Seattle Mariners

It’s a spring meet-and-greet for new Mariners catchers Iannetta and Clevenger

Baltimore Orioles’ Steve Clevenger hits a grand slam on Sept. 11, 2015, against the Kansas City Royals.
Baltimore Orioles’ Steve Clevenger hits a grand slam on Sept. 11, 2015, against the Kansas City Royals. AP file, 2015

Chris Iannetta huddled with right-hander Taijuan Walker prior to a bullpen workout Saturday when the Mariners held their first official spring workout for pitchers and catchers at the Peoria Sports Complex.

A few feet away, Steve Clevenger held a similar chat with veteran reliever Joel Peralta. It’s a scene common to the fabric of any workout at any level that involves a pitcher throwing off a mound to a catcher.

These quick chats typically cover the basics. What do you want to throw? Where do you want me to set up? Et cetera. Iannetta and Clevenger will repeat the routine dozens of times over the next few weeks with various pitchers.

But these are different. They are an introduction, not a review. Iannetta and Clevenger are new to the Mariners. Both are learning an entire new staff. And the reverse is equally important: An entire pitching staff is learning about them.

“You just have to start building relationships,” said Iannetta, a 10-year pro who signed with the Mariners in November as a free agent after spending the last four seasons as a division rival with the Los Angeles Angels.

“The more you can talk, the more you catch guys, the more you get a feel for them. It’s a relationship that starts now and just keeps building. It’s going to iron itself out in spring training and just keep getting better through the season.”

Clevenger added: “Most of it takes place in (batting practice) when we’re out in the outfield. Guys are shagging together. You communicate a little bit and get a feel for how guys want to pitch in certain situations.

“That just takes time over the course of spring training. You don’t get it done in one or two days. It’s over the course of all March.”

The adjustment goes even deeper this spring because Iannetta, Clevenger and the pitching staff are also adjusting to a rookie manager in Scott Servais and a new pitching coach in Mel Stottlemyre Jr.

“We’ve talked a lot about how we’re going to run some of the scouting stuff – what I need, how I like to prepare,” Iannetta said. “How we can process information; how we can put some of that information down on paper so that it’s easily understandable, easily accessible and easy to digest.

“We’re putting a plan in place that will continue in spring training. It’s just (a discussion of) what we can do, from a scouting standpoint, to get the most out of guys and give them a little bit of a competitive edge.”

In addition to Iannetta’s veteran defensive presence, the Mariners are hoping to catch him on the rebound as a hitter. He got off to a dreadful start a year ago – just six hits in his first 67 at-bats. He batted .220 thereafter.

Not great, but he also had a .324 on-base percentage in that span. His career mark is .351. And note: Mariners’ catchers combined for an almost incomprehensible .205 OBP in 2015.

“Even relative to a rough year for batting average” by Iannetta, general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “the other numbers all stacked up. As a result, I think Chris is a good candidate for a bounce-back season offensively.

“Regardless of whether we get Chris’ best offensive season or just an average Chris Iannetta offensive season, he’s a player who brings us stability behind the plate.”

While Servais, like Iannetta, spent the last four seasons with the Angels, he ran their scouting and player-development departments. He and Iannetta crossed paths but not on a regular basis.

But Servais is also a former catcher and knows what he has in Iannetta.

“Chris does some things that I really appreciate,” Servais said. “Calling the game, working with the pitching staff … really, really important” stuff.

While the Mariners acquired Iannetta, 32, to be their starter, Clevenger, 29, comes to spring camp for the first time in his career with a secure grip on a big-league job.

Dipoto leaves little doubt that former starter Mike Zunino is ticketed for a development year at Triple-A Tacoma after being rushed to the majors in 2013 after just 419 minor-league plate appearances.

The Mariners acquired Clevenger from Baltimore in a Dec. 2 trade for first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser.

It’s notable that Clevenger is out of options, which means he can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. That made him expendable to the Orioles, who again have a healthy Matt Wieters, but a good fit in the Northwest.

“I knew that I was probably going to get shipped out of there this offseason,” Clevenger said. “There hasn’t really been a place for me on the team for the last two years. I’ve gone up and down from the minor leagues.

“I’m very grateful that Jerry traded for me and has given me an opportunity to play here in Seattle. All you can ask for is an opportunity.”

While Clevenger batted a career-high .287 last season, he carries a reputation for possessing suspect defensive skills.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise. Clevenger was a shortstop when drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 2006 and never started more 70 games as a catcher in any season until 2011.

“I do know (with Clevenger), it’s probably more offense than defense,” Servais said. “We like the left-handed bat and how that fits the matchup with Chris. Our scouts really liked him, liked his bat.

“Obviously, I’m a catching guy. I have a background there. He's got some things to tighten up defensively, but he should be a good fit for us.”

This spring is all about improving that fit. Not just for Clevenger. Iannetta, too. He got a good look at the Mariners in recent years from across the diamond and likes the view even better from up close.

“They were just one or two pieces away from being really good last year,” he said. “I know expectations were really high, but things happen. It’s tough. The difference between the best team and the worst team is so small.

“One or two things, here or there, can change the course of a season. I think they were right on the cusp of doing some great things here.”

Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners

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