule, from what I understand. As far as putting a date on when we could expect him to kind of play into our mix, some people are talking about mid-May. Kind of in the back of my mind maybe it's mid-may, maybe it's early June. Really, really hoping the best for Kuma and for him to come back, as he was so good for us a couple years ago. We really missed him last year and what he's able to do and just his consistency of going out there and giving you six competitive innings.
So I've got my fingers crossed. I really want him back as part of the ballclub. He's a huge asset for us and we'll hope for the best, but probably mid-May to early June.
Q. Was Cano (inaudible)?
SCOTT SERVAIS: I think there was more that it was not really public. He had that quad issue, had some lower body issues that didn't affect him maybe so much in the batters box. Probably saw it more defensively and on the bases, just wasn't moving as well as he did the year before.
But Robby's going to play. He understands that he's a big part of our team and certainly our offense every day, but you probably saw it affect him more laterally defensively, something we talked about at the end of the year. Coming into Spring Training healthy after a full off-season working out, and again no WBC this year, and will have a little bit more rest and be geared up for Opening Day is what we're hoping for. But it did bother him he played through a lot of stuff last year.
Q. He really admitted that it took him out of his routine in the spring, all his workouts and stuff because he would start hitting in the off-season, it really kind of affected his strength right away.
SCOTT SERVAIS: It does and again unbelievable career he's had to this point. These guys know how to get ready for a season but sometimes as you get older, you have to do a little bit more. When your routine gets thrown out of whack, it can you. But Robby's going to have a big year for us, there is no doubt. Looking for him to get down to visit those guys in the Dominican in January again, and look forward to every year just spending time with him.
Last year was up to see Nellie, closer to where he lives, and on this trip down I'll see Robby and get the guys together down there so I'm looking forward to that.
Q. With all the information that's available in the game today, do you think that today's player actually understands the game better than they did a generation ago or are they just using different terminology in explaining the same things?
SCOTT SERVAIS: They certainly understand the numbers better, in my opinion. Having played in the league for a long time and the game has changed, it's evolved and it's going to continue to change and players are more aware of it because they have access to it. Everything that's on the Internet, web sites, fans are more aware of it. Certainly their agents are more aware of it. Front offices are making decisions looking at the numbers. So the players are more aware of it now. Do they know the game better, do they execute better, I think it depends who you're talking to there.
But as far as their awareness goes and understanding what it means to have more productive at-bats, I mean the value of getting on base, the value of scoring runs, they do have a more awareness there, and certainly on the defensive metric that have played in the game to hear about guys talking about it all the time, the range factor, and their base-running gets scrutinized and our team did last year quite a bit on that. It's an area that we have to address this year. So players are certainly way more aware of it.
Q. Unrelated question, sorry, how to phrase this, it's said that former catchers make the best managers and you look at a lot of the managers coming into the last few years none of them really are catchers. Do you think there's any relationship there that players during their careers maybe look at the game more like catchers, like trying to understand, everything is an easier transition to manage, does that make sense?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Kind of. I don't know where you're headed for. Obviously it's just usually an easy slide into the manager's seat as a catcher because you dealt with pitching, and you've also been on the offensive side. Now you're seeing some of the guys I think there's six first-time managers this year maybe going away from that trend a little bit. Do the numbers help educate people, from different positions or its background, maybe. Maybe so. May play into it. But I can't really answer that one. I don't know why. Maybe it's cyclical. Maybe you'll see more managers comeback just the way the game is lined up right now.
Q. Seager's numbers for a lot of third basemen would probably be good but he probably feels like a down year. Do you feel he's motivated?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Yes, is very motivated to get back to where he was. I think he was a little disappointed kind of the end of year. Typically always gets off to slow start but then we have always seen him carry the team for about a month period and you look at the end of the day and it catches up and it all works out. Last year he really didn't have that extended hot streak. That was the one difference that we saw. We talked to Kyle a lot this off-season, he is determined to get back and to get back on top of his game. Because he did he had a good year. It wasn't a typical Kyle Seager year and we all want to see it back, again nobody more than himself and he's working his tail off to make sure that happens.
Q. How do you combat slow starts, guys who are traditionally slow starters, and they try everything in the world to fix it? Do you have any thoughts?
SCOTT SERVAIS: Sometimes it just becomes mental. You kind of get that's who I am. I think at times Kyle will be open, he'll talk about it all the time. "I'm a slow starter. That's just the way it goes." And talking with him I really wish he didn't talk about that, let's change that. A lot of times it starts mentally. This is going to be different this year I'm going to approach it a little bit differently, and I don't know maybe I'm I'll just put it on the Opening Day lineup card maybe that it's June 1st and see how he reacts to that. Maybe that will help. He's aware of it. But a lot of times it can be mental.