PEORIA, Ariz. – Reliever Rafael Montero is playing some catch-up after dealing with a visa issue that delayed his arrival to Spring Training camp, but the new Mariners reliever will face hitters in the coming days and will be installed into Cactus League action by the end of next week.
Montero arrived earlier this week, threw a bullpen session on Friday and sat down with Mariners manager Scott Servais for their first in-person conversation since the club acquired him from the Rangers on Dec. 15.
“I think it's important just to let him settle in kind of get a feel for our environment, our structure, our schedule throughout the day,” Servais said. “I’m looking forward to having him.”
Montero was one of the key offseason acquisitions for general manager Jerry Dipoto, who set out to bolster a bullpen that posted an American League-worst 5.92 ERA last season. The high-velocity right-hander converted all eight of his save opportunities with Texas last season, and he will have the clearest path to Seattle’s highest-leverage innings.
“That ball comes out hot,” Servais said. “It's really easy, and he is as advertised -- his level-headed and just cool kind of attitude about him on the mound. He's very confident.”
Paxton, who reunited with the Mariners on a one-year deal, came into camp with much intrigue after battling significant back and forearm injuries in 2020. He is full systems go, saying earlier this week that he anticipates a normal buildup to five to six innings by the end of Cactus League play.
Paxton spent all offseason rebuilding strength and relearning his mechanics after being limited to five starts, and he wowed interested clubs with a bullpen session around the holidays, which led to offers from multiple clubs, including a few that he said were more lucrative than the $8.5 million deal he signed with the Mariners.
Servais missing morning meetings
One of the adjustments that Servais has made in light of health and safety protocols this camp has been the elimination of the club-wide morning meetings with all players in camp. Those get-togethers were crucial to providing a platform for players to show off personality and for management to establish its culture.
“I love the morning meeting and what that brought to our environment,” Servais said. “It's a great way to start the day. You know, you always got something fun and entertaining out of those meetings, but we can't get 100 guys in that clubhouse.”
Servais has instead been more proactive about one-on-one meetings with players, gleaning their goals, expectations, personality traits and other characteristics to better acclimate with the 71-player roster that the Mariners have in camp.
Yusei Kikuchi will embark on his third season in Seattle when he makes his first start of the spring Tuesday against Cleveland, with first pitch and free audio scheduled for 12:10 p.m. PT. Kikuchi has a 5.39 ERA through his first 41 big league starts, but the Mariners point out that many of his underlying metrics were far improved in 2020, and there is some validity to that, particularly with a huge drop in home runs allowed.