Lloyd McClendon has never liked the word “platoon,” but the Mariners skipper acknowledged Monday that he’ll likely be using that sort of split-time situation in both left and right field this season if things go as planned.
McClendon said his left field situation will likely see Rickie Weeks (pictured) starting against left-handed pitchers and Dustin Ackley against right-handers. Similarly, the right field at-bats figure to fall primarily to right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano or Nelson Cruz against left-handed starters and Seth Smith against righties.
“Now, having said that, if there’s a favorable matchup, whether left or right and the guy hits him real well, then you’ve got to put him in there,” McClendon said. “That’s why I’m not crazy about the word ‘platoon,’ because it puts you in a box. You want to be a little more dynamic than that with your managing skills and my players know there are days they may play against a righty or lefty.”
Weeks signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Seattle to fill a utility role after spending his previous professional career strictly as a second baseman for the Brewers. Weeks has worked exclusively in the outfield the first week of camp, but McClendon said he’ll start taking ground balls at first base later this spring.
“He will be that backup first baseman in case something happens,” said McClendon, noting he’s leaning more toward Weeks than fellow utility man Willie Bloomquist at that spot at the moment.
Bloomquist can play second, short or third base and has been working well this spring while coming back from knee surgery. Since Weeks isn’t seen as a shortstop candidate, there is a spot for both on the 25-man roster.
Cruz is thought of primarily as a designated hitter in Seattle’s plans, but he has started 800 games in the outfield over his 10 years in the Majors, including 80 last year for the Orioles, and he’s working regularly with the outfielders this spring as well.
“He’ll play out there in the season on occasion, because it’s nice to be able to rotate him out of that DH spot and give somebody else a day off and get him back on his feet,” McClendon said. “How much he’ll play in the spring, I’m not sure. But it would be safe to say he’ll play his share of games during the season in right field.”
Other news on Monday morning:
— The 12:30 p.m. MT intrasquad game was canceled due to rainy weather. The game won’t be made up. The rain is supposed to pass through by Monday night, with sunny skies in the forecast the rest of the week.
— Left-hander James Paxton was scheduled to play flat-ground catch up to 120 feet on Monday and is slated to throw off a mound for the first time Tuesday as he returns from a bruised forearm injured prior to camp. McClendon said Paxton should be okay to open the season on time despite his late start.
— The Mariners will hold their final work-only day Tuesday before opening Cactus League play Wednesday against the Padres in the annual charity game at 1:05 p.m. MT at Peoria Stadium. But even after games begin, the club continues working out each morning and fans can come watch those sessions from about 9:30 a.m.-noon each day.
Kyle Seager is all smiles this camp and for good reason. He’s working now with a $100 million contract.
Julio Morban, one of the Mariners outfield prospects, tracks down a ball during fielding drills.
Chris Taylor is competing for the starting shortstop job after flashing his potential in the second half last season.
Ji-Man Choi, a first base prospect from South Korea, features one of the more interesting haircuts in camp.
Willie Bloomquist continues looking sharp in camp as he returns from last October’s microfracture knee surgery.
Having a healthy Hisashi Iwakuma in camp from Day One figures to be a significant difference for the Mariners this spring, but that doesn’t mean they’re in a hurry to push the veteran before the calendar even reaches March.
While most of Seattle’s hurlers are now firing live batting practice to hitters, Iwakuma instead threw his third bullpen session of the spring on Friday. But manager Lloyd McClendon said there are no health concerns with the right-hander who missed all of Spring Training and the first month of 2014 with a torn finger tendon.
“This is by design,” McClendon said. “We’re just stretching him out a little more. Kuma is A-OK and everything is fine. He has no issues at all. I don’t think he needs the live BPs. The guy is such a technician, he gets more done in a bullpen session than he would in a live BP.”
Indeed, Iwakuma is ready and rarin’ to throw as he prepares for his fourth season with Seattle. The 2013 American League All-Star has been one of baseball’s most underrated starters during his time in the Majors, posting a 38-20 record and 3.07 ERA in 91 games.
The 33-year-old went 15-9 with a 3.52 ERA last year in a season sandwiched by his late start and a rough finish when he believes he wore down due to his lack of spring conditioning. So Iwakuma is pleased to be back on a normal schedule in 2015.
“I’m very excited,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “It’s a different year compared to where I was last year. I’m very motivated. I look forward to the season and I’m looking forward to a good Spring Training.”
Iwakuma was 12-6 with a 2.57 ERA in his first 21 starts last season, then 3-3 with a 7.88 ERA in his final seven outings.
“I kind of ran out of gas there,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was very, very tired. I was just fatigued mentally and physically and that’s something I need to work on in Spring Training.”
In other news Friday:
— Although right-hander Erasmo Ramirez is out of Minor League options and facing a tough challenge to make the starting rotation, McClendon said he’s not looking at the 24-year-old as a potential reliever at this point.
“We’ve got some talented arms in that bullpen,” McClendon said. “The competition may be even stiffer down there.”
— Former Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks continues his transition to a utility role with Seattle by focusing strictly on the outfield for now.
“He’s going to have to get his reps out there,” McClendon said. “But I’ve watched Rickie the last three days and I’ve been fairly impressed with the way he’s moving around out there.”
— The Mariners have no plans for any ‘B’ games at this point, with McClendon feeling Monday’s intrasquad game and two split-squad situations during the spring are enough to get everyone their needed work. “I don’t want to make Spring Training a grind. If we need the reps with somebody, we can send them to a Minor League game.”
Felix Hernandez throws his first bullpen session of the spring, with Mike Zunino behind the plate.
Felix is a man of many faces, including this one while talking to Zunino and trainer Rick Griffin after his throwing session.
Manager Lloyd McClendon appears to have the Mariners pointed in the right direction this spring.
Rule 5 Draft pick David Rollins is competing for a job as a left-handed reliever.
Nelson Cruz talks to infield coach Chris Woodward during batting practice.
Danny Farquhar returns as part of the American League’s best bullpen from 2014.
With the Mariners, there’s not a lot of drama when it comes to announcing who’ll be on the hill at Safeco Field when the season kicks off March 6 against the Angels. Hernandez is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in his first seven Opening Day starts and it would take some bad news to sidetrack him from what would be his seventh straight opener.
Knowing he’s lining up for April 6, the Mariners have already plotted out his full spring schedule, starting with Thursday’s initial bullpen. Hernandez is the last of the Mariners hurlers – except for injured lefty James Paxton – to take the mound, but he’s long been approved for his own schedule.
“I trust my veterans,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “They’ve been through it, they know what they’re doing. It’s still my job to monitor and make sure they’re moving in the right direction. But I don’t have any issues. They go at it the right way and their track record speaks for itself.”
Nobody’s track record is better than Hernandez’s. He’s been remarkably durable as his streak of six straight seasons with 200-plus innings and 200-plus strikeouts is fourth longest in Major League history behind only Tom Seaver (nine) and Roger Clemens and Walter Johnson (seven each).
So, yes, there is some flexibility with his work program. But, no, there is nothing left to chance by Hernandez, who knows his routine as well as anyone.
“I talk to the pitching coach and Lloyd, we count the days back from Opening Day and figure out how many starts I’ll do in Spring Training and when I want to throw the first bullpen and live BP,” Hernandez said. “We have everything figured out. It’s definitely a plan.”
Hernandez’s schedule is the least of McClendon’s concerns.
“He’s traditionally a slow starter in Spring Training. Actually I think this is probably a little early for him,” McClendon said. “But he’s feeling good.”
Hernandez will throw another bullpen later this week, then begin tossing live batting practice next week.
In other news:
— Cactus League play opens March 4 when the Mariners face the Padres at Peoria Stadium, but the club will play an intersquad game on its main practice field on Monday as a warmup.
— McClendon said Willie Bloomquist will likely see more time as the backup first base candidate than Rickie Weeks, who will concentrate more on learning the outfield this spring. That leaves Chris Taylor and Brad Miller focusing strictly on the shortstop competition.
“They both saw significant time last year and only one of them can play short as this team shapes up,” McClendon said. “I like both guys. They both bring a lot to the table. I think Chris is probably a little bit ahead of the game defensively and Brad is probably ahead of the game offensively. It’s a nice combination and let’s see what happens. … If we don’t have injuries, I doubt that we can take them both.”
— Left-hander James Paxton continues rehabbing his bruised left forearm and is “progressing fine,” according to McClendon. “He feels good. They just want to wait until the first of the week to have him throw.”
— Versatile prospect Patrick Kivlehan brought three gloves to camp – an infield, outfield and first base mitt – and is waiting to see how things play out. Though he’s been listed as an outfielder by the club, Kivlehan worked at first base in the first full-squad workout.
Wednesday was the first full-squad workout and that meant the arrival of Nelson Cruz. Here the team’s new slugger hangs out with Kyle Seager behind the batting cage. The two figure to be a nice middle-of-the-order tandem during the season.
The “heated” battle at shortstop between Brad Miller (left) and Chris Taylor doesn’t seem to be bothering the two youngsters, eh?
Robinson Cano works out during infield drills, looking like he’s in excellent shape as he reported 13 pounds lighter than last season.
A little veteran wisdom is never a bad thing. Alvin Davis, aka Mr. Mariner, was working at first base with Logan Morrison during the infield session. Davis is serving again this year as a roving instructor in the organization.
Willie Bloomquist bounces a ball in the air while waiting his turn at the batting cages. In other words, Willie Ballgame is playing a little ball game.
Dustin Ackley and his beard are game ready.
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.
Lucas Luetge is among the large group of left-handers competing for a spot in the bullpen.
Reliever Yoervis Medina (right) and Fernando Rodney pass the time while waiting their turns in fielding drills.
Tyler Marlette, who split time between Class-A and Double-A last year, is one of several young catching prospects in camp.
Justin Germano, a nine-year Major League veteran, is among the non-roster invitees in camp looking to find a home for the upcoming season.
Andy VanSlyke, who has assumed duties as the team’s second hitting coach this spring, chats with catcher Mike Zunino during batting practice.
Paxton, expected to be a key component in Seattle’s rotation, will be held out at least a few more days, according to general manager Jack Zduriencik. An MRI and x-rays revealed nothing more than bruising, so the lanky southpaw is just behind held back now as a precaution.
“He actually hurt both arms,” Zduriencik said. “He fell and grabbed himself. His left arm is a little sore and his right arm, we’re not that concerned about. But both of them, he kind of braced himself and jammed it. So no sense pushing it. We’ll let him get treatment, let it quiet down and get him out here as soon as he’s ready.”
Paxton, 26, missed three months as a rookie last season with a strained lat muscle behind his left shoulder, but when healthy was outstanding. He went 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts and is 9-4 with a 2.66 ERA in 17 outings over the past two seasons for the Mariners.
“It’s sad because he had a great winter, he stayed in Seattle and worked out every day and was outstanding,” Zduriencik said. “He’s saying he feels good. But we’re not going to make him come out throw until it’s completely quieted down. It doesn’t make sense this early.”
Paxton said he’d done the same footwork drill a thousand times before and has done it again since, without issue, but just caught his foot on the artificial turf in the workout area at the team’s Peoria complex and landed awkwardly in what he called “an unathletic moment for me” on his first day after arriving in Arizona.
“You get here and ‘C’mon, you’ve got to be kidding me,’” he said. “I busted it getting ready for this and now something like this happens. It’s putting me back a little and it’s frustrating, but I just have to take it one day at a time and get ready to go for when it matters.”
In addition to my daily series of Spring Training stories on Mariners.com, I’ll be packing a camera around the Peoria practice fields the next few weeks and sharing some of the better photos here on the blog. So check in regularly here for scenes from spring!
All-Star closer Fernando Rodney wasted no time getting his game face — and cap — properly aligned as pitchers went through fielding drills.
Catcher Mike Zunino oversaw things in the bullpen as work got underway for the 28 pitchers in camp.
Returning starter Roenis Elias listens to new catcher John Baker, who will challenge for a backup spot as a veteran non-roster signee.
Among the interested onlookers during the bullpen throwing sessions: Minor League coordinator Chris Gwynn and manager Lloyd McClendon.
Center fielder Austin Jackson is among the many position players already in camp working out on their own before the full-squad workouts begin Wednesday.
A slimmed-down Jesus Montero drew considerable attention with his new physique, but now must carry that over into camp as he works at first base.
John Hicks, one of the club’s top prospects, takes in some wisdom from Mariners Hall of Fame catcher Dan Wilson. Wilson will be helping coach catchers throughout the organization this season.