March 2013

A projection of the final roster, plus today’s lineup

Maurer_BrandonEric Wedge said yesterday the Mariners are very close to finalizing their 25-man roster and it’s not difficult to see where things are headed, barring any last-minute waiver-wire additions or trades.

The starting rotation appears to have sorted itself out in the final days, with Erasmo Ramirez seeing his innings reduced by a tender triceps last week and Jeremy Bonderman showing yesterday why it takes time for a guy who hasn’t pitched since 2010 and had Tommy John surgery 10 months ago to build up to 80-plus pitches.

Bonderman and Ramirez both need a little more time, which means Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer (pictured) figure to land the Nos. 4 and 5 starter spots for now.

The other primary roster battle has been the fifth outfielder spot and all indications are that Jason Bay will land that spot. Bay is in the lineup in left field today while Wells is sitting for a second straight game, which isn’t a good sign at a time Eric Wedge wants to sharpen up the guys he’ll be going forward with starting Monday in Oakland.

If the Mariners can get something in a trade for Wells, maybe we’ll see a deal in the next few days. But lots of teams have excess outfielders so that won’t be easy. Since Wells is out of options, if he is sent down to Triple-A he’ll have to clear waivers first and I’d be surprised if he makes it through that process.

The other debate figures to be for the final bullpen spot. Unless the club changes course and decides to keep Ramirez as a long man in the ‘pen instead of sending him to Tacoma, logic seems to dictate that Lucas Luetge stays as the final reliever and third lefty. Bullpens always seem to yield some surprise, so we’ll see what happens there.

But for now, here’s how things seem likely to shake out:

Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Joe Saunders, Blake Beavan, Brandon Maurer.

Bullpen: Tom Wilhelmsen, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, Kameron Loe, Charlie Furbush, Oliver Perez, Lucas Luetge.

Catchers: Jesus Montero, Kelly Shoppach.

Infielders: Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager, Robert Andino.

Outfielders: Michael Saunders, Franklin Gutierrez, Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay.

Meanwhile, the club closes out its Peoria spring schedule today with a great pitcher’s matchup between Felix and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in a battle of Cy Young winners. That one is at 1:05 p.m. PT.

Then it’ll be Iwakuma pitching against the Cubs at 12:05 p.m. on Thursday in Mesa, followed by a travel day on Friday and then Maurer starting against the Rockies at 12:05 p.m. PT on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

All three final spring games are on 710 ESPN Seattle radio and the Saturday exhibition wih the Rockies will be televised by ROOT Sports.

The Mariners will workout in Oakland on Sunday afternoon before meeting the A’s at 7:05 p.m. on Monday for the opener. So, yeah, it really is only five days until the games get real.

Here’s today’s lineup against the Dodgers:

Franklin Gutierrez CF
Michael Saunders RF
Kendrys Morales 1B
Michael Morse DH
Jesus Montero C
Jason Bay LF
Dustin Ackley 2B
Robert Andino SS
Brad Miller 3B

Felix Hernandez RHP

Tuesday’s Game 30 recap: Royals 11, Mariners 6

GutiCatchPlayer of the Game: Franklin Gutierrez went 2-for-4 with a home run, double, a walk and three RBIs as he reminded everyone again what a healthy Guti can do for the Mariners. He’ll be in center again Wednesday as manager Eric Wedge looks to get him ready to roll on a regular basis. Here’s video of his home run.

Stat of the Game: Two more home runs for the Mariners — by Gutierrez and Michael Morse — raises the spring total to 54 in 30 games, extending the club record for a spring.  Research by the Mariners shows only one MLB team with more homers in a spring since 2006, with the Royals hitting 56 in 36 games in ’09. Morse’s shot was a monster blast over the 40-foot-high batter’s eye in center field, a rare sight in Peoria Stadium. Here’s the must-see video of Morse’s bomb.

Storyline: This was Jeremy Bonderman’s final chance to show he’s a legitimate contender for a starting job and the 30-year-old ran into trouble with a seven-hit, six-run burst in the fifth inning. Bonderman has been improving all spring, but this one showed again why it’s tough for a guy who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2010 and had Tommy John surgery just 10 months ago to build up to a starting role that quickly.

Worth noting: Manager Eric Wedge said the club is close to finalizing its rotation and if you read the tea leaves, it’s pretty easy to see Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer getting the final two slots. Wedge mentioned trying to put players in positions to succeed and help the team “whether it be right away or at some point in time later this year.” I’m no mind reader, but that sounds like a pretty clear indication they’d like to see Bonderman accept a chance to pitch in Tacoma for a bit and build himself up. Whether Bonderman wants to do that remains to be seen, though he indicated early in spring he’d consider that kind of scenario if it was just for a short time to get something specific squared away.

Quote of the Day: “The fifth inning just unraveled a little on me. It isn’t the first time it’s ever happened, but it was definitely the wrong day to have it happen.”  –  Jeremy Bonderman.

Next: Not a bad pitching matchup Wednesday with Felix Hernandez facing the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in a battle of former Cy Young winners at 1:05 p.m. at Peoria Stadium. It will be Hernandez’s last start of the spring in preparation for Opening Day on Monday in Oakland.

Here’s is the link to today’s boxscore.

Here’s my notebook with today’s news from camp.

Here’s my story on Raul Ibanez’s favorite Opening Day memories as he looks forward to starting his 18th season in the Majors.

And here’s video of Eric Wedge talking postgame today about Bonderman and more:

Mariners’ home runs piling up in historic fashion

As the Mariners have continued piling up home runs this spring, questions have arisen regarding how this year compares with the best in Cactus League play.

The Mariners broke their own club record for most home runs in a spring on Monday when they hit two more bombs to reach 52 through 29 games, with four more games still to play.

There are no official Cactus League records, so it’s impossible to know how this club ranks all-time. But Jeff Evans of the Mariners’ Baseball Information Department dug through recent years and uncovered that only four other Major League clubs — Cactus or Grapefruit Leagues — have hit more than 50 homers in a spring since 2006.

The Royals hit 56 in 36 games in 2009 and the Tigers slugged 54 in 32 games in 2006. The Rangers hit 52 in 29 games in ’06 as well, while the Brewers bopped 50 in 2009.

So there you have it. The Mariners can track their own spring records back to when they started play in 1977, but again, there are no official spring marks. As Evans notes, most springs don’t include as many games as the 2006, 2009 and now 2013 years when MLB started camps earlier in order to help prepare players for the World Baseball Classic.

So there probably aren’t a lot of springs when any MLB teams hit more dingers than the current Mariners. And it’s worth noting that this club isn’t just benefitting from the long spring. This year’s group is averaging 1.79 home runs per game, which is well ahead of the per-game average club record of 1.59 set in 1999.

Perhaps most amazing about this spring has been the consistency, as the Mariners have hit a home run in 28 of their 29 games going into Tuesday’s battle with the Royals.

Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales share the team lead with six each, two shy of the club record eight hit by Mike Wilson in ’09. Morales has homered in four of his last five starts. And, yep, he’s in the lineup today in the 1:05 p.m. game.

Here’s the latest on Mariners pitching

In the ongoing world of Mariners pitching, Erasmo Ramirez is now slated for three innings in a Minor League game on Wednesday instead of pitching in relief behind Felix Hernandez in the Cactus League game.

That should give Ramirez a little more of a controlled situation as he returns from some minor tenderness in his arm that caused the Mariners to reduce his workload in the last week.

It still seems unlikely that Ramirez will crack the starting rotation coming out of camp, given that situation. We’ll see Jeremy Bonderman today against the Royals in his final chance to impress before the decisions must be made later this week.

Here’s today’s full lineup against the Royals:

Franklin Gutierrez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse LF
Raul Ibanez RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Dustin Ackley 2B
Kelly Shoppach C
Brendan Ryan SS

Jeremy Bonderman P

Then on Wednesday we’ll see Felix Hernandez against the Dodgers in Peoria, followed by Hisashi Iwakuma on Thursday in Mesa against the Cubs. Brandon Maurer is tentatively slated to face the Rockies on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

On another interesting front, the Mariners were among four teams scouting Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano yesterday, according to MLB.com colleague Ken Gurnick. What does that mean? At the very least, it means they’re doing their due diligence.

It’s also a good reminder that teams are never done when it comes to player acquisition. The Mariners could still make moves, whether adding a player or two released elsewhere or pulling a trade. So as always, we’ll wait and see.

What we do know is the season will start Monday in Oakland. And Felix will be on the mound.

Monday’s Game 29 recap: Mariners 16, Reds 0

MonteroAPPlayer of the Game: Lots to choose from in a 16-0 win, but I’ll go with catcher Jesus Montero after a 3-for-3 day with six RBIs, including a monster grand slam in the fifth inning that cleared the left-field berm at Goodyear Ballpark and sailed out of the stadium. Montero also singled twice and walked with the bases loaded, raising his spring average to .405. Click here to see a video of Montero’s blast.

Stat of the Game: Two more home runs for the Mariners — by Montero and Michael Saunders — raises the spring total to 52 in 29 games, a new spring record for Seattle. The old mark of 51 was set in 32 games in 1999. The Mariners have four more games to raise that total, which remains the highest of any Major League team this spring. Here’s a video of Saunder’s smash.

Storyline: Even with all the offense against a quality Reds starter in Homer Bailey, the big thing in this game was another outstanding start by young right-hander Brandon Maurer, who threw five scoreless innings and worked his way out of several jams while lowering his Cactus League ERA to 0.90 (two runs in 20 innings). The kid is doing everything he can to force his way onto the starting rotation, with one final performance coming Saturday against the Rockies in Salt Lake City. Here’s a video of all seven of Maurer’s strikeouts.

Worth noting: Manager Eric Wedge confirmed the first three starters in his rotation to open the season will be Felix Hernandez (yeah, that one we knew), followed by Hisashi Iwakuma and then Joe Saunders. It’s the last two spots that remain up in the air, though it emerged today that Erasmo Ramirez was limited last week be some soreness in his triceps and that’s why he’s pitching only in relief again this week.

Quote of the Day: “You just throw a couple extra pitches out there to get warm, but shoot, it’s fun throwing with the lead. I must be a lucky guy. I’ll take ‘em any day.”  –Brandon Maurer on pitching in a game where the Mariners scored 15 runs during his five innings.

Next: Jeremy Bonderman starts against the Royals in a 1:05 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium in his last spring outing.

Here’s is the link to today’s boxscore.

Here’s a full story on today’s game.

Here’s my notebook with all today’s news from camp, including the move to keep Kameron Loe.

And here’s my story about the rotation battle as it comes down to the wire.

Bullpen starting to clarify as Loe added to 40-man

LoeKameronBP1Things are starting to shape up a little in the final roster decisions due this week by the Mariners as reliever Kameron Loe was added to the 40-man roster on Monday afternoon.

While that doesn’t guarantee Loe a spot on the final 25-man roster for Opening Day, it’s a pretty strong indication since the Mariners decided to make the roster move as Loe hit an opt-out date on the Minor League contract Monday.

Loe has been strong all spring, posting a 1-0 record with one save and a 1.80 ERA with two walks and 15 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Right-handed reliever Josh Kinney was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room on the 40-man roster. Kinney has been sidelined the past two weeks with a stress reaction in his ribs.

Loe has been a durable set-up reliever for the Brewers the past two years, with his 142 appearances in that span ranking 11th among all National League pitchers. He went 6-5 with two saves and a 4.61 ERA in 70 relief appearances last season and had a 3.50 ERA in 72 games in 2011.

Another potential moving part in the bullpen scenario is the situation with Erasmo Ramirez, who is scheduled to pitch relief Wednesday for his second straight outing. Ramirez, 22, is the only one of the four final rotation candidates not getting a start this week, with Brandon Maurer starting twice, Jeremy Bonderman once and Blake Beavan once.

Ramirez said he felt fine after Monday’s workout and indicated he still felt he was competing for a starting spot, but would be open to any role offered.

“I was working all spring training as a starter, so my mind right now is like a starter. But back to the bullpen sounds fine,” he said. “But I don’t know. Last year they had me like starter, reliever, starter, reliever and more reliever the last month. This year I was starting from the time I got here so my mind is like a starter right now.

“But if they give me a chance, alright, take it, and just figure out how to warm up for games. Just start over. I already know what to do, so just have to figure out my new plan and let’s go. My goal right now is to make the team as a starter, but you never know. Last year I didn’t know. Relieving was fun so I have to be ready for anything and let’s see what happens.”

The Mariners figure to keep seven relievers, with Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Oliver Perez and Charlie Furbush seeming locks. With Loe now added to that mix, it would seem the final decision might come down to keeping Lucas Luetge as a third left hander or having Ramirez as a long candidate.

It’s coming down to roster decision time

Back at it today in Peoria and things haven’t changed a whole lot while I was away for a couple days. Jon Garland is gone, Endy Chavez is here. And the Mariners have four more Cactus League games and an exhibition in Salt Lake City before opening the season in Oakland on April 1.

Brandon Maurer gets the start today at 1:05 p.m. against the Reds’ Homer Bailey in Goodyear. Maurer clearly is in the hunt for a rotation spot and, in fact, is tentatively scheduled to make the start in the final preseason game in Salt Lake City as well.

The rest of the rotation this week: Jeremy Bonderman starts on Tuesday against the Royals in Peoria, Felix Hernandez makes his final spring start Wednesday against the Dodgers in Peoria and then Hisashi Iwakuma goes Thursday against the Cubs in Mesa.

Erasmo Ramirez will pitch out of the bullpen on Wednesday and it’s just a hunch, but I’m starting to sense he might be a contender for a relief role coming out of camp despite much speculation that he’s strictly a starter.

Still a few roster decisions to come this week. Besides the final two rotation berths coming down to Blake Beavan, Maurer, Ramirez and Bonderman, the final outfield choice between Jason Bay and Casper Wells is due.

And the bullpen is always a place where a surprise or two can emerge. Consider Ramirez my surprise candidate there.

Meanwhile, here is today’s lineup:

Michael Saunders CF
Robert Andino 3B
Raul Ibanez DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Kyle Seager 2B
Jesus Montero C
Jason Bay RF
Casper Wells LF
Brendan Ryan SS

Brandon Maurer P

Taking a quick break

It’s been a long haul this spring and I’ll be taking a quick break here to recharge the batteries before we hit the Cactus League stretch run and then begin regular season play on April 1.

Looking forward to a couple days in Sedona with my wife. It’s a gorgeous place and I highly encourage anyone to visit the area and take in the sweeping red-rock hills if you’ve never been there.

So the blog will be quiet for a few days, but all the news and games will continue to be covered on Mariners.com by veteran MLB.com writer John Schlegel. I couldn’t ask for a better fill-in and you won’t miss a beat there with his coverage.

The Mariners are playing a couple night games — tonight against the Cubs and Friday against the Padres, both at 7:05 p.m., before taking on the Indians on Saturday and the D-backs on Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

The Thursday and Saturday games will be televised on ROOT Sports and both those, plus the Friday night game are available to MLB.TV subscribers.

With rotation spots up in the air, pitching matchups will be key to watch. It’ll be Jon Garland starting tonight. Felix Hernandez goes Friday, then Blake Beavan on Saturday, with Hisashi Iwakuma pitching in a Minor League game that day.

Joe Saunders gets the call on Sunday and I’ll be back on Monday to resume the daily blog updates. I’ll be fascinated myself to see how the final roster decisions come out and whether the team can continue hitting as well as it has this spring.

Catch ya soon!

Tuesday’s Game 24 recap: Mariners 6, Giants 3

Maurer_BrandonPlayer of the Game: Young right-hander Brandon Maurer (pictured) was outstanding once again with five innings of one-run ball on just three hits with no walks and four strikeouts. Not bad on a night against the World Series champion Giants under the lights in front of a sellout crowd of 11,188 at Peoria Stadium.

Stat of the Game: Kendrys Morales homered for his third straight game, this one a solo shot in the seventh inning. Morales now has five home runs this spring, one behind Michael Morse, and the Mariners now have 45 bombs in 23 games. They need  seven more in their final eight games to set there a club record for Cactus League action.

Storyline: The Mariners won their sixth straight game and this one meant a little something, coming against the Giants with Maurer stepping up and young Nick Franklin also playing his best game of the spring with a 2-for-2 night with a double, two runs and two RBIs. Reliever Steven Pryor also looked impressive, cranking up his heater to 97 in the eighth inning.

Worth noting: After the game, the Mariners sent three players down to Minor League camp — catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Eric Thames and right-handed reliever Logan Bawcom. That puts the roster now at 37 players, headed toward the final 25.

Quote of the Day: “I want to be the Torch, if anyone asks.  … Hultzen would be the Jessica Alba, we’ll go with Taijuan as the stretchy guy. And The Thing could be Pax. We’ll go with that.” – Brandon Maurer after being asked if the Big Three should be called the Fantastic Four.

Next: The Mariners are off on Wednesday, though Jeremy Bonderman will pitch in a Minor League game at 1 p.m. at the Peoria Complex. Jon Garland gets the start Thursday night against the Cubs at Peoria Stadium, with Erasmo Ramirez to follow.

Here’s is the link to tonight’s boxscore.

Here’s a full story on tonight’s game.

Here’s my notebook with all the day’s news from camp.

And here’s Maurer talking about the Fantastic Four and how he’s taking the fun approach to the rotation battle.

Maurer takes on the Giants tonight

MaurerBig night tonight for right-hander Brandon Maurer, the one young starting prospect still in Mariners camp, as he gets the call in a 7:05 p.m. PT game against the World Series champion Giants.

Maurer, 22, is still a long shot to land a rotation berth, I would think. But he’s definitely getting a long look, he’s doing everything possible — a 0.90 ERA with one run in 10 innings – and he’ll throw five frames tonight in his longest start yet if all goes well.

Here’s a full feature story I did on Maurer on Mariners.com.

Tonight’s game is on ROOT Sports, so fans in Seattle can get a look at the youngster, as well as a pretty good lineup getting rolled out against Barry Zito before Wednesday’s off day.

Here’s the roll call:

Michael Saunders CF
Franklin Gutierrez DH
Kendrys Morales 1B
Michael Morse LF
Kyle Seager 3B
Jason Bay RF
Kelly Shoppach C
Brad Miller SS
Nick Franklin 2B

Brandon Maurer P

Brendan Ryan is nursing a minor neck strain and isn’t in the lineup for a third straight game, but figures he’ll be fine after tomorrow’s off day.

Joe Saunders pitched in a Minor League intrasquad games this morning and threw six-plus innings with eight hits, two runs, two walks and eight strikeouts on 78 pitches. He figures to get two more starts before his regular-season debut.

Jeremy Bonderman will pitch in a Minor League tomorrow, then Jon Garland gets the start Thursday night against the Cubs, with Erasmo Ramirez also scheduled to throw in that one.

In addition to tonight’s game, the Thursday night and Saturday afternoon game (vs. the Indians) will be televised by ROOT.

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