Servais seeks to get pitchers on target

New defensive drill taken from football

Servais seeks to get pitchers on target

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners pitchers and catchers took to the field for the first time Wednesday and learned that the target isn't on their backs this year, but on the bases.

Looking to introduce a new element into the traditional -- and often repetitive -- pitchers fielding practice (PFP), manager Scott Servais installed a drill where his hurlers field ground balls back to the mound, then throw into a net with a bull's-eye in the middle at first or second base instead of to a fielder with a glove.

The Mariners tied for ninth out of 15 American League teams in pitchers' errors last year with 13 and the fact all but two of those were on bad throws raised Servais' attention.

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"You'll see some different things," the second-year skipper said of the early defensive work. "We have to keep adding. We made 11 errors last year throwing from our pitchers to bases. We'll tighten it up a little. We've got a couple things that will hopefully make it a little more fun and challenging and get their focus a little better in that area."

Servais got the idea of throwing into a targeted net while watching long snappers work on their accuracy during a football practice at the University of Mississippi.

"You have to place importance on it," he said. "We've talked to our coaches about coaching it up the right way. We've got a different system on how we're going to teach it this year. You're always trying to get better."

Pitching in on the first day

A dozen pitchers took the mound for their first 10-minute bullpen session Wednesday, including left-hander Ariel Miranda and promising right-hander Andrew Moore. Most of the club's top arms will make their bullpen debuts Thursday, including the expected starting rotation of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo.

 Also slated to throw in the bullpen are closer Edwin Diaz, lefty Paul Fry and newcomers James Pazos, Chris Heston and Shae Simmons. Pitchers take the field to stretch at about 10:15 a.m. MT each day and the throwing sessions run from about 10:40-11:30 a.m. in the bullpens between Fields 3-4.

The nine pitchers will throw their initial bullpens Friday, then the process will start over again with the first group Saturday. While most MLB teams have pitchers throw every other day, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. prefers an every-third day approach in spring.

Worth noting

• Only 32 of the team's 35 pitchers took part in Wednesday's on-field activities. Tony Zych and Steve Cishek were held out as they work back from offseason surgeries, while veteran non-roster invitee Jean Machi has still not reported due to a visa travel issue.

• Not hard to spot on the first day of drills: new right-hander Max Povse, who looms above the crowd at 6-foot-8. Povse was acquired from the Braves along with Rob Whalen in a November trade for former first-round Draft pick Alex Jackson.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for 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.