February 2011

Gutierrez returns to Seattle for stomach tests

Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez missed Thursday’s workout in Peoria after flying back to Seattle on Wednesday night to have a lingering stomach issue checked out by doctors.

GutierrezFranklinMug.jpgGutierrez had problems with his stomach last year, but never missed any playing time. He went to the doctor again this offseason, but no problem was diagnosed.

But when the issue continued this spring, the Mariners elected to have him fly to Seattle as “a proactive measure,” according to manager Eric Wedge.

“We want to make sure we stay ahead of it so he doesn’t have some of the same issues he had last year,” Wedge said.

Gutierrez hadn’t missed any of the workouts this spring, but the issue had flared up “on and off,” according to Wedge.

Michael Saunders was working in center field during Thursday’s practice and Wedge said Jody Gerut, Ryan Langerhans and Gabe Gross were also candidates to fill in when needed, along with some of the young prospects in camp.

But Wedge said he’s optimistic the issue isn’t serious and indicated Gutierrez will play in Friday’s intrasquad game if he returns in time.

“We’ll see what they come up with, if anything, and go from there,” Wedge said. “There’s no reason to speculate.”

Wedge, who managed Gutierrez in Cleveland earlier in his career, said he would like to give the 28-year-old more time off this season regardless. Gutierrez played 152 games last season and 153 in ’09.

 

Mariners take down Padres in front-office softball war

We’re still four days away from the Spring Training opener between the Mariners and Padres, but the two clubs got things started early Wednesday with a softball grudge match between front-office staffers from the neighboring teams in the Peoria Sports Complex.

And if you’re a Seattle fan looking for good omens, here you go. The Mariners came from behind for a 7-4 win against a Padres team that included a few front-office ringers in the form of former Major Leaguers Brad Ausmus, Mark Loretta and A.J. Hinch.

Hinch, 36, played seven years in the big leagues as a catcher and was the Diamondbacks manager for parts of the past two years. He’s now working for the Padres as their VP of pro scouting.

Ausmus, 41, just retired following an 18-year catching career in the Majors as a three-time Gold Glove winner and one-time All-Star. He’s now working as special assistant to Padres GM Jed Hoyer.

Loretta, 39, was a two-time All-Star infielder during his 15-year career and now works as a special assistant in the Padres baseball operations department.

Hinch played first base in this showdown, while Ausmus patroled left field and Loretta was in left center.

The Padres didn’t even use all their front office ringers, as a guy actually named Alex Rodriguez is listed as a coordinator of event operations for the club. But there were no A-Rod or Cameron Diaz sightings at this game. Nor was popcorn being sold.

Still, San Diego’s team came with a combined 40 years of Major League experience, three Gold Gloves and three All-Star appearances.

The Mariners countered with a team led by assistant general manager Jeff Kingston, who never played in the Majors, but did earn an Economics degree from Dickinson College.

The Seattle club also had Suzuki in center field, but it was Antony Suzuki, Ichiro’s interpreter, instead of the 10-time All-Star.

Kingston previously worked for the Padres for nine years, so he obviously brought a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He also brought his own ringer, Isaac Ruiz, a clubhouse assistant for the Peoria Mariners Rookie League team who was recruited at the last minute.

Credit Kingston for his eye for talent as Ruiz wound up hitting the game-winning three-run home run and also spent much of the contest running down deep fly balls to left field off the bats of the Padres’ potent lineup.

Kingston picked up the victory on the mound for the Mariners team, which consisted mostly of assorted front-office members. The losing pitcher was Padres media relations director Warren Miller, who worked for the Mariners baseball information department until 2007.

The Mariners current baseball information office produced a release on the big victory that included a quote from Kingston:

“It was a great team effort. Good results can happen when you play team baseball,” Kingston said. “Everybody did their job and the result was what we expected. We didn’t have any Major Leaguers on our team, but we came out winners.”

Zing.

Who says the Mariners and Padres aren’t great natural rivals?

In case you were wondering, the game was played on one of the Mariners practice fields on their side of the Peoria complex. The announced attendance, per the Mariners press release, was 6.

Good step(s) forward for Aardsma

There hasn’t been a ton of hard news coming out of Mariners camp so far, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For instance, the St. Louis Cardinals found out today that Adam Wainright has ligament problems in his elbow and might need Tommy John surgery.

AardsmCrutch.JPGThat’s the sort of news no team wants to hear. For the Mariners, many players literally knock on wood – banging on their lockers — when discussing health issues. It’s a huge issue for any club and can go a long way toward a season’s success or struggles.

Losing a Wainright — or any top-end pitcher — alters a lot of things. Take away a prime-time player and suddenly others struggle to fill that lead role. The Mariners certainly can’t afford to lose Felix Hernandez. And for this coming season to really come together, it would help tremendously if a couple things went right — like Erik Bedard staying healthy and Michael Pineda continuing to look impressive and acting like he’s 32 instead of 22.

Those are wildcards that could dramatically change the Mariners’ fortunes one way or the other.

The good news so far is that 10 days into camp the Mariners have had no injuries whatsoever. And Monday brought another positive step in the return of closer David Aardsma as he put down his crutches, for the most part, and was walking close to normally for the first time since his hip surgery in early January.

Aardsma says he probably won’t start throwing again for about a week. The rehab process seems to be going slower than originally planned as doctors are being careful to not push too fast and wind up setting him back. So my sense is the early prediction of a mid-April return isn’t very likely.

I’d suspect it’ll be a month or so into the season before Aardsma is ready, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The pace of camp is starting to pick up as the intrasquad game comes Friday, followed by the first Spring Training game Sunday. Then it’s about a month solid of games, when lots of things will sort themselves out.

There are some key questions to be answered, like the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, which Jack Zduriencik talked about today. There’s also the left-field question, the starting shortstop competition, who is going to fill the middle of the batting order, will youngsters like Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke step up in the bullpen and on and on.

But in the next month, there’ll be other factors that change or add to those questions. And injuries, the one thing nobody can predict, can be the biggest game changer. So if you’re a Mariners fan, so far no news is good news.

Knock on wood.

Take 2 … or 3 … or 4: My acting debut is now complete

 CommercialShoot2.jpgThat would be me, trying to look like a wannabe ballplayer in one of the Mariners TV commercial shoots on Tuesday. (Photos by Gregg Greene/Mariners).

Scratch acting off my bucket list. Not to mention my career ambitions.

Had a great time today though, playing a small role as an extra in one of the Mariners television commercial shoots in a humorous promotional spot featuring Franklin Gutierrez. Can’t give away the plot, but suffice to say they needed some extras who could look awkward while attempting to play baseball.

MyCommercialShoot.jpgAnd for some weird reason they typecast me in that role. Hmmm …

To be clear, the real work was done by five professional actors and Gutierrez, who patiently went over his lines. And over his lines. And over his lines.

It took three hours to shoot what will turn into a 30-second commercial, one of five done over the past two days by Mariners players and manager Eric Wedge.

For the most part, I sat with the other extras — Mariners front office staffers — and watched the process while waiting our moment of glory. But first we went through wardrobe productions, being fitted — or not fitted, in some cases — with baseball uniforms that were then touched up with grass stains and dirt smudges in the right places to make us look like actual ballplayers. Albeit middle-aged wannabe balllplayers, but whatever.

I’d have figured that was plenty of realism, but then for our main shot they wanted us to look tired and worn out, so we ran a few laps back and forth across the outfield at Peoria Stadium in order to work up a legitimate lather.

And here I’d always thought acting was all about pretending.

There was plenty of that, too, as at one point I had a guy spraying me with a water bottle to make it look like I was sweating and a woman sprinkling grass on my beard and shoulders to make it look like I, well, had grass on my beard and shoulders. 

By the end of the afternoon, I had a new appreciation for those who make their living in front of a camera. Being naturally funny and spontaneous is an art … and not one I pretend to possess.

But it was a kick getting a tiny taste of another world. No, I didn’t get paid. No, I didn’t have any lines. And, no, I probably won’t even be seen or recognized by anybody other than my wife and kids, this presuming all my fine work doesn’t wind up entirely on the cutting-room floor.

I did, however, get a new T-shirt out of the deal. Complete with fake grass stains …

Hitters mostly watching as live batting practice begins

PinedaBP.JPGRookie Michael Pineda throws batting practice on Monday as hitters faced the pitchers live for the first time. (Photo by Greg Johns).

The Mariners went into live batting practice for the first time today, though most of the hitters used the first day to just take pitches and get used to tracking the ball rather than hacking away in their first at-bats.

Erik Bedard, the first man on the mound, threw 33 pitches and only one of the five batters he faced — Matt Tuiasosopo — even took a full swing. Tuiasosopo fouled off Bedard’s third offering and then grounded a ball up the middle on his fifth and final pitch.

Otherwise, Ichiro, Gabe Gross, Jody Gerut and Alex Liddi all just stood and watched Bedard’s pitches fly by.

That’s not unusual on a first day when batters are just looking to get their timing down.

On the field I was watching, Bedard, Garrett Olson, Manny Delcarmen , Michael Pineda and Josh Lueke all threw about 35-40 pitches. Two hitters went deep … Jack Wilson taking Olson over the left-field wall and big Carlos Peguero (all 6-5, 245 pounds of him) absolutely crushed a Delcarmen pitch into the parking lot beyond the right-field fence.

Pineda was imposing, as expected, throwing 38 pitches. Milton Bradley was the first batter to face him and broke his bat on the second pitch, then was replaced in the order until his turn came back around. On his second look, he took four pitches and then grounded the ball to second.

Don’t bother reading too much into any of this other than that Spring Training really is getting rolling now. And there are some obvious things. Like Pineda really is physically imposing ont the mound at 6-5, 240 pounds.

“You can’t see much behind him,” Josh Wilson said of the view from the box when facing the 22-year-old for the first time. “He’s pretty big. Heck, if you’re going to build a prototypical right-handed pitcher, I think he fits the mold. He’s big, strong, throws over the top with a hard, heavy fastball and backs it up with good offspeed stuff, too. He has all the makings.”

Manager Eric Wedge spent a lot of time talking to his troops. He clearly is going to be a hands-on manager, pointing things out before and after many drills. Wedge said that will be particularly true early in his first camp as he works to make sure players understand what the coaches are looking for in different drills.

It’s worth noting that Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson both took grounders at shortstop during the primary infield drills, with Justin Smoak at first, Adam Kennedy at second and Chone Figgins at third. Matt Tuiasosopo worked briefly behind Figgins at third before moving to back up Smoak.

Ryan later moved over to second base during some double-play drills, with Wilson remaining at shortstop.

Could Jack Wilson really be headed to second base?

Sunday’s proclamation by manager Eric Wedge that Brendan Ryan will be working primarily at shortstop this spring in an open competition with Jack Wilson should come as no huge surprise, given the Mariners traded for the former St. Louis defensive standout to provide some depth there.

WilsonJackSS.jpgMore surprising was Wedge saying Wilson would be working some at second base, given Wilson has played 1,219 games in his 10-year career … and all have been at shortstop.

Wilson pulled a new second baseman’s glove out of his locker Sunday and said he’s working her in. And, yeah, he said his gloves are always a “her,” though he doesn’t name them.

Wilson didn’t sound thrilled about being asked to try a new position, but he’s a class act and a team guy and if he gets beat out by a better player, he understands. He also gets why the Mariners aren’t just handing him the shortstop job, given his injury struggles since his arrival a year and a half ago from Pittsburgh.

But Wilson also says he’s feeling healthier than he has in a long while and he’s lost a noticeable 15 pounds, which he thinks will help his hamstrings as well. So this one will be interesting to watch this spring. When healthy, Wilson is a very good shortstop, even if Mariners fans haven’t seen much of that guy yet.

Wedge told Wilson he wanted him to take some reps at second just to provide more options, though he said it would be “a reach” at this point to envision Ryan at short and Wilson at second on a regular basis.

“I told him I’m not sure how it’s going to play out,” Wedge said. “I want to take a good look at the Ryan kid. Both of those guys are going to be somewhere and whatever is best for our ballclub is what we’re going to do.”

Adam Kennedy figures prominently in the plans and if the veteran hits well this spring, it’s not hard to see him being the Opening Day second baseman and holder of that position until Dustin Ackley’s eventual promotion. Unless Ackley makes the team out of camp, of course.

Wedge said Kennedy will work at second, first and third, in that order, and noted he played 51 games at first base last season for the Nationals. Most of that was as a late-inning defensive replacement, as he started just four times at first. But he could easily provide backup to Justin Smoak.

Ryan, meanwhile, will also get some work as third in order to provide backup to Chone Figgins.

Figgins, of course, got the shot at second base last year and his transition didn’t go as smoothly as hoped. Which is why he’s back at third now. Could Wilson handle the switch to a spot he hasn’t played since his freshman year in college in ’97?

“I’ve played around over there. It’s kind of fun and different,” he said. “But if it came down to switching, there would be a lot of work to learn that. It depends on the time frame they have if it becomes a reality. But it’s one of those things they’re asking you to go out and try. And you’ve got to do what your team asks.”

(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Cust hasn’t quite pulled off Ichiro look just yet

Jack Cust, who cracked up Ichiro as well as the group of reporters interviewing the Japanese star on Saturday by trying to imitate his unique Ichiro wardrobe, said he’s never really met his new teammate before other than on the baseball field.

 But he is aware of the fashion style of the 37-year-old outfielder.

“Guys just said wait and see. And that you haven’t seen nothing yet,” Cust said Sunday. “So I guess I’ll wait and see.”

When Ichiro was surrounded by media members at his locker on Saturday, the club’s new designated hitter sat at his nearby locker and rolled up the bottom of his jeans to mid-calf level, mirroring Ichiro’s look … with some obvious differences in body type and style sense.

The 6-foot-1, 247-pound Cust told Ichiro on Saturday that he was going to go out and buy the same thin red leather belt he was wearing, then fistbumped him and headed out the door. You can read that full story here.

But, no, he didn’t quite come up with a new belt by Sunday.

“I’m not quite sure where you even buy that stuff,” Cust said.

Cameras aren’t allowed in the clubhouse, so sadly there is no photographic evidence of the Cust or Ichiro outfits. But I will include the photo I got of Ichiro’s first-day look when he arrived in Peoria and worked out on the practice field. And, no, this is not a look that Cust — or many others, for that matter — could pull off.


IchiOutfit.JPG
(Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

Rain pushing Mariners under cover today

Rain.JPGFranklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins survey the large puddle adjacent to the Mariners main practice field Sunday as wet weather arrived in force. (Photo by Greg Johns).

After dealing with 35-40 mph winds on Saturday, the Mariners got hit with another Mother Nature curveball on Sunday as rain is forcing some change in plans.

The hitters will move into the covered cages for today’s batting practice, though there is hope that things clear enough at some point to allow fielders to catch fly balls out on the main field.

Pitchers were already scheduled for a light day with no bullpen sessions planned, so they’ll likely have a quick and easy day. Which is probably a good thing at this point, since they’ve been in camp for eight days now.

All pitchers have thrown three bullpen sessions and now are going to take it easy for a couple days before beginning to throw live batting practice. For the first couple days, hitters will work with coaches throwing BP before pitchers take over.

Then, of course, it’s all about getting ready for the games to begin. The Mariners have an intrasquad game planned for Feb. 25, with the first Spring Training game on Feb. 27 with the annual charity game against the Padres.

Ichiro arrives in fine fashion … and hits the field

 
IchirCatch.JPGIchiro Suzuki plays catch on the Mariners practice field after taking his physical on Friday. (Photo by Greg Johns).

Like clockwork, Ichiro Suzuki arrives at the last minute every year for Training Camp, takes his physical and then hits the field for some light jogging and catch.

The 37-year-old walked through the doors of the Mariners complex in Peoria, Ariz., at 3:15 p.m. on Friday, the last Mariners player to show before the first full-squad workout Saturday..

As a group of about 100 fans gathered outside the parking lot gate awaiting his departure — and the shot at an autograph — the 10-time All-Star hit the back field and limbered up.

He’ll be in full uniform Saturday morning when new manager Eric Wedge addresses his team for the first time and then sends them out for the start of the 2011 campaign.

Ichiro declined to talk to the media on Friday, another tradition, and said he’ll speak after Saturday’s practice.

We’ll have the full report here at Mariners.com and you can follow me on Twitter at GregJohns1 for the latest.

Milton Bradley says he welcomes Wedge’s approach

BradleyPB.JPGMilton Bradley awaits his turn for batting practice on Friday. (Photo by Greg Johns)

Milton Bradley has some history with manager Eric Wedge from their Cleveland days, but the Mariners outfielder said Friday he thinks Wedge’s toughness will be welcome in Seattle.

Bradley spoke with the media for the first time after taking batting practice and doing some outfield work on the day before full-squad workouts begin in Peoria, Ariz.

The media session was brief, given Bradley said he would only talk about baseball topics and didn’t want to address questions concerning his knee or any of his off-field issues.

But he did respond positively when asked about Wedge, the manager he had a run-in with in the 2005 preseason that led to his being traded by the Indians.

“I talked to him in the offseason and I talked to him again (here),” Bradley said. “I’m glad he’s here. We needed that discipline, somebody to put that foot in your behind when you need it. We just got a little lax with the way things were going before. Now he’s going to get it back on track the way it needs to be.”

As for returning to the field after missing the last few months of 2010 with his knee problem, Bradley said: “It just feels good to be around the guys. Baseball is the easy part, I guess. Just being with the guys, having fun and enjoying it.”

As for whether this season, the final year of his contract, brought extra motivation, Bradley said no.

“I don’t place all that stuff like you guys do,” he said. “Whatever makes your stories. But I always play like it’s my last game anyway. Every pitch, every moment means the world to me. I’m not going to take any different approach now.”

Wedge sees Bradley playing in left field and occasionally at designated hitter. He declined to say who was the favorite in the left-field competition, naming Michael Saunders, Bradley, Jody Gerut and Gabe Gross as well as the “young kids.”

But then he added this interesting comment: “It is safe to say if he (Bradley) is healthy, he can have the greatest impact for us out there.”

Also this morning, Erik Bedard was held out of his bullpen session, but Wedge said that was a “proactive” move suggested by pitching coach Carl Willis. Every pitcher will have a day off at some point and the decision was made to give Bedard his early in order to keep him fresh as he returns from his history of shoulder problems.

I’ll have more on the Mariners.com website later.

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