Healthy Jason Bay still has long odds in way

ryan.divish@thenewstribune.comFebruary 24, 2013 

PEORIA, Ariz. — Jason Bay has been playing professional baseball long enough to know spring training production doesn’t translate into regular-season success.

But for Bay, who is trying to resurrect his career by making the Seattle Mariners’ roster coming out of spring training, any little success can help.

In his first Cactus League at-bat, Bay ripped a two-run homer off San Diego starter Tyson Ross in what would become an 8-6 victory for Mariners over the Padres at Peoria Stadium.

Bay didn’t hesitate. With Franklin Gutierrez on first, he jumped on the second pitch he saw from Ross – a 95 mph fastball – and launched a line drive to left-center.

“It’s the last thing you think about,” Bay said of the homer. “You are just trying to get your timing down. Spring training or not, it does help you to relax a little.”

Bay’s was one of three two-run homers for Seattle. Justin Smoak and Mike Jacobs blasted the other two.

“He’s looked good,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said of Bay. “He’s healthy now. He’s in great shape. He’s short to the ball with some pop.”

It doesn’t mean the outfielder has returned to his All-Star form of 2009, when he hit .267 with 36 homers and 119 RBI for Boston. But his swing is starting to get closer to that.

“I’ve kind of refound it,” Bay said. “I’ve struggled for a while. I tried a million things trying to save face. Nothing was working, and I got so far away from doing what I had done before that I forgot how to do it.”

So Bay went looking for that old, familiar swing. He started at the end of last season, when he was languishing on the bench for the New York Mets, then carried it over to his first healthy offseason in a while and on into spring training.

“It’s trying to get my rhythm back to what I’ve always done,” he said. “So what may appear to be different than what I’ve done the last couple of years is probably what it looked like three or fours years ago.”

It helped that Bay wasn’t fighting any sort of injury problems.

“It allowed me to go into spring ‘normal,’ ” he said. “It does make things easier. You get your work in, get your stuff done in the offseason and then you hit the ground running when you get here instead of having to play catch-up.”

That swing from three or four years ago helped Bay put up huge numbers for the Red Sox. But after signing a four-year, $66 million contract with the Mets following the 2009 season, Bay’s past couple of years were filled with injuries, poor production and unmet expectations.

The Mets simply cut Bay this offseason, despite owing him nearly $21 million.

With his baseball future in limbo, the Mariners signed Bay – a Canadian who played at Gonzaga – to a one-year contract to see if he had something left to help their offensively starved club.

Bay knows he comes into camp with no guarantees. It’s not so much if he earns a starting spot in left field, but whether he actually makes the team. The team traded for Michael Morse and signed Raul Ibañez – both of whom also play left field. With Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders likely the starters in center and right fields, there isn’t much room.

Bay and Casper Wells could be in competition for a spot. Wells has an advantage because he can play all three outfield positions at an above-average level.

But Bay won’t get caught up in that.

“I’m more worried about what I can do,” he said. “I understand that there’s a limited number of people and a limited number of spots. I was under that impression when I came here. I still need to make the team, no question. I think that falls on me.”

SMOAK ALSO SHINES

The two-run home run from Smoak is also promising for the Mariners. Hitting from the left side, he worked a 3-1 count off Brad Boxberger then crushed a fastball deep into right-center.

“I was just trying to square it up and put a good swing on it,” Smoak said.

A good swing is important to Smoak, who made some major changes to his hand placement and pre-swing preparation starting late last season. He’s still going with those changes this spring.

“It’s feeling better,” he said. “It’s a work in progress. But at the same time, it’s as close as I’ve felt to being where I want to be in a quite a while.”

SHORT HOPS

Top pitching prospects Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen both looked sharp in their Cactus League debuts. Walker pitched one inning, allowing one hit and pitching 97 mph, according to the radar gun. Hultzen needed just seven pitches – all strikes – to strike out two batters and get a third out. … The Mariners led the game 8-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. But the combination of Jhonny Nunez’s inability to throw strikes and errors from Vinnie Catricala and Mike Jacobs led to five runs in the inning. … Catcher John Hicks is hitting .1000 over two Cactus League seasons. He went 2-for-2 on Saturday, and last season he had hits in his only two Cactus League at-bats.

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

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