Words may change, not Wedge’s message

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comFebruary 17, 2013 

PEORIA, Ariz. — With the temperature around 80 degrees and a cloudless sky, it could not have been a better day for the Seattle Mariners’ first full workout of spring training Saturday.

Of the 61 players invited to camp, 60 took to the field taking up nearly every inch of the Mariners’ sprawling six-field complex.

The lone absentee? Catcher Ronny Paulino, who is having visa problems in his native Dominican Republic.

“We’re still working on it,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said.

Otherwise, every one else was present and accounted for, and showing first-day enthusiasm.

“It felt good to get out there,” said left fielder Michael Morse. “It always feels good to get out there that first day.”

Before the workout, Wedge delivered his traditional opening speech to the players. For the returnees, the principle points and goals were the same, although the words were different.

“I felt like I said what I needed to say,” Wedge said. “I just spent some time talking to them about what we know that’s important in regard to being a Seattle Mariner; what our expectations are, and where we are at. Every year the message should be a little different, but you make sure you cover the things that are important that aren’t going to change.”

Part of the reason the message is different is that the Mariners aren’t a clubhouse full of kids anymore. Players like Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Tom Wilhelmsen and others have gained valuable big league experience and are no longer wide-eyed rookies. The arrival of veterans Kendrys Morales, Morse and Raul Ibañez also make the clubhouse noticeably different.

Whether players are experienced or not, Wedge still delivers the speech in that intense manner that grabs their attention.

“He definitely gets you so motivated,” Seager said. “He tells you exactly how it is. And he gets you ready to roll.”

SAUNDERS’ SWING TOOLS

While some players put on batting gloves, and others slathered pine tar on their bats to get ready for batting practice, Michael Saunders grabbed a funny-looking contraption from his bag. It was black rubber hose that had been threaded through a cut-up 12-inch piece of a water flotation noodle and tied off in a loop.

Saunders stepped into the loop, moved it up his torso, and placed the noodle under his left armpit.

He then took the first two rounds of batting practice with it.

“It’s something for me to make sure I keep my left elbow in the right place for my swing,” Saunders said.

With his swing based on muscle memory, the tool is supposed to help Saunders find that consistent feel.

Using something like this isn’t new to Saunders. Last offseason, he decided to totally revamp his swing under the direction of swing coach Michael Bard – the brother of former Mariners catcher Josh Bard.

When breaking down Saunders’ swing, Michael Bard had him using resistant bands and swinging a 60 ounce bat. Those things have not changed.

Now, as he fine-tunes the swing this season, Saunders has added more apparatus.

“I’ve got some other stuff that you will see that you’ve never seen before,” he said.

Last season was a mild breakout for Saunders. In his first full season after the swing change, he hit .247 with 19 homers and 57 RBI.

Will the “noodle” and other teaching tools improve on those numbers? Saunders is going to find out.

“The other guys give me crap about it, but this stuff helps me with what I want to do,” he said.

SHORT HOPS

Reliever Jhonny Nunez, who missed most of the week with visa issues, arrived in Peoria on Friday evening and participated in the first workout on Saturday. … Morse hit a ball over the 30-foot batters’ eye in center field during batting practice. The distance to the fence in center field is 410 feet and the ball easily cleared the wall. … Alex Liddi also hammered a few pitches for home runs, including one that bounced a few times and hit a car parked about 50 feet beyond the fence.

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish

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