March 2011

Brendan Ryan starting shortstop today … and beyond?

One of the questions hanging over the Mariners this spring has been who’ll be the starting shortstop and manager Eric Wedge appears to have answered that question Tuesday with newcomer Brendan Ryan getting the start today in a late-posted lineup to face the White Sox in a 1:05 p.m. start in Peoria.

Wedge has said he’d have a decision on the shortstop battle soon and the obvious clue came with the appearance of Ryan today in that spot, with reporters told we’ll be able to talk to Wedge before today’s morning workout instead of only after the afternoon game as has been his custom this spring.

Jack Wilson, who has played shortstop throughout his 10-year Major League career, will work at second base today and it’ll be interesting to hear what Wedge has to say about all this shortly.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

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

Felix Hernandez RHP

Today’s game with Reds rained out

Turns out the Mariners made a smart move pitching Michael Pineda in the morning Minor League game, as the Monday afternoon Cactus League contest with the Reds in Goodyear was been rained out.

Manager Eric Wedge said David Pauley, who was to have started against the Reds, will go back to the Mariners complex and throw four innings in the bullpen to get his work in.

Otherwise, it’s an afternoon off and the Mariners will resume play Tuesday with Felix Hernandez on the hill against the White Sox at Peoria Stadium at 1:05 pm. PT.

Though rain is expected through the night, tomorrow’s forecast for Peoria is sunny with a high of 69 degrees, so hopefully things are back on schedule.

Pineda looks strong in Minor League game

Michael Pineda got in five innings in a Minor League game this morning against the Royals AAA team as the Mariners wanted to avoid the possibility of a rainout in his scheduled afternoon Cactus League start against the Reds.

He looked strong against a Royals squad featuring several top prospects, giving up one run on three hits with four strikeouts and one walk.

Pineda threw 72 pitches and said he’s ready to roll, figuring he could have thrown 100-110 pitches if necessary.

As for the blustery, chilly day in which outfield fly balls were an adventure and everyone used to the 80-90 degree Arizona warmth was suddenly left searching for jackets and sweaters?

“The weather today is not very good,” Pineda said. “It’s a little cold, you know? But I think it’s the same in Seattle, so it’s good to pitch.”

Left-hander Aaron Laffey, competing for a spot in the bullpen, threw three innings on an adjacent field against the Royals AA team and gave up one hit and an unearned run with no walks and four strikeouts.

Josh Lueke, looking more and more like a critical late-inning contender in the ‘pen, threw a scoreless inning in the AA game. Pitching for the second straight day, he gave up two singles and had one strikeout.

I’m heading to Goodyear to see if they get in this afternoon’s game against the Reds, but will have more on Pineda’s outing later on Mariners.com.

Pineda moved up to Minor League game this a.m.

The wind is kicking up this morning in Peoria and rain is expected to follow, so the Mariners are moving rookie Michael Pineda up to a 10 a.m. Minor League game in order to get his work in, just in case the afternoon’s Cactus League game gets postponed.

Pineda is scheduled to pitch five innings against the Omaha Royals, Kansas City’s Triple A club, on one of the Mariners practice fields.

Josh Lueke will also get an inning of work in that game, weather permitting. Aaron Laffey is scheduled to go three innings at the same time on an adjacent field against the Royals’ AA team, Northern Arkansas.

That means David Pauley will now start the Cactus League game against Cincinnati in Goodyear at 1 p.m., if the game is played. Justin Miller, Denny Bautista and Royce Ring are also on the slate.

Here’s the full lineup to face the Reds’ Bronson Arroyo. Scratch that. Arroyo has the flu and will be replaced by Scott Carroll.

Dustin Ackley 2B
Josh Wilson SS
Milton Bradley DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Matt Tuiasosopo LF
Michael Saunders CF
Chris Gimenez RF
Luis Rodriguez 3B
Adam Moore C
David Pauley P

Bedard continues being Mariners best story

Bedard.JPGMariners fans looking for reasons to get excited about this coming season can look at today’s boxscore against the Padres for a good clue.

Erik Bedard 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 62 pitches (44 strikes/18 balls)

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Bedard’s role with the club this year, based on his past shoulder problems. But the lefty has looked sharp from the start of camp and that run has carried now through his fifth start of the spring.

With two more dress rehearsals to go, there’s little question that Bedard is the best surprise of this spring for a team that can use a few things to go its way. Bedard said after the game today he hasn’t felt this good in his three years in Seattle. He’s been both good on the mound and in the clubhouse, a happy camper who is enjoying being pain free.

A healthy Bedard would change Seattle’s rotation outlook considerably, providing a legit No. 2 behind Felix Hernandez and taking some of the pressure of Jason Vargas and Doug Fister, not to mention young Michael Pineda.

So knock on wood, if you’re a Mariners fan, but that continues to be a positive storyline coming out of Peoria.

The Padres surely aren’t the Rangers when it comes to trotting out a scary lineup, but Jamey Wright, Josh Lueke and Brandon League also provided bullpen encouragement after the relievers struggled against Texas a day earlier.

League’s outing was much better than his last struggle. He’ll be a roller coaster as a closer, no doubt, but he remains the front-runner there until David Aardsma’s return.

We’ll get another look at Chris Ray on Monday, as well as Pineda when the Mariners play the Reds in Goodyear.

Lueke continues to look like a legitimate back-end candidate as well, though he benefitted largely today from a great diving catch in center by Ryan Langerhans.

Langerhans is getting an extensive look in the outfield right now, while Gabe Gross appears out of the picture. And while Langerhans has gone 0-for-9 the past two games to see his batting average drop to a mortal .324, his diving catch surely didn’t hurt as Eric Wedge looks for a guy who can fill that fourth outfielder role and brings versatility.

Wedge also is closing in on a decision on his shortstop-second base combo. He said that announcement will come ‘”sooner than later.” The last time he told me something was coming “sooner than later” was when I asked about when cuts would start … and they wound up coming the next day. So stay tuned.

The guess here is Wilson will be the Opening Day shortstop and Brendan Ryan, who gapped a triple today and has been hitting the ball better than his .152 average would indicate, will be the primary second baseman.

That leaves Adam Kennedy in a utility role where he can fill in at second, first, third and even left if necessary.

The other good news today is Miguel Olivo is working more and more behind the plate, catching bullpen sessions and making throws to second on his recovering groin muscle. It sounds as if Olivo should be part of the Opening Day roster, even if he’s not ready to catch every day.

A big question is who’ll be the other catcher, Adam Moore or Josh Bard. It’s going to be hard to stuff too many non-roster invitees on the final group, so that might work against Bard, though he’s been playing well.

That’s all for now. I’ll be back Monday with the latest on Pineda and other doings from the desert.

Cust puts on power show; bullpen questions continue

CustBat.JPGJack Cust swung a big bat Saturday with two home runs against the Rangers. (Greg Johns file photo/MLB.com).

Manager Eric Wedge was hoping to learn some things about his bullpen Saturday against the Rangers, running out six candidates who are fighting for relief roles in the rapidly approaching regular season.

Not sure exactly what the Mariners discovered there, other than that Fabio Castro would have been a lot more effective — or fortunate — if he’d only been asked to go one inning instead of two after the Rangers rapped him around in the second frame.

Don’t think I’ve ever seen an inning where each outfielder — Michael Saunders, Ryan Langerhans and Franklin Gutierrez — each laid out for a full-out diving catch and came up with nothing but grass stains for their effort.

Then in the same game, the Mariners came back to hit three home runs in a row on back-to-back-to-back jacks by Adam Kennedy, Mike Wilson and Jack Cust against Texas reliever Darren O’Day in a five-pitch sequence.

The Mariners haven’t hit three straight home runs since 2004 in a regular-season game against the Royals on Aug. 27, 2004 when Miguel Olivo, Jose Lopez and Hiram Bocachica managed the feat against Zach Greinke.

So, yeah,it was a weird day … and one where the ball was carrying out to center field in Surprise much the way it does to right field in Arlington.

Cust took advantage with two no-doubt blasts in the eighth and 10th innings in what turned into a 9-8 win for the Mariners.

Wedge was pleased to see Cust drive two balls to the slightly opposite field as he raised his Cactus League total to three home runs with a 3-for-5 day that puts his batting average at .275.

“Good to see the direction they went, too,” Wedge said. “Both went to center field or a little bit left of center. That’s as important as anything. Obviously he squared ‘em up and hit ‘em a ton, but it was nice to see where they ended up.”

Where the bullpen ends up might be a bigger question for this club. Chris Ray had a nice inning and continues looking like a legitimate late-inning guy … and maybe even a closer option if Brandon League continues to struggle.

Royce Ring got in trouble — and then got out of it with some nice pitching against a pair of left-handers — reminding that he’s best suited for a situational lefty role.

There are questions elsewhere, but it’s looking more and more like David Pauley — who has no options left — is a likely right-handed long man and Josh Lueke the one young survivor with Dan Cortes having been sent down last week.

Cesar Jimenez also is out of options, so he’ll be a tough decision if he shows anything in the final two weeks. Aaron Laffey is another lefty contender and a likelier survivor, but he does have an option.

Complicating matters is the non-roster situation, where the club is going to have to clear spots for a handful of guys who aren’t currently on the 40-man … Adam Kennedy, possibly Ryan Langerhans, possibly Josh Bard if Miguel Olivo isn’t ready and several relievers (Ray, Castro, Ring, Jamey Wright, Justin Miller and Denny Bautista are all non-roster contenders).

Waiving Garrett Olson dropped the 40-man count to 39 and it might be possible to put injured reliever Mauricio Robles on the 60-day Disabled List to free another spot. But that still leaves a couple players who’ll need to be moved off the 40-man and thus exposed to waivers.

In other words, lots of shuffling still to be done. And, frankly, I’ll be surprised if the bullpen in particular doesn’t wind up with a pitcher or two picked up off waivers from other teams in the final days of spring. 

Bullpen day as relievers get tested today vs. Rangers

The Mariners are having starter Doug Fister throw in a Minor League game against the Padres today at 1 p.m. on a practice field in Peoria, both to let the big right-hander have a bit of a less-stressful outing in midcamp and also to get a better look at some bullpen candidates.

Fister has been on a different program from Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas, who both were brought along slowly at the start of spring. Fister was in the rotation from the opening of Cactus League play and pitching coach Carl Willis said he wanted to dial things back for him in mid-camp before gearing up for the season.

Equally important is the chance to see what a couple new relievers can do against the Rangers starting lineup rather than just late-inning mopup duty. Little lefty Fabio Castro gets the start in today’s 1:05 p.m. game at Surprise and is expected to throw two innings.

Tom Wilhelmsen, another surprising candidate, will follow him and we’ll also see Chris Ray, who is the one legitimate closer challenger for Brandon League. Also set to pitch today are Cesar Jimenez, Justin Miller and Royce Ring. So keep an eye on how things go there as an unsettled bullpen starts to sort itself out.

The Rangers will give a good look as they’re starting their “A” team, with Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz and David Murphy all in the lineup.

As for the Mariners, Franklin Gutierrez is back in center after taking two days to recover from lower back stiffness. Jack Wilson will start at shortstop after missing his last start due to a personal issue.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

Jack Wilson SS
Brendan Ryan 2B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Ryan Langerhans RF
Luis Rodriguez 3B
Michael Saunders LF
Adam Moore C

Fabio Castro LHP

Garrett Olson waived by Mariners, claimed by Pirates

Left-handed reliever Garrett Olson, who pitched 66 games for the Mariners over the past two seasons, has been waived by the club and claimed by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Olson had a 5.40 ERA in five appearances for the Mariners this spring and was in a battle with new acquisition Aaron Laffey for a left-handed role in the bullpen.

Olson, 27, was acquired by the Mariners in January of ’09 in a trarde with the Cubs for Aaron Heilman. He was 3-8 with a 5.26 ERA in 118 innings over two seasons with Seattle.

Seattle has several left-handers competing for bullpen roles this spring, including Fabio Castro, Royce Ring, Cesar Jimenez and Laffey.

Olson was out of options, so he couldn’t be sent down to the Minor League camp without being exposed to the waiver process.

 

Ichiro to donate $1.25 million to Japanese relief

Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki is donating 100 million yen, which equates to about $1.25 million, to the Japanese Red Cross for earthquake and tsunami relief efforts, according to the Kyodo News Agency.

Ichiro has yet to comment publicly on the situation in his homeland.

Meanwhile, the Mariners are asking their fans and front office personnel to help out the Japanese relief funds as well and have promised to match all donations made at Safeco Field during their opening six-game homestand next month.

Red Cross volunteers will be outside the gates of Safeco taking donations on games against the Indians and Blue Jays from April 8-13. Donations will also be accepted at several locations inside the stadium and the club will also work with the Red Cross to collect funds at other upcoming games, including a Salute to Japan Night at a still-to-be-determined date.

The club will make a minimum donation of $100,000 to the Red Cross through Mariners Care, but will match any number that fans and front-office employees reach in the opening stand.

Proceeds from the first Mariners Care Saturday Silent auction on April 9 will also be dedicated to the Red Cross.

Nintendo Co., Ltd., the parent company of Nintendo of America, Inc., which owns the Mariners, has already announced on its Website that the corporation is donating 300 million yen, or the equivalent of $3.7 million.

“The Mariners join with people from around the world in extending our sympathy to the many people affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said in a statement. “The Mariners have had great support from the Japanese business community and fans all across Japan. Our thoughts and best wishes are with them as they begin the long road to recovery.”

Mariners commercials … and my acting debut

They say everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame. Mine turned out to be more like two seconds, but that’s ok. My life is now complete, thanks to Jim Copacino and the folks who put together the tremendous Mariners TV commercials.

Stunningly, my role as an extra in the Franklin Gutierrez ad didn’t all end up on the cutting room floor. You have to look quick — and know who you’re looking for — but at least I know that I’m one of the bumbling athletes Guti is trying to coach up in his commercial.

It was great fun to be part of the process, though I think it’s safe to say I’ll not be quitting the day job anytime soon. I will, however, be taking the next three days off … but only because this is my one break in Spring Training.

The Mariners themselves are off today, aside from Erik Bedard throwing a Minor League game. Then they’ll have night games Wednesday and Thursday. I’m headed to Sedona with my wife, but will be back Friday.

In the meantime, you can check out all the Mariners commercials by clicking here. If you’re interested, check out my acting skills in the Guti spot. Just don’t blink!

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