Mariners send down nine players, including Elias

EliasBakerWith just a week remaining until Opening Day, the Mariners moved closer to their final 25-man roster on Sunday by cutting nine players from Major League camp, including left-handed starter Roenis Elias.

The moves bring Seattle’s roster to 29 players. The final 25-man squad must be set by Saturday, in preparation for the April 6 opener against the Angels at Safeco Field.

Elias was the only one of the nine players sent down Sunday who was on the 40-man roster, so he was officially optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. That decision clears the way for Taijuan Walker to be Seattle’s fifth starter.

The other eight were non-roster invitees who have been re-assigned to Minor League camp – pitchers Mark Lowe, Jordan Pries, Kevin Correia and Joe Saunders, infielders Shawn O’Malley and Carlos Rivero, catcher John Baker and outfielder Endy Chavez.

Elias was the toughest call there as a lefty who started 29 games and went 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA last season. But the Mariners have better pitching depth this spring as all starting candidates have stayed healthy and Walker has been outstanding with 18 scoreless innings in Cactus League play.

Manager Lloyd McClendon still wasn’t ready to announce Walker as his official fifth starter since Erasmo Ramirez – who is out of Minor League options – also is one of the remaining 29 players in camp. But that announcement is inevitable now that Elias has been sent down.

“He hadn’t pitched well this camp,” McClendon said. “He needs to go down and get his innings and get consistent. The one thing I impressed upon him, I’m a big Elias fan. I think everybody knows that. I pushed hard for this young man to be on this club last year. But he’s got to get better. He’s got to improve and command of the strike zone is one of them, particularly with the fastball.”

The Mariners are pleased to have a starter of Elias’ caliber just a phone call away in Tacoma.

“I think we all would agree that for us to go through this season with five starters, it’s just not going to happen,” McClendon said. “At some point he has to be prepared to come back here and help this club. But at the same time, he has to be pitching well so he can come back and help us. It was tough, but it was a decision we all thought was best for him and this organization at this particular time.”

Of the other moves, Jesus Sucre beat out Baker for the backup catcher job and rookie Tyler Olson remains the lone contender for the second lefty spot in the bullpen with Saunders being sent down.

The remaining 29-man roster still includes shortstop Chris Taylor and left-hander Edgar Olmos, both of whom will open the season on the disabled list. A decision also figures to be upcoming with Ramirez, since he’d need to clear waivers.

So the one remaining roster choice appears to be the last bullpen spot. Olson, a seventh-round Draft pick out of Gonzaga in 2013, is still competing for the second left-hander role in the bullpen behind Charlie Furbush.

Olson, 25, was a starter for Double-A Jackson and High-A High Desert last year and topped all Mariners’ Minor Leaguers with 12 wins, 127 strikeouts and 148 1/3 innings pitched.

McClendon will be going with a seven-man bullpen to open the season and it’s possible the Mariners could go with just one lefty reliever, given they’ve got six returning right-handers who all pitched well last season in Fernando Rodney, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Dominic Leone and Carson Smith. That final bullpen decision still awaits.

“We’re real close,” McClendon said. “I would suspect in next day or so we’ll get everything cleaned up.”

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