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Will Felix Be On Target This Season? Spring Training Offers First Clues

Charlie Riedel
AP Photo
Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez participates in a drill during spring training practice, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Peoria, Ariz.

Mariners spring training is now underway in Peoria, Arizona. There are some new players for fans to get to know. And there are questions about whether one veteran player will be able to deliver.

Knkx sports commentator Art Thiel talked with 88.5’s Kirsten Kendrick about what he expects this season.

Lessons Learned

General manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais are both in their second year with the team. Thiel said they've learned a lot.

"Last year was Scott Servais' rookie year in any kind of managerial position," he said.

"So, I think he learned a lot about how difficult it is to manage a game every single day. And he had to learn all of the personnel.

"I think Dipoto learned that the Mariner farm system was close to bankrupt. He had a lot of hires in his first year, such as Nori Aoki, Dae-ho Lee, Chris Iannetta. These guys were just one-year patches and they've all moved on.

"So, he really had to deal veterans for veterans because there were so few prospects in the Mariner farm system. Those things are resolving for this year.

"I would think both of them are going to be much more comfortable and prepared for the season since they know their players now."

Out With A Lot Of The Old, In With The New

Thiel said there are some key new players fans should watch for this season.

"The guy that really is intriguing is the top new guy they've got, Jean Segura," he said. "[He's] a shortstop from the Arizona Diamondbacks who is at the top of his game and finally, finally will fill the hole at shortstop that's been there for at least 10 years. He's also fast. And he's going to improve the Mariners' base running.

"So will the other two guys that most intrigue me: corner outfield Jarrod Dyson is 32 — from the Kansas City Royals where he was the fourth outfielder in the Royals' renaissance. A very energetic guy. Very effective in the field. And he'll be a great leadoff hitter.

"In right field, a rookie: Mitch Haniger is 26 and is going to be in the starting lineup for the first time in right field, which will settle that position. That was occupied by Seth Smith a year ago. He was traded.

"What that gives them is three good athletes in the outfield, with center fielder Leonys Martin returning.

"Three guys who could all play center field in the outfield is really going to cut down on all those balls into the gap and down the lines that, I think, are still rolling from the 2016 season," Thiel joked.

He also pointed out that two more popular players have left the team. Shortstop Ketel Marte and pitcher Taijuan Walker were part of the trade with Arizona that brought Segura and Haniger to the Mariners.

Pitching Shuffle

"To fill the gap by Taijuan Walker, they added a couple of guys at the back end of the [starting] rotation," Thiel said. "Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo have both been veteran Major League pitchers and they'll be better than the two occupants last year, Wade Miley and Nathan Karns.

"My apprehension is the top three spots. In Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, they have guys who've had injury and health problems. And I'm not really confident that those are behind them."

Can Felix Deliver?

"Of course, the number-one question for the entire team this year is the health and durability of Felix Hernandez," Thiel continued.

"He's been the ace here 12 years. I know he's talking a good game, as he should, and he's being backed by Servais and Dipoto.  And there's a lot of optimism that his rigorous training will pay off this spring.

"I want to see it. Because I am still scarred for life by watching Felix have such bad games last year where he just could not command his pitches.

"I think Mariner fans are hopeful that he's going to be the real deal. He won't be the Cy Young guy he was. But, at 31, he can still be a good pitcher. And that's what he's got to prove in spring training."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.