Young pitchers open eyes in early workouts

Mariners hurlers each complete first bullpen session

Young pitchers open eyes in early workouts

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The first week of Spring Training is all about pitching, but things are about to heat up at Mariners camp -- even with rain expected Saturday -- when position players are due to report for their physical exams.

The full squad will be on the field together for the first time Sunday and the initial Cactus League game is Feb. 25.

So far, however, manager Scott Servais and his staff have focused on the pitchers and catchers. And early impressions have been positive, as all 32 healthy pitchers in camp have now thrown their first 10-minute bullpen session after Friday's workout.

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Servais, a former big league catcher now in his second year as manager, knows only so much can be learned from the initial throwing sessions. But it's easy to see the Mariners have brought together a solid group of veteran starters and some intriguing young bullpen arms, with a pair of flame-throwing 24-year-olds in Thyago Vieira and Dan Altavilla both on display on Friday.

Vieira, in his first big league camp, figures to open the year at Double-A, but could be one to watch as he was clocked as high as 103 mph in the Arizona Fall League. Altavilla opened eyes with his 0.73 ERA in 15 appearances as a late-season callup from Double-A last year.

Servais has also kept a watchful eye on newcomers like Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo, veterans expected to bolster the rotation, as well as a number of other fresh faces in camp.

"It's first bullpens, so it's easy to get crazy," Servais said of first impressions. "There are no hitters in there and nothing really going on. But with the new acquisitions we've got, kind of seeing those guys cock their arm for the first time on the mound, it was good. Guys threw the ball well, they threw strikes, there was a lot to be excited about."

All the pitchers will now throw a second bullpen session over the next three days before advancing to live batting practice and then game action.

The King comes ready

Felix Hernandez normally doesn't even start his bullpen sessions until a week after most pitchers, but he's on the same schedule as everyone else this year as the 30-year-old Venezuelan looks to prepare himself for the World Baseball Classic in early March.

Hernandez threw with purpose in his first time on the mound Thursday and is expected to take the hill again Sunday along with the rest of Seattle's starters.

"He is farther along, there is no doubt," Servais said. "His throwing program is ramped up earlier, he has thrown a couple games in winter ball, so he's in a much different spot than we saw last year."

Felix throws first bullpen

Playing by the (new) rules

Servais met with MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre as well as ‎senior VP standards and on-field operations Joe Garagiola Jr. and director of Major League umpires Randy Marsh, on Friday morning to be updated on potential rule changes

Servais said MLB is leaning toward instituting a rule where a batter will automatically be awarded first base on an intentional walk without the pitcher having to throw any pitches. The other major discussion is about limiting the time a manager has to issue a replay challenge.

As a former catcher, Servais has no problem with the intentional walk change, noting he had a pitcher throw one over his head to the backstop to allow the winning run to score once in a Minor League contest.

"I did lose a game that way, so I'm a fan of it," he said with a smile. "Everybody says some of the pitchers are uncomfortable with [throwing pitches on an intentional walk]. Well, every catcher is uncomfortable with it. You just hope the guy throws it close to you."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.