On Felix, Baron, Liddi and other news of the day

BaronGim.JPGSteven Baron (right) talks to catcher Chris Gimenez as he comes to the plate the first time to face Felix Hernandez in Saturday’s Minor League game. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

Interesting day in Peoria as we watched Felix Hernandez throw against a collection of young prospects and Minor League players in a morning tuneup on a practice field at the Mariners complex, then saw some of the young prospects come through nicely in a 10-2 win over the A’s at the stadium.

Justin Smoak got untracked with a 2-for-2 day with a home run, four RBIs and two walks, which is welcome news for a team that needs him to help out as a run producer.

Blake Beavan, one of four players acquired along with Smoak in the Cliff Lee deal, also showed well in his first Cactus League start. Dustin Ackley continued his recent surge with a triple in his only at-bat.

And, yeah, Milton Bradley is definitely swinging a hot bat as he went 2-for-2 with a hard-hit double down the first base line to raise his spring average to .389. Michael Saunders clearly has fallen behind in that competition for the starting left-field role and was playing in Felix’s simulated game, looking to find his stroke.

Steven Baron, the 20-year-old catcher in camp just to get experience, laced a pair of well-stroked doubles off Felix to the delight of onlookers. Baron is a bright youngster with a developing future, but he’s also Example A of how fans shouldn’t overreact to a couple hits in late-inning spring games or the Felix tuneup.

No, Baron won’t make the Major League club just because he touched up Felix twice. He was playing for the Everett AquaSox last year and is just figuring out the game. It would destroy him to move him up too quickly.

Same holds true with a guy like Alex Liddi. I’ve heard questions about how the Mariners could possibly have sent him down to the Minor League camp on Saturday as part of the first six cuts after he’d hit grand slams in back-to-back games earlier in the week.

The answer is that Liddi wasn’t going to make the big-league club this spring, he was in camp to help prepare for his future. He’s 22 years old and was playing Double A ball last year. He’s a nice-looking prospect, a big kid who is developing at third base and is certainly one to watch.

But the fact he cranked out a couple home runs in the late innings of Cactus League action doesn’t mean he’s ready to succeed at the Major League level on a daily basis. Give it time. Having him sit on the bench in Seattle wouldn’t be good for him this season and he’s not ready to be a starting third baseman in the big leagues.

It’s great to have these kind of prospects coming up. But rushing them to the big leagues to get overmatched too soon isn’t a recipe for success.

Smoak, 24, was one of the better prospects in baseball and he’s still struggling to adapt. He’ll get a chance to prove himself over the long haul this season. And Liddi will get the opportunity to take the next step at Tacoma this season and just be a phone call away.

Baron? He’s a couple phone calls. But you’ve got to like what you see.

On the news front this afternoon, the Mariners said Erik Bedard will throw a similar Minor League start to Felix’s on Tuesday, which is the team’s only off day this spring. That will keep him on schedule to be the club’s No. 4 starter if you want to project it out.

Franklin Gutierrez was also back in the lineup today after returning from Florida, where he visited his father-in-law, Luis Salazar, the Braves coach who was hit in the face with the wicked line drive while standing on the dugout rail earlier in the week.

And tomorrow brings a road trip to Tempe to face the Angels, with Jason Vargas getting his second spring start and knuckleballer Charlie Haeger making his first appearance after battling some back issues.

Speaking of relief, Chris Ray looked fine pitching an inning and a third in the Minor League game. He could be the primary challenger to Brandon League for the interim closer’s role, so it’ll be worth watching how he bounces back in his next few appearances.

That’s all for now. Time to go enjoy a gorgeous Peoria evening.

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