PEORIA, Ariz. - Most batting coaches come to a team with their own sets of drills, and Chris Chambliss is no different - except he's reached back to the glory days of baseball to help the Mariners.
Every hitter on the team now plays pepper.
“When I came up, there wasn’t extra batting practice and some parks didn’t even have cages,” Chambliss said. “We’d play pepper, get loose and play the game.”
For the uninitiated, pepper is a simple game that can be played with two people, but more often includes four or more. In essence, one man with a bat stands in front of a group of teammates. When one throws a ball to him, he hits it back to the group.
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Simple, or as complex as you want to make it. A good pepper hitter can bat the ball back to teammates standing right to left in front of him, and do it hitting the ball from the man on his right to the man on his left, in order.
“It helps with bat control, the idea is to always know where the bat head is,” Chambliss said. “Guys like Ichiro (Suzuki) and (Chone) Figgins do it already, but a lot of guys with power swings don’t. This may help them get the bat on the ball a little more with two strikes.
“We don’t want to give up at-bats.”
Infield coach Robbie Thompson chipped in by asking Chambliss to have his pepper-players work on their defense during the game.
“He wanted me to make sure to tell the guys to get in the proper position when they’re fielding,” Chambliss said. “Pepper gets your heart going, it works on your bat control and it’s fun.”
There’s been only one complaint – from the Peoria grounds crew.
“They don’t want you playing it on the fields, because it can tear up the grass,” Chambliss said. “We play it between fields and in the outfield.”
Erik Bedard isn’t about to look too far ahead or make too much of a batting practice session thrown on Feb. 21.
But he feels great.
“Opening day, the regular season, it’s just too far out there still,” Bedard said. “I feel great, my arm feels great, but you can’t get much work done now if you’re looking more than a month out.”
Still, he threw three pitches for strikes Monday.
“I was lucky,” Bedard said. “This time of spring, you might have great command one day and the next time you throw in the ’pen, you’re all over the place.
“The key is health, and I couldn’t feel any better right now.”
Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas didn’t face hitters in batting practice Tuesday, instead limiting their work to bullpen sessions. Why? “We just decided to hold them off a little,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We’re in no rush to get their heart rates up.” Other than Hernandez and Vargas, each of the other 30 pitchers in camp has now thrown a batting practice session. Felix’s take on being held back a bit? “They did the same thing last spring,” he said.
Looking for depth? When the Mariners took infield on two diamonds they had at least two players at each spot on each field. That’s four third basemen, for instance – Chone Figgins, Matt Tuiasosopo, Alex Liddi and Matt Mangini. That’s depth, and Wedge and his staff believe they’ll not only find a solid 25-man roster from this group for opening day, but probably have another 5-10 players pushing for jobs from Class AAA Tacoma.
When the Mariners play their intrasquad game on Friday, they’ll play about five innings, with a different pitcher likely to work each half inning.