Wedge announces final rotation, Iwakuma to bullpen

Eric Wedge named his regular-season starting rotation on Wednesday and it didn’t include Japanese standout Hishashi Iwakuma, who will instead begin the year pitching long relief out of the bullpen.

Wedge said his five-man rotation will be Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood.

Millwood will not be making the trip to Japan this week, however, instead staying behind as the team can only take 30 players and doesn’t need all its starting pitchers.

Hernandez and Vargas were already slated to pitch the two regular-season games against the A’s on March 28-29. Wedge said Noesi will start the first exhibition game in Japan on Monday, with Iwakuma starting the second game.

Beavan and Vargas will throw a simulated game during the first workout session in Tokyo in order to keep sharp, with Beavan then being held in an emergency role in case something should happen to Vargas or Hernandez.

Iwakuma, 30, had been the least-effective of the starters this spring, but his fastball had more life on Tuesday as he pitched three innings of relief.

“Quite frankly, I think that’s the best way to transition him this year with the history he had last year with the health and what not, introducing him to this game and helping him get off to a good start,” Wedge said.

The biggest challenge could be Iwakuma’s required warm-up time as a normal starter. He was up in the bullpen throwing in the fourth inning Tuesday, then sat down and got back up again before entering in the sixth, which isn’t normal for a reliever.

“That’s another thing that went into our decision. The guy loves to throw,” Wedge said. “It’s not a problem for him to get up and throw a little bit and then if we call on him, he’s ready. And if we don’t, he’s thrown a little bit anyway, which is what he would normally do.

“This is a young man who is getting stronger and working hard and as we break camp, I feel that’s the best role for him.”

Putting Iwakuma in the bullpen allowed the Mariners to keep Millwood after a strong spring by the 37-year-old.

“He made this ballclub,” said Wedge. “He made the decision for us just by the way he pitched and competed.”

Wedge said he wouldn’t discuss bullpen or position player decisions until Thursday, when the club will announce its final roster decisions before boarding the plane for Tokyo with 30 players. Of those, 25 will be eligible to play in the regular-season games.

The one move the Mariners did announce was the release of veteran reliever Shawn Camp, which Wedge said was the result of young pitchers stepping to the fore this spring.

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