March 2011

Langerhans to start in center; League will be closer

The Mariners worked out in a beautiful sunny Oakland-Alameda Coliseum this afternoon and the ball was flying out, for what it’s worth. Ichiro put on a batting practice display that was impressive even for him, driving ball after ball well into the seats in center and right field.

But, hey, that’s not the story of the day. The stories on the day before Opening Night are that Ryan Langerhans will start in center field and Brandon League will be the closer when the Mariners take on the A’s at 7:05 p.m. on Friday.

League’s situation was predictable, given there’s not that many options in David Aardsma’s absence. But manager Eric Wedge waited until Thursday to make it official. And even then, League says his understanding is it’s a day-to-day situation and he’ll be ready for anything.

Wedge said it’s not that impermanent, but that he’ll evaluate things going forward. Bottom line, League will be his closer to start the season and he won’t be afraid to use him even in multiple innings, if necessary. But if he does, then obviously that might change how often he’s used in that role … as will how effective he is, of course.

Langerhans earned the starting center field job for the opener with his excellent spring, Wedge said. Michael Saunders will not be forgotten — Wedge said one of the big challenges of any manager is getting all his guys playing time early in the season — but Langerhans will be the first one out Friday in place of Franklin Gutierrez, who will miss at least the first week while on the disabled list.

I’ll have more on all of this, plus Jack Cust’s thoughts on playing his former A’s teammates and some Ichiro insights as well on the website shortly.

For now, here’s your Opening Day lineup:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Ryan Langerhans CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Jack Wilson 2B
Felix Hernandez P

Gutierrez on DL; Jimenez sent down as roster finalized

I’m back in Seattle this morning to catch my breath — and get a few things taken care of after 47 days in Arizona — before heading to Oakland on Thursday to start the regular-season. The Mariners are finishing up some things of their own this morning, setting their final roster by placing center fielder Franklin Gutierrez on the 15-day Disabled List and sending left-handed reliever Cesar Jimenez to Tacoma.

That leaves 29 players in Major League camp, but only 25 healthy bodies, so it appears we have the Opening Day roster in place barring any last-minute trades or waiver claims by Jack Zduriencik.

Gutierrez’s placement on the DL isn’t stunning, given he’s missed the past 10 games and the club is still seeking answers on why his digestive system continues causing stomach problems. His DL stint will be backdated so he’ll be eligible to return by April 6, which would mean missing only five games, but that would require some progress being made in the interim.

Jimenez’s departure isn’t surprising either, given his 9.82 ERA this spring. He was out of options, however, and needed to clear waivers before being sent to Tacoma.

It would appear to set the bullpen with an interesting group that includes just three returnees from last season — Brandon League, Davidy Pauley and Jamey Wright.

The rest will be Chris Ray, Aaron Laffey and rookies Josh Lueke and Tom Wilhelmsen.

The biggest surprise to me is the inclusion of non-roster invitee Luis Rodriguez as a utility infielder, given Adam Kennedy is also on the team in that role.

Here’s the 25:

Starting pitchers: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda.

Relievers: Brandon League, Chris Ray, Aaron Laffey, David Pauley, Jamey Wright, Josh Lueke, Tom Wilhelmsen.

Catchers: Miguel Olivo, Adam Moore.

Infielders: Justin Smoak, Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy, Luis Rodriguez.

Outfielders: Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Saunders, Milton Bradley, Ryan Langerhans.

Designated hitter: Jack Cust.

Josh Wilson latest to be released

Utility infielder Josh Wilson was released late Monday morning as the Mariners moved closer to their final 25.

There are now 26 healthy players in camp, with more moves pending. The club needs to add an outfielder at some point, I would think, with Franklin Gutierrez expected to go on the Disabled List and only four others still in camp — Ichiro, Milton Bradley, Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans.

So not everything makes sense at the moment, but we’ll need to see how the remaining moves play out.

Wilson played 108 games last year for Seattle, but was expendable given the addition of Adam Kennedy as a utility infielder. Kennedy can also play outfield in a pinch.

Wilson was on a non-guaranteed contract, but was taking up a spot on the 40-man roster, so his release shouldn’t be a huge surprise as the club needs to create space for at least two more non-roster invitees in Kennedy and Langerhans.

Relievers Chris Ray and Jamey Wright were just added to the 40-man today, which locks up their positions on the team. That filled up the 40-man roster, but Wilson’s release opens up one spot. Another release will likely be coming soon, though rosters don’t have to be finalized until Thursday morning.

The club still has utility infielder Luis Rodriguez on the roster, but not sure he’ll stick in the end. We’ll see.

We’re getting close to final roster with three more cuts

Josh Bard (left) was sent to Minor League camp Monday. The veteran started the season last year in Tacoma as well, but we recalled on May 16 and played 39 games with the Mariners in 2010. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

The Mariners starting rotation and catching crew became finalized Monday when the club made three roster moves, optioning left-handed pitcher Luke French to Triple A Tacoma and reassigning catchers Chris Gimenez and Josh Bard to the Minor League camp.

The trio of roster moves leaves Miguel Olivo and Adam Moore as the two surviving catchers. Bard and Gimenez both had nice camps, but Moore fought off any challenges with a strong spring of his own. Gimenez is an interesting prospect as a “super utility” guy who can play outfield and the corner infield spots as well and Eric Wedge says if he improves his bat a little  more, he’ll be a valuable Major Leaguer.

French’s departure means the remaining starting pitchers are the five who’ve clearly been groomed from the start of camp as the preferred rotation: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard and top rookie prospect Michael Pineda.

The Mariners now have 32 players remaining in Major League camp, but reliever Shawn Kelley is on the Disabled List and three more — pitchers David Aardsma, infielder Matt Mangini and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez – likely will be placed on the DL as well.

Pitcher Nate Robertson, who is not on the 40-man roster, is also injured and won’t start the season with the club. So that leaves 13 healthy pitchers in camp, with one reliever expected to still be cut. Left-hander Cesar Jimenez and right-handers Tom Wilhelmsen and Jamey Wright appear to be competing for that final spot.

It’s looking more and more like Wilhelmsen — the long-shot story of the year — could make this team. Though I’ll continue running out my caveat that a few things can — and likely will — change if Jack Zdurienick finds something interesting on the waiver wire.

The Mariners also still have two utility infielders – Luis Rodriguez and Josh Wilson – fighting for one spot. Frankly, I’m not sure either will make the final roster as the club already has Adam Kennedy as a utility guy.

And something likely will still happen in the outfield, where only five players remain and Gutierrez is seemingly headed for the DL after not playing the past nine days with a stomach issue.

With two more games left in Arizona and one final tuneup Wednesday in Los Angeles, things are getting close. Today’s lineup against the Rockies looks remarkably like what Eric Wedge will trot out against the A’s on Opening Night this Friday, though catcher Miguel Olivo likely will start ahead of Adam Moore if he’s ready to roll.

Jack Cust is back in the lineup today after being pulled after one at-bat Sunday with a stiff back.

Here’s today’s batting order:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Michael Saunders CF
Adam Moore C
Brendan Ryan SS
Jack Wilson 2B
Jason Vargas P

Mariners send down five, including Tuiasosopo

The Mariners made five roster moves this morning, including optioning utility man Matt Tuiasosopo to Triple A Tacoma.

Also reassigned to Minor League camp were four non-roster invitees: outfielder Mike Wilson and pitchers Royce Ring, Denny Bautista and Justin Miller.

Tuiasosopo had one option remaining, so this is the last year he can be sent down to the Minors without being exposed to waivers. The option lasts all season, so he can be moved between Tacoma and Seattle all year without being waived.

Tuiasosopo was hitting .300 with one home run and eight RBIs in 40 at-bats this spring.

The Mariners now have 35 players still in Major League camp, including 27 roster players and eight non-roster invitees.

The moves with Ring, Bautista and Miller leaves the club with 14 healthy pitchers still in camp, including eight relievers. The Mariners likely will break camp with seven relievers from among the remaining group of David Pauley, Brandon League, Chris Ray, Jamey Wright, Josh Lueke, Tom Wilhelmsen, Cesar Jimenez and Aaron Laffey.

Tuiasososopo’s departure leaves the club with eight infielders, including Matt Mangini, who has been out with a sore quad muscle. Veteran non-roster invitee Adam Kennedy clearly has won the utility infield role. And with Wilson and Tuiasosopo both sent down, that leaves five outfielders — Ichiro Suzuki, Milton Bradley, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders and Franklin Gutierrez.

It’s uncertain what lies ahead with Gutierrez, however, as he’s battling a stomach issue and no answers have emerged yet on his immediate future.

It’s possible that catcher Chris Gimenez, who played for Wedge in Cleveland, could factor into the outfield equation as well. Gimenez has some Major League experience in the outfield, having played 19 games there for the Indians during his brief big league stints in 2009-10.

He can also play first or third base. Here’s a story I wrote about Gimenez robbing a home run from Michael Saunders in his first big-league game and his versatility.

Here’s how I think the final roster plays out

Rookie Michael Pineda looks like he's locked up a spot in the rotation with a strong spring. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

We’re getting down to cutting time in Mariners camp, with 40 players still in tow and Opening Day now less than a week removed.

The ax will likely fall Sunday on a bunch of players on the bubble. It’s never a fun day in camp when dreams get shattered or at least delayed, but it is part of the business.

The Mariners have a couple issues that will affect their final 25, the biggest being the situation with Franklin Gutierrez.  It’s seeming more and more like he could open the year on the Disabled List until they can figure out what’s wrong with his digestive system and whether he’ll be strong enough to play on an every-day basis going forward.

That situation means Michael Saunders, who very well could have opened the season in Tacoma, instead likely becomes the interim center fielder. And I think it means Matt Tuiasosopo’s odds just increased greatly as well, given the need for some outfield options and his ability to play just about anywhere needed.

I’ve said all along that Jack Zduriencik may well make some last-minute additions off the waiver wire or via trade, given the bullpen seems awfully unsettled. But if I had to pick a final 25 at this moment, I’d go with this:

Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda. (Sent down: Luke French).

Bullpen: Brandon League, Chris Ray, Josh Lueke, David Pauley, Aaron Laffey, Jamey Wright, Royce Ring. (Sent down: Denny Bautista, Justin Miller, Tom Wilhelmsen, Cesar Jimenez. DL: David Aardsma, Shawn Kelley).

Catchers: Miguel Olivo, Adam Moore. (Sent down: Josh Bard, Chris Gimenez).

Infielders: Justin Smoak, Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan, Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy. (Sent down: Luis Rodriguez. DL: Matt Mangini).

Outfielders: Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Saunders, Milton Bradley, Ryan Langerhans, Matt Tuiasosopo. (Sent down: Mike Wilson. DL: Franklin Gutierrez).

Designated hitter: Jack Cust.

Five of those players are non-roster invitees — Kennedy, Langerhans, Ray, Wright and Ring — meaning they’ll need to be added to the 40-man roster. The 40-man currently is at 38, so three players will need to be lopped off that to create space.

Just guessing here, but they could put pitcher Mauricio Robles on the 60-day DL to open one spot, then release pitcher Chaz Roe (obtained in the Jose Lopez trade) and infielder Josh Wilson to clear the final two spots.

But again, Zduriencik might have his own ideas. So we’ll see soon enough.

Gross requests release, plus other morning news

Veteran outfielder Gabe Gross saw the writing on the wall and requested his release from the club, reducing the number of players in camp to 39 with six days until the opener.

Expect a bunch of cuts upcoming in the next day or two as the Mariners get to the required 25. Gross, despite the uncertain status of center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, was getting very little playing time lately and hit just .077 in 26 at-bats this spring.

Michael Saunders and Ryan Langerhans clearly are the front runners for the center field position in Gutierrez’s absence. And nobody is quite sure yet what the status is with the Gold Glove center fielder, other than that he underwent further tests Friday and is awaiting results again.

Manager Eric Wedge acknowledged Friday night that time is running short, even if Gutierrez is cleared to play, since he’s been out of action for a week now and has had a limited spring already.It’s a difficult situation, deciding whether to put Gutierrez on the 25-man active roster without any certainty of whether his stomach is going to keep him from playing at various times.

So we’ll see how that one plays out. Meanwhile, the club plays the Brewers today at Maryvale at 1:05 p.m. and Saunders again is in center.

Michael Pineda makes his last Cactus League start today. Felix Hernandez is scheduled to throw tomorrow, but will do so in a Minor League intrasquad game with Miguel Olivo catching, rather than face the AL West-rival Rangers.

Adam Kennedy and Jack Cust aren’t in the lineup today, but both have asked to go to Surprise to get some at-bats in a Minor League game.

Here’s today’s Cactus League lineup against Brewers standout Yovani Gallardo:

Jack Wilson 2B
Brendan Ryan SS
Ryan Langerhans RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Michael Saunders CF
Luis Rodriguez 3B
Matt Tuiasosopo LF
Chris Gimenez C
Michael Pineda P

Flores move opens up roster spot

The Mariners sent Jose Flores back to the Cleveland Indians today, giving up their Rule 5 draft pick in a predictable move once it became clear he wasn’t going to be much help this season.

GM Jack Zduriencik took a flyer on Flores with the second pick in the Dec. 9 Rule 5 process, liking his upside. But reality this spring is that — with a number of non-roster guys fighting for spots — Flores wasn’t going to fit into the picture.

The Mariners have a greater need for roster room this spring than having a 21-year-old prospect take up one of the bullpen spots for the entire season.

The Mariners now have 38 players on their 40-man roster and likely will need to get it down to 35 in order to add five non-roster players at the final cutdown — with Adam Kennedy, Ryan Langerhans and a trio of relievers from the Chris Ray, Royce Ring, Denny Bautista, Jamey Wright and Justin Miller fivesome.

My guess is they’ll create one spot by putting Mauricio Robles on the 60-day DL as he recovers from arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, then release pitcher Chaz Roe and possibly utility man Josh Wilson from the 40-man roster.

Jack Zduriencik likely has his own ideas, however. And it wouldn’t surprise me if there are several late roster maneuvers if he sees players on the waiver wire who might be able to help bolster the bullpen.

Gutierrez still out as Mariners prepare to face Royals

Franklin Gutierrez is not in center field for the fifth straight day today as the Mariners face the Royals in a 1:05 p.m. Cactus League game at Peoria Stadium, a growing issue for the Gold Glove center fielder.

GutierrezFranklinMug.jpgInitial reports this week were that Gutierrez was suffering from back stiffness, but general manager Jack Zduriencik told the News Tribune’s Larry LaRue this morning that stomach problems continue to be an issue.

Gutierrez, hitting .240 in nine games this spring, has had a tough go of things this camp. He initially was flown back to Seattle to have his lingering stomach issue checked by doctors, with the resulting explanation that a slow digestive tract was being dealt with through medication and diet and he should be fine.

Then he flew back to Florida for several days after his father-in-law, Braves minor league coach Luis Salazar, was hit in the face with a wicked line drive.

He started nine games in an 18-day span between March 1-19, but hasn’t played since. What does it mean? Gutierrez was headed to the training room this morning and said he didn’t have time to talk, so we’ll see if we can get more answers soon.

Meanwhile, the A’s announced that young right-hander Trevor Cahill (18-8, 2.97 ERA) will start on Opening Night against Felix Hernandez in Oakland on April 1.

Catcher Miguel Olivo continues his comeback as he’ll get three at-bats as a DH today in a Minor League game against the Rangers in Surprise.

Olivo said he felt good this morning after doing his first catching Wednesday in three innings of an intrasquad Minor League contest, so he’s clearly on track to be ready for the regular season if things continue as expected.

Here’s today’s lineup against the Royals, with only two players (Matt Tuiasosopo and Josh Wilson) playing again after starting Wednesday night against the Rockies.

The Mariners roster still stands at 41 players — including injured pitchers David Aardsma and Shawn Kelley — so lots of moves to come in the remaining six days before a final 25 must be finalized.

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Matt Tuiasosopo LF
Luis Rodriguez 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Josh Wilson SS
Adam Moore C
Doug Fister P

It’s official: Ryan at shortstop, Wilson at second base

RyanBrendanBat.JPGBrendan Ryan won the Mariners starting shortstop job, manager Eric Wedge announced Tuesday. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com).

Manager Eric Wedge made his decision today on the Mariners middle infield situation and it came with something of a surprise: Brendan Ryan will be the everyday shortstop, with Jack Wilson at second base for the first time in his career.

Wilson has been splitting time with Ryan at second this spring, but will take the bulk of the work on the right side of the infield from now on.

Ryan, obtained by trade from the Cardinals over the offseason, is regarded as one of the game’s premier defensive shortstops and is five years younger than Wilson, 33.

Wedge said part of the equation remains untold until the utility infield spot is finalized, which likely means non-roster invitee Adam Kennedy will fit into the picture as well. But for now, the skipper was willing only to finalize the Ryan-Wilson situation.

“We could have gone either way with it because we’re comfortable with both guys on both sides of the bag, but we felt this is the best combo,” he said.

Ryan hasn’t hit particularly well this spring, though his .152 average is a little misleading since he’s hit the ball hard at people numerous times. But he’s impressed the Mariners with his shortstop play.

“I was just wide open with my view of him,” Wedge said. “And he’s been everything and then some. I think with regard to Jack, he’s been fantastic with the way he’s gone about his business at second base and shortstop, with his offensive side of things and the way he’s run the bases. he’s had a lot to offer this spring.”

Wedge said keeping Wilson healthy was a small part of the decision as well, with second base a little less demanding than shortstop. Left unsaid was the fact second base could change in the near future when the club brings Dustin Ackley into the picture.

As for how Ackley fits in, Wedge said he wouldn’t speak on that topic at this point. Ackley presumably will start the season in Tacoma, but he is obviously a key piece in the future as the organization’s top position prospect.

He did say catcher Miguel Olivo will catch three innings tomorrow in a Minor League game and is on schedule to break camp with the team if all goes well.

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