Randy Johnson talks with Mariners trainer Rick Griffin on Thursday at the Mariners complex in Peoria. (Photo by Greg Johns)
Yeah, there was a tall left-hander in camp on Thursday. Randy Johnson came to Peoria to visit old friend Rick Griffin, the Mariners long-time trainer, and hung around long enough to see Felix Hernandez throw his simulated game.
The Mariners then went to Glendale and lost 6-1 to the White Sox in a game where Luke French looked good in his three innings of work and then talked about how he’d tossed out some offseason adjustments and just gone back to throwing the way he knows best.
French is one of several pitchers competing for spots at the back end of the rotation. If everybody stays healthy, including Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda, he’s probably destined for Tacoma or the bullpen.
The acquisition of Aaron Laffey on Wednesday makes things a little more interesting for French since Laffey is another lefty who the Mariners say will be focused on a relief role. With Garrett Olson as well, that’s a bit of a glut. But these things tend to work themselves out and if French continues pitching well, he’ll provide a nice option.
Laffey said he might pitch Friday, but Eric Wedge said after today’s game only that Laffey would pitch “sooner rather than later.”
There’s also some question on exactly when Felix Hernandez will make his Cactus League debut. Pitching coach Carl Willis indicated Thursday morning that Hernandez would open against Oakland, whom the Mariners face on Monday. But Hernandez indicated he might pitch another sim game first and word now is that it will be clarified tomorrow morning.
So stay tuned on that one.
Felix Hernandez continued his slower build-up in Spring Training by throwing 33 pitches in a simulated game on the Mariners main practice field in Peoria on Thursday morning, then pronounced himself ready and eager to get going.
Hernandez threw to an assortment of Minor League hitters in informal setting in which he recorded five strikeouts while getting eight outs, while allowing one ball that likely would have been a bloop single if defenders were actually in place.
“It’s been awhile,” Hernandez said. “I felt great.”
Hernandez will make his Cactus League debut on Monday, throwing three innings against Oakland.
“I’m ready,” he said. “I’m feeling so good, man. I was throwing strikes, the ball was in the bottom of the zone, the breaking ball was good, the changeup was alright. Everything looked good.”
Can he be better after last year’s Cy Young season?
“I think can be better. Why not,” he said. “You have to get better every year. We’ll see.”
One tall guy took in Hernandez’s throwing session Thursday. Randy Johnson was in camp to visit with trainer Rick Griffin, his good friend. The Big Unit spoke to Hernandez before he went out on the field.
“He told me I needed four more Cy Youngs,” Hernandez said. “And four thousand strikeouts just to get him.”
And Felix’s response?
“I told him, I’ll be there. Don’t worry,” Hernandez said with a laugh.
Check out who’s in left field today. Yup, that’s Jack Cust, who has played quite a bit of outfield in his days with the A’s and now will show the Mariners what he can do in the field.
Don’t expect to see a lot of Cust with a glove this year, but he does take pride in being able to play a position and has shown a pretty good arm in camp. It will help in interleague play, at least, if he can man a position at times.
Also a different infield today with Brendan Ryan getting his first start at second base alongside shortstop Jack Wilson, with Adam Kennedy moving over to third and Mike Carp at first.
We’ll see Felix Hernandez throw a simulated game, probably about 30 pitches, this morning at 10:45 on one of the Peoria practice fields. Then the Mariners will head over to Glendale to face the White Sox at 12:05 p.m. PT.
Here’s today’s lineup:
Jack Wilson SS
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Milton Bradley DH
Jack Cust LF
Miguel Olivo C
Adam Kennedy 3B
Brendan Ryan 2B
Mike Carp 1B
Greg Halman RF
Luke French P
Aaron Laffey, who previously pitched for Eric Wedge in Cleveland, was acquired by the Mariners on Wednesday. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Looking to add depth to their pitching competition, the Mariners acquired left-hander Aaron Laffey from the Indians on Wednesday in exchange for Minor League infielder Matt Lawson and cash considerations.
Laffey, 25, is 18-21 with a 4.41 ERA over parts of four Major League seasons. He was 2-3 with a 4.53 ERA with the Indians last year in 29 games, including five starts when he went 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA.
It’s not certain whether the Mariners will look at him as a starting candidate. He was battling for the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation, but pitched in both the bullpen and a starting role last year.
The 6-foot, 200-pounder was 7-9 with a 4.44 ERA in 19 starts in ’09, but ran into shoulder fatigue in midseason last year and spent time in midseason on the Disabled List.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis both have worked with Laffey in the past with the Indians, where he was a 16th-round Draft pick in ’03.
“With Aaron, we felt we had the opportunity to acquire a left-handed pitcher with Major League experience,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said in a statement released by the club. “We will bring him to Spring Training and give him a chance to compete for a position on our pitching staff.”
Laffey is expected to join the Mariners on Thursday in Peoria.
Lawson, 25, was one of the four players Seattle obtained last year from Texas in the Cliff Lee deal. He hit .293 with nine home runs, 56 RBI and 75 runs in Double-A ball, splitting the year between Frisco and West Tenn.
To make room for Laffey on the 40-man roster, Shawn Kelley was placed on the 60-day Disabled List. He’s currently recovering from partial Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back until June or so.
I’m taking today off with MLB.com veteran Tom Singer filling in, which is a rare treat during the seven-week haul of Spring Training. Wouldn’t you know it, Michael Pineda pitches today and that’s a game I’d love to see.
But it’s a long season and there’s plenty of baseball to come, so I’ll stick to the plan and get caught up with a bunch of things that need my attention … foremost being my wife as she flies in tonight for the start of a short visit!
While I’ve got a minute though, wanted to share a couple pictures I liked from the past few days. I’m not a professional photographer by any means, but I’ve enjoyed snapping some shots this spring.
Really liked this one of Michael Pineda watching Felix Hernandez throw his bullpen session earlier this week. Speaks volumes of Pineda’s desire to soak in as much as he can right now. If you haven’t read it, here’s my story on that.
It’s fun watching the action in the bullpen when five pitchers are throwing at once. Here’s the catcher’s row.
And as I was leaving the complex last night, caught a nice sunset behind one of the Mariners practice fields. Yes, I know it’s cold and wintery in Seattle. But down here, the temperatures are touching the 80s and it really is gorgeous.
Enjoy your own day and I’ll be back tomorrow when Felix throws a simulated game in the morning at the complex and then the Mariners face the White Sox in the afternoon. And, of course, you can catch all Tom’s updates today on Pineda and other news on Mariners.com.
Lots of good stuff today for the Mariners in a 5-4 victory over Texas, though worth noting the Rangers didn’t exactly bring their big guns. Of the six All-Stars on the Rangers, none showed up in Peoria.
But, hey, you take it where you get it and the Mariners remained undefeated in Cactus League play while getting a 3-for-3 performance from Milton Bradley, some nice pitching from Nate Robertson and young Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Dan Cortes … and even a home run from 20-year-old catching prospect Steve Baron.
To cap things off, the club appears close to signing James Paxton, their fourth-round Draft pick last year. He’ll be in Seattle on Wednesday to take a physical in advance of signing with the club, according to the Seattle Times.
The Mariners, who have a policy against commenting on any negotiations still underway, declined to comment on the report.
The 6-foot-4 left-hander was originally a supplemental first-round Draft pick of the Blue Jays in ’09 out of the University of Kentucky, but didn’t sign and then was declared ineligible by the NCAA for using agent Scott Boras while still in school.
The native of Ladner, British Columbia, then pitched Independent League ball and was drafted by the Mariners in the fourth-round last year, but again held out until now.
If he passes his physical and signs, it’s believed he’ll report immediately to the Mariners Major League camp. That doesn’t mean he’s instantly a contender for a big-league job, but it does mean the Mariners coaches and staff will get a chance to see him pitch for a bit as he works his way back into the swing of things.
Hard to know how a guy who has been largely out of baseball for the past two years will respond, but he was a premier prospect at Kentucky and it’ll be a nice coup for Jack Zduriencik and his staff if they can add a potential first-round talent to the system at this point.
Today is unofficial kid’s day for the Mariners as a bunch of their best and brightest young arms will get their first Cactus League test against the Texas Rangers in a 12:05 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium.
Veteran Nate Robertson will start and is scheduled for two innings. After that comes the pups, with Blake Beavan — the big youngster acquired in the Cliff Lee deal — slated to pitch the next two innings against his former team.
Then comes an inning for Josh Lueke — also acquired in the Lee swap — and Dan Cortes, with both those rookies looking to show better than they did in last week’s intrasquad game when nerves were running high.
Jose Flores, the 21-year-old rookie acquired in the Rule 5 draft, will also get his first shot later in the game. Also scheduled are veterans Royce Ring and Tom Wilhelmsen.
In case you’re wondering, the Mariners top young prospect, Michael Pineda, will make his debut Wednesday against Arizona in a road game at the new Salt River Fields at Talking Stick facility in Scottsdale.
Here is today’s Mariners lineup:
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Miguel Olivo C
Adam Kennedy 1B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Dustin Ackley 2B
Jack Wilson SS
Nate Robertson P
No walkoff dramatics on Monday after the Mariners won Sunday’s opener with a bases-loaded single by Josh Bard. This time the Mariners simply walked off the field and headed to their Peoria clubhouse with a 6-6 tie after the same two teams dueled again to a tight finish.
Since the Mariners only had six pitchers lined up to throw, they called the game a draw rather than have Chris Seddon throw til his arm fell off.
Seddon pitched the final two innings as it was, while Doug Fister and David Pauley opened the game with two frames apiece.
The highlight Monday was a pair of home runs by young outfield prospects Greg Halman and Johermyn Chavez. Halman could be a legitimate contender for a roster spot, given his defensive abilities in center field where the Mariners are looking for someone who can spell Franklin Gutierrez at times.
Gutierrez has yet to play, but will be in the lineup Tuesday against the Rangers. Manager Eric Wedge said he still didn’t have any medical update on Gutierrez’s stomach tests, but the club feels good enough about things to let him play.
Chavez is a 22-year-old who played Class A ball last year, so he’s a ways from being Major League ready. But he and massive Carlos Peguero are certainly showing why the future could be interesting.
You never want to read too much into late-inning heroics against pitchers who normally have little chance of making it, but it’s worth nothing that Chavez’s first-pitch bomb came against Ernest Frieri, who went 1-1 with a 1.71 ERA in 31 2/3 innings last year for the Padres after getting called up from Triple A Portland in mid-July.
The Mariners take on the Padres again today in Day 2 of Cactus League action and only three starters are the same as Sunday.
Justin Smoak again starts at first base, this time batting third. Gabe Gross is in right field in place of Ichiro after starting in left yesterday as the club gets a good early look at the veteran backup outfield contender.
And Michael Saunders, after filling in for center fielder Franklin Gutierrez on Sunday, has shifted back to his normal left-field role.
Otherwise, it’s a new slate of characters as Eric Wedge plans to rotate most of his players on alternate days initially. Today’s first pitch is 12:05 p.m. PT and you can listen live on 710 ESPN Seattle and the Mariners Radio Network.
Josh Wilson 2B
Brendan Ryan SS
Justin Smoak 1B
Jack Cust DH
Gabe Gross RF
Michael Saunders LF
Matt Tuiasosopo 3B
Adam Moore C
Greg Halman CF
Doug Fister P
Veteran outfielder Jody Gerut, one of several players fighting for a backup role with the Mariners, instead made the surprising announcement Sunday morning that he’s retiring from baseball at age 33.
Gerut delivered an eloquent impromptu news conference in the team’s press room about three hours before the club’s opening game of Spring Training after informing the Mariners of his decision.
“Physically, I’m fine,” he said. “But mentally my reasons for wanting to be in uniform have become so thin and narrow that I refuse to disrespect the game that has provided so generously for my family by playing it in a half-hearted way.
“It was very clear that my capacity as a player was done, empty, finished.”
Gerut said he came to camp 11 days ago with every intention of competing for a job, but realized in the last 3-4 days that his competitive juices were gone.
“There was a sense of apathy that hadn’t been there,” he said. “And there souldn’t be apathy because there is opportunity here. … The last three days have been hollow. I’ve had a very clear voice in my head saying in this situation, you shouldn’t be out there in the capacity of a player who is representing a team and a city.”
Gerut was in his first training camp with the Mariners after signing as a non-roster invitee. He previously played for manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland from 2003-05 and said he was glad Wedge and his staff were in place at the end of his career as well.
The Mariners told him if he had a change of heart the door remained open, but he said he didn’t think that was going to happen.
“I’m human,” he said. “It’s possible I could have a change of heart. But I highly doubt it. To me, this is it.”
Gerut has a .262 career batting average with 59 home runs and 226 RBIs in 574 games with the Indians, Cubs, Pirates, Padres and Brewers. Gerut, who graduated from Stanford with a history degree, choked up when reading a prepared statement and then spoke from the heart for a very interesting 15 minutes in the impromptu session.
Here’s Gerut’s full statement: