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Originally published March 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified March 1, 2005 at 11:08 AM

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Mariners

A fresh start for Spiezio

Leaner, and with a difficult 2004 behind him, the infielder wants to help the M's any way he can.

Seattle Times staff reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — As well as a new season, this Mariners camp could be the dawning of a new Scott Spiezio.

Anyone who watched the infielder's astonishing failure last year, along with virtually the entire Seattle club, could tell his need for change was drastic, if not desperate.

But that was on the field, where the .261 career hitter fell to .215 and from 82 and 83 runs batted in the previous two years with Anaheim to 41, as his performance cut into his playing time.

But now Spiezio looks like a new man. Much ... skinnier?

"Leaner," said the nine-year big leaguer, who lost one job at first base when the Mariners signed Richie Sexson and another at third when Adrian Beltre signed. "I went from 14 ½ percent body fat to 8 ½."

Trainer Rich Griffin was impressed by the offseason effort, noting that Spiezio probably ranks among the top 10 altered bodies the Mariners have seen in back-to-back seasons.

Spiezio simply cut way back on sugar and carbohydrates.

"I used to eat ice cream every night, pizza five, six times a week," he said. "I used to have a Krispy Kreme (donut) every morning when I got here. I still take a taste of all that now and then, and it tasted much better when I ate them regularly."

In cutting weight, he was careful not to cut strength. He put a gym and a batting cage in a building he owns at home in Illinois.

"I also have a pitching machine that takes 250 balls and can be set to throw right-handed curveballs, left-handed curveballs, sliders, sinkers, everything," Spiezio said. "I'd hit 250 balls, shut it off, pick them up and do it over again."

He called that fun — "more fun than last year, but anything would be more fun than last year. And what made it worse is that we weren't playing well as a team, and I wasn't doing a thing to help."

Spiezio was embarrassed.

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"It was not from lack of effort, but it was embarrassing to walk away from the plate with a guy on third base and I hadn't got him in.

"I couldn't care less what others thought; I was angry, frustrated, embarrassed myself. Nobody could feel as bad as I felt."

Deepening the darkness were personal problems that culminated in a divorce, which Spiezio declined to talk about, except to say, "That sounds like an excuse for how last year went and I don't have any excuses for it."

At first, he tried to deal with it as usual. A pro for 12 years — Oakland drafted him in the third round in 1993 — he knew that every season had bad stretches.

He described himself as always streaky.

"You never give up," he said. "Many years, even in the minors, you get to the halfway point and you can be struggling and still put together enough to have a pretty good year.

"You never let yourself think, 'I can't wait for this year to be over.' You know at some point you're going to turn it around."

That point never came last year. Spiezio hit .333 in April, but fell to .194 in May.

"I felt that it would turn any day. I felt that way every day," he said. "After all, as I said, I'd been through it before, and it always had."

But as Seattle's season fell apart, Spiezio faded even further, to .188 and .167 in June and July.

He still felt he could get it going, until late in the season when he didn't get much playing time. "And that was my own fault," he noted.

At that point, he started setting up his swing for the 2005 season.

"I took batting practice different, toned my swing down, used a different approach," Spiezio said. "I don't want to say exactly what I'm doing different.

"I got into bad habits, like trying to hit everything down the right-field line because for me center field (at Safeco Field) was an out."

He had started looking for inside pitches to pull.

"Then I began pulling off the ball, and that's a sin for a baseball player," he said.

What lies ahead is uncertain at best. The Mariners do not discuss personnel moves, but with Spiezio's potential starting positions filled, they undoubtedly are looking to move him and as much as possible of the $5 million-plus still owed him.

"You always want to come to camp with a job," he said of being relegated to backup status here. "For obvious reasons, I don't. But I've been in this position before and I'm here to work and be ready for anything.

"I owe this organization. I want to either play well for them here or play well enough so I can be of help to them in some other way."

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com

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