by Tyler Handlan
PEORIA — Seattle Mariners shortstop Jean Segura is excited to play in a new league while he returns to his old position.
After he spent his first three full big-league seasons as the Milwaukee Brewers’ shortstop, Segura moved to second base in Arizona last year for his one season with the Diamondbacks. Now, for the first time, he becomes a full-time American Leaguer.
“I just have to figure out how they pitch in the American League and continue doing my best,” Segura said one recent morning at Mariners camp. “We have some pretty good hitters here. We’re trying to make the playoffs and who knows maybe make it to the World Series.”
In November, the Diamondbacks traded Segura in search of starting pitching. They made a five-player deal with Seattle that for now is known by its prominent names: Segura and Mitch Haniger, who becomes the Mariners everyday right-fielder, for right-handed starting pitcher Taijuan Walker.
Segura set career highs last season with a .319 average, 20 homers and 64 RBIs. He led the N.L. in hits with 203.
“It’s a huge pickup for us,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of the right-handed-hitting Segura. “He uses the whole field to hit. He’s very good against right-handed pitching, which is huge for us, and obviously does very well against lefties as well.
“I think (with) the experience level and where he’s at in his career, I think he’s kind of at the point to take the next step.”
Segura hasn’t played on a playoff team. Servais called that “the next hurdle for him.”
(Video by Michael Baron/Cronkite News)
Segura, who turns 27 in mid-March, forms what should be an excellent double-play combination with his friend, second baseman Robinson Cano.
Mariners starting pitcher Drew Smyly appreciates the value of such a reliable double-play combination.
“It takes a lot of pressure off the pitcher, that’s for sure,” Smyly said. “All we’ve got to do is throw it over the plate, try to keep it in the park and you have confidence when the ball hits the ground they’re going to be able to turn two — get you out of the inning.”
With Cano and Segura up the middle, Smyly and his fellow hurlers don’t have to think about using strikeouts to power out of jams.
“You can just try to make a pitch down and away and just hope for that ground ball,” Smyly said. “You don’t have to try to go for the strikeout pitch. I’m looking forward to seeing those two play together.”
Unlike many new double-play combinations, Cano and Segura already know each other.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with Robi,” Segura said of his fellow Dominican. “He knows everybody here.”
“They’re going to be fun together,” Smyly said. “I’ve heard they’re best friends and they’ve been practicing all winter together, so it’s going to be exciting.”
Cano is in his fourth year with the Mariners and has a leadership presence within the locker room along with pitcher Felix Hernandez and slugger Nelson Cruz. Segura enhances the big-name air.
“The presence is felt,” Smyly said.
Smyly began his career in a clubhouse like this one, in Detroit.
“It does remind me a lot of being in Detroit and seeing Miggy (Miguel Cabrera) and Torii Hunter and (Justin) Verlander walk through the door,” Smyly said. “And you’re just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I’m playing with these guys.’
“You can feel it, there’s a lot of energy right now.”
Segura, back at shortstop in his new league, sounds determined to contribute as much as he did last season for the Diamondbacks.
“It’s a different position, different field,” Segura said. “As a player you have to always be the same no matter where you are. My approach is going to be the same.”