Mariners build a pitching staff of tall guys
On the Mariners' 40-man roster, there are 11 pitchers measuring at least 6-3, including seven who stand at least 6-4.
Seattle Times staff columnist
PEORIA, Ariz. — They're an assortment of no-names, faux kings, retreads and repentant souls. Yet you still have to look up to these Mariners pitchers.
"I was working out with one of our groups, and I was shocked that I was the shortest one in the whole group," says reliever Shawn Kelley, who is 6 feet 2. "I look around me, and everybody is 6-5, 6-6, 6-7. Normally, at 6-2, I hold my own. Not around here."
Sixteen pitchers in this camp are 6-3 or taller. Ten of those are 6-4 or taller.
On the 40-man roster alone, there are 11 pitchers measuring at least 6-3, including seven who stand at least 6-4. In 2010, the staff's core group averaged 6 feet 3. Now, if you're that tall, some giant is likely to pat you on the head.
There are exceptions, but for the most part, these aren't frail beanstalks. They're big, strong, imposing young arms. They're power pitchers who throw with such velocity their fastballs practically scream "caliente!" as they blaze through the strike zone.
"It takes a lot for me to run it up there," Kelley says. "Those guys make it look easy."
Friday's intrasquad game, the first true competition of spring training, will showcase some of this altitudinous talent. The starters, Michael Pineda (6-5, 240 pounds) and Blake Beavan (6-7, 240), are key parts of the franchise's future. Pineda will be a factor this season. Beavan, a prospect who was part of the Cliff Lee deal last July, probably isn't ready now, but his development is just as important.
The Mariners will also use this five-inning scrimmage to take a closer look at giants like Josh Lueke (6-5, 220), Dan Cortes (6-6, 220), Chaz Roe (6-5, 190) and Tom Wilhelmsen (6-6, 210), a 27-year-old reclamation project.
"Right now, that's what a lot of guys are talking about — how big we are," says Doug Fister, the Mariners' tallest pitcher at 6 feet 8. "It's different for me to be walking around and talking to guys and seeing them almost eye to eye with me."
Overall, the entire Mariners roster is bigger than usual. Now that their physicals have been completed, official team data shows the Mariners' average size is 6-3, 226 pounds, which 710 ESPN Seattle's Shannon Drayer first reported. It's no coincidence, either. This is by design. The organization is striving to bring in more big, physical, athletic players.
The Mariners still value speed and versatility, but much like the Seahawks, they've learned that being undersized isn't a virtue. When you think about it, of all the Mariners' prospects who are closest to breaking into the majors, only Dustin Ackley (listed at 6-1, 190) possesses even average size. Everyone else tilts toward enormous.
A team can't have enough tall pitchers. It's another obstacle that hitters must overcome.
"A flat pitch from a flat angle is basically like batting practice for a hitter," says closer David Aardsma (6-3, 205), who is recovering from hip surgery. "The hitter has several points of contact when everything is flat. So, you want a higher angle, and obviously, a taller pitcher makes that easier. With a higher angle, the hitter has to have perfect timing and make perfect contact.
"From a higher angle, there's only one point of contact that the hitter has if he's swinging level. So just hitting a fastball from a taller pitcher is hard enough. Now, imagine trying to hit a curveball."
That's why Fister, who isn't a power pitcher, still benefits from being 6-8. It's not about intimidation. It's about using that size to confound whoever is in the batter's box.
Manager Eric Wedge says he's quickly becoming a Fister fan.
"For me, it's a matter of creating another plane on the scale of pitching," Fister says. "I'm on a different axis, so I hope that makes it a little more difficult for a hitter to pick up what I'm throwing. Most hitters, they don't like to see tall guys."
The Mariners have so many tall pitchers that King Felix looks like a prince. Felix Hernandez (6-3, 225), the reigning American League Cy Young winner, has never looked average on a baseball field. Now he does. Well, only when the pitching staff is standing around.
But there's a big difference between tall and good. The goal of the game isn't to grab an item off the top shelf.
There isn't such a thing as alpine pitching, either. The Mariners have plenty of issues to address with this staff, especially in the bullpen. Then again, they also have plenty of intriguing options.
And if this national-pastime thing doesn't work out for these guys, there's always basketball.
"I think we could hang with a couple of basketball teams out there," Fister says. "We even have some smaller guys that can handle the ball."
The lowly Cleveland Cavaliers should be very afraid.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer
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