And so it begins: Full-squad workouts underway today

McClendonAs Lloyd McClendon greeted 61 players to the Mariners first full-squad workout of Spring Training on Wednesday, the second-year manager had a clear message for his troops.

Forget what you’ve been reading and hearing. It’s time to start preparing and playing.

“I don’t usually share my messages,” McClendon said when meeting with reporters prior to the first workout. “But I will share this. Expectations are very high and that’s OK. I understand it. But we can’t get caught up in expectations. We’ve got to get prepared and get ready for the grind of a 162-game schedule and it starts today. If you want to be a champion, it doesn’t start in April, it starts in February. And I think they’ll be up to the task.”

The addition of Major League home run leader Nelson Cruz to a team that went 87-75 last year despite considerable offensive shortcomings has pushed Seattle into prominence among many prognosticators. McClendon agrees this is a better club on paper after a productive offseason by general manager Jack Zduriencik.

“Good players win championships and Jack has gone out and provided us more talent, to give us a better opportunity to get that done,” said McClendon. “Having said that, it just doesn’t happen. I caution a lot of people that we’re not starting at 87 wins, we’re starting at zero. You’ve got to prepare and work.

“Everybody is hopeful this time of year. Everybody is thinking about winning a World Championship. I know this: It’s not always the most talented club, it’s the club that works the hardest and stays the healthiest that has a chance to win championships. That’s what we want to set out to try to do.”

If the Mariners are going to make a run in the American League West, they’ll need their pitching to replicate last year’s success, while adding offensive punch from Cruz and fellow veteran newcomers Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks.

That group was scheduled to take the field for the first time Wednesday a 10 a.m. MT, joined by the nucleus of returners built around Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager.

“It’s always nice when you get all your players into camp,” McClendon said. “That’s probably the official start of Spring Training. The pitchers and catchers is a grind because you’re going through the same thing every day and it’s a little monotonous. It’s always exciting when you see your position players again.”

In other news Wednesday:

— With full-squad work beginning, the pitchers had a light day scheduled before live batting practice begins Thursday. Only two pitchers were scheduled to throw bullpen sessions Wednesday. Tom Wilhelmsen will throw off the mound for the first time this spring after being held back following his arbitration hearing in Florida last weekend and Danny Hultzen will throw his second bullpen. Hultzen was given an extra day between his throw sessions as he returns from shoulder surgery.

Coaches will throw batting practice to hitters on Wednesday, with live batting practice beginning Thursday. Every pitcher is scheduled to throw at least two bullpens and two live BPs before Cactus League play begins March 4. Felix Hernandez won’t start his throwing for a few more days as he follows his usual slower spring routine. James Paxton (bruised forearm) is the only other pitcher yet to toss off a mound.

— McClendon said Weeks will spend most of his outfield time in left field, working alongside Dustin Ackley. He said that wasn’t a message to Ackley, but merely a move to improve the team by adding another veteran right-handed hitter.

“We’re trying to get better and Rickie Weeks is a good player that can help us win ballgames,” he said. “I think the combination of both those guys out there should produce a very productive left field. When you have a combination of 20-25 home runs and 100-plus RBIs, now you’ve got something.”

— Ruggiano will see some time in center as well as right field, with McClendon saying it will be important to give center fielder Austin Jackson some rest at times to keep him sharp. James Jones provides further depth as he’s capable of playing all three outfield positions.

— I get a lot of questions about the Mariners broadcast schedule for spring. You can see the full TV/radio slate here.

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