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Hultzen makes his return today, plus other news

Hultzen2Pretty quiet morning as far as news out of Mariners camp, but should be an interesting game this afternoon as Danny Hultzen will make his first appearance since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2013 when Seattle hosts the Rockies at 1:05 p.m. at Peoria Stadium.

Erasmo Ramirez gets the start and will likely go three innings in his second Cactus League outing, with Hultzen then coming in for an inning of relief. Hultzen was the second overall pick in the 2011 draft and while he’s not expected to be ready to help at the Major League level this year, the Mariners are pointing him toward being full go by 2016.

Tom Wilhelmsen will also pitch an inning of relief today in his first outing of the spring after being slowed initially by a sore back. Closer Fernando Rodney is among the other relievers who’ll pitch today.

Manager Lloyd McClendon spent a good part of his morning session with the media talking about the “live-and-learn” moments from Tuesday’s 9-3 loss to the Rockies, a game marred by some poor defensive play from some of his young prospects.

McClendon says those mistakes are a necessary part of the development of youngsters, particularly kids who are pressing in their first Major League camp while trying to make an impression. McClendon said the same is true for managers.

“Sure, absolutely. I made a lot of mistakes when I was a young manager. I haven’t made one mistake here,” he said with a laugh.

As for his understanding of what players are going through in trying to make a team, McClendon unleashed another grin.

“I was a horse[blank] player,” he said. “I understand. It’s a hard game. Jim Leyland used to tell me, when we board that plane, you get on the back and make sure the general manager doesn’t know you’re on this team.”

McClendon spent 8 ½ seasons in the Majors as a utility player, so he was better than he lets on. But the point was made. Baseball can be a tough game and the skipper has some empathy for guys trying to make a squad.

On the news front, McClendon said Roenis Elias will start Sunday against the Dodgers. So the upcoming pitching slate is Jordan Pries on Thursday, J.A. Happ on Friday, Taijuan Walker on Saturday and Elias on Sunday. Hisashi Iwakuma is throwing a simulated game against Minor Leaguers on Thursday and Felix Hernandez will do the same on Sunday.

And James Paxton is still on line to make his Cactus League debut Tuesday, March 17. Paxton is scheduled for his first live batting practice this morning.

Robinson Cano is still due back from the Dominican on Friday following his grandfather’s funeral services in the Dominican Republic.

Here are the lineups for today’s game, which will be televised live on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.

RoxLineup

Pictures from Peoria: The latest from Mariners camp

Things get busier for me on the writing end once Cactus League games begin, so I’ve haven’t been able to post pictures as much lately. But here are a few scenes from camp in recent days. And be sure to follow all my Mariners news coverage at Mariners.com and on Twitter at @gregjohnsmlb.
SeagerPoint

Kyle Seager has the Mariners pointed toward a big season in 2015.

BlowersTaijuan

Former third baseman and current ROOT Sports broadcaster Mike Blowers interviews Taijuan Walker for a pregame show.

JonesJames

Outfielder James Jones chatting with Jesus Montero at the batting cage.

LoweMark

Veteran reliever Mark Lowe is back with the Mariners this spring as a non-roster invitee, fighting for a spot in the bullpen.

WaitsHultzen

Pitching coach Rick Waits — the man with the ‘stache — talks strategy with Danny Hultzen.

WilhelmsenChange

Here’s a good look at Tom Wilhelmsen’s circle changeup grip.

CruzBat

Big Nelson Cruz is an imposing figure with a bat in hand.

Felix, Kuma will skip next Cactus League matchups

IwakumaVeteran right-handers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma will both pitch simulated games against Minor League hitters later this week in their second outings of the spring as manager Lloyd McClendon looks ahead to regular-season matchups.

Iwakuma would have been slated to face the A’s on Thursday in Mesa and Hernandez lined up against the Dodgers on Sunday in Peoria for his second Cactus League start. But with Seattle facing both those clubs in their first road trip of the regular season in April, McClendon will avoid giving the opposing hitters extra work against his aces.

“I just don’t want them facing teams we’re going to play early,” McClendon said. “I don’t like doing that. Any type of edge we can get by not having them face them early is good. They just need to build up [innings]. I don’t think they’re trying to make the club.”

It doesn’t appear Hernandez will actually line up to face the Dodgers in the early Interleague series, however. He’ll pitch Opening Day against the Angels on April 6, then face the A’s on either April 11 or 12, depending on how Seattle uses a first-week off day on April 9. Either way, he wouldn’t line up for his next start until the Mariners return home to face the Rangers the following weekend.

Iwakuma, however, could face the A’s in his second regular-season outing on April 12 if the Mariners use the off day to go with a four-man rotation and keep their top starters pitching every fifth day at the start.

The simulated games on Thursday and Sunday will be held in the mornings, prior to each day’s Cactus League contests.

In other Tuesday morning news:

–James Paxton, slowed by a bruised forearm in the initial weeks of camp, is scheduled to throw the first of his two live batting practices on Wednesday in preparation for his Cactus League debut on March 17 against the White Sox in Glendale.

— Newly signed right-hander Kevin Correia was scheduled for a bullpen session on Tuesday and will gradually be worked into the mix among the starting candidates after agreeing to a Minor League deal on Monday.

“He’s behind the eight-ball a little bit as far as competing for a spot, but you never know,” McClendon said. “We’ll see how fast he can get going. He’s a veteran pitcher that’s had success. I like him. We have to get him healthy and get him going. He knows how to pitch. He knows what he’s doing and can give you quality innings. We’ll see.”

— Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez was held out of game action again Tuesday as he recovers from a sore groin muscle. “He’ll get his workout in,” said McClendon. “We’re just trying to give him a couple days and hopefully he’ll feel better and we’ll get him back out there.”

— Seattle’s pitching plans for upcoming games: Erasmo Ramirez will start Wednesday against the Rockies in Peoria, with Danny Hultzen and Tom Wilhelmsen to make their first appearances of the spring in relief. Jordan Pries gets his second start on Thursday against the A’s in a noon game in Mesa. J.A. Happ follows on Friday in a home game against the Brewers, followed by Taijuan Walker’s third start of the spring on Saturday vs. the D-backs in Scottsdale.

— With Robinson Cano not expected back in camp until Friday due to the death of his grandfather in the Dominican Republic, McClendon had shortstop Brad Miller playing second base on Tuesday against the Rockies, with Chris Taylor at shortstop. The two were flip-flopped the other way in Monday’s game as McClendon looks to get the two shortstop competitors equal time in the early going.

Here’s the full lineup for today’s 1:10 p.m. game at Salt River Fields, which will not be televised live, but is available on Gameday audio on Mariners.com.
RoxLineup

Veteran Correia ready to compete for starting role

Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta BravesVeteran right-hander Kevin Correia signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners and joined the team’s Major League camp on Monday as a non-roster invitee.

The 34-year-old said he signed with the intent to try to land a rotation berth and has been working out at his home in San Diego.

“It was a quick process. I just signed the papers today, so we haven’t really got into too much of it, but I’m here to try to be a starting pitcher,” Correia said. “No matter where I go, that’s what I’m trying to do. So I’m just getting a game plan going to see the best way to be ready for the start of the season.”

Correia, 34, had made 353 career appearances in 12 seasons with the Giants, Padres, Pirates, Twins and Dodgers. He pitched 32 games, including 26 starts, with the Twins and Dodgers last year with a combined 7-17 record and 5.44 ERA in 154 innings. He was 5-13 with a 4.94 ERA in 23 starts for the Twins, then 2-4 with an 8.03 ERA in nine outings (three starts) with the Dodgers.

For his career, Correia is 76-95 with a 4.59 ERA in 353 appearances, including 216 starts. He was a National League All-Star with the Pirates in 2011 when he went 12-11 with a 4.79 ERA.

After not receiving any Major League offers, the California native knew he needed to get in some camp and get his throwing program underway.

“It was getting to the point where it was time to go, either way,” he said. “The offseason didn’t work out the way I was hoping it would have, but I’m happy where I landed. This is one of the teams and cities and organizations that has always been at the top of my list of places I’d like to be. I’m happy with where I ended up.”

The signing adds further organizational depth to a Mariners team that already has seven starters competing for five rotation berths on the Major League side, but he’s ready to compete.

“I’m not here to try to make the bullpen,” Correia said. “I’m here to try to make the rotation and that’s my main focus.

“I’ve been throwing bullpens. There are just some things you can’t recreate as far as running around and the day-to-day stuff we do. But my arm, I’m confident I have enough time to be 100 percent ready to go at the beginning of the season if that’s what I’m needed for.”

The Mariners currently have veterans Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and J.A. Happ in their rotation, along with highly regarded youngsters James Paxton, Roenis Elias and Taijuan Walker, plus 24-year-old right-hander Erasmo Ramirez, who is out of Minor League options.

Mariners closing Venezulean operations

The Mariners are consolidating their Latin American developmental program into their new baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and will no longer field a team and operations in Venezuela, the club announced Monday.

Beginning with the upcoming 2015 season, the Mariners will field two teams in the Dominican Summer League, but won’t have a club in the Venezuelan Summer League.

The Mariners opened a new academy in Boca Chica in the Dominican Republic last year that is designed to house up to 80 players.

“The Mariners player development program in Latin America will be consolidated in our state-of-the-art facility in the Dominican Republic,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. “Our plan all along has been to centralize our efforts. By bringing our operation under one umbrella, we will be much more efficient and effective in the development of young players, who will all compete on our two teams in the Dominican Summer League.

“We will continue to be heavily invested in our scouting efforts throughout Latin American and particularly in Venezuela, where we have a great tradition and have experienced much success.”

The Mariners were one of just five Major League clubs with teams still playing in the Venezuelan Summer League.

Cano leaves camp following grandfather’s death

Second baseman Robinson Cano left the Mariners camp on Sunday for personal reasons and manager Lloyd McClendon said he wasn’t sure on the timetable for the return of the six-time All-Star.

“His grandfather passed away and I’m not sure when he’s coming back,” McClendon said.

Cano flew home to the Dominican Republic after learning of his grandfather’s death on Saturday.

Cano has played in two Cactus League games this spring, going 2-for-5 with a double and two runs scored.

Willie Bloomquist, originally slated to play first base in Sunday’s game against the Reds at Goodyear, instead will shift to second base to take Cano’s spot and rookie D.J. Peterson gets the start at first base.

In other Sunday news from Mariners camp:

— Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez was taken out of Saturday’s split squad game in Glendale after three innings and will be sidelined for several days with tightness in his right groin muscle. Gutierrez is attempting to come back after sitting out all of 2014 to deal with health issues and has gone 0-for-5 in his first two outings.

“That’s to be expected,” McClendon said of Gutierrez having soreness after playing back-to-back games. “He’s been off almost two years. This is a grind down here. We’ll give him a couple days off and try to get him back out there.”

— Left-hander Danny Hultzen is scheduled to pitch an inning in relief on Wednesday against against the Rockies in Peoria in what will be his first real game action since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2013.

— The Mariners have announced that Opening Day on April 6 against the Angels at Safeco Field is already a virtual sellout, with only some scattered single tickets remaining.

— J.A. Happ makes his Mariners debut in today’s 1:05 p.m. PT game against the Reds at Goodyear, while closer Fernando Rodney also is slated for his first appearance of the spring. Also pitching in relief will be Yoervis Medina, Joe Saunders, Danny Farquhar, Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge and Mayckol Guaipe.

The game is a radio only broadcast in the Seattle area. Here are the full lineups:

RedsLineup

Felix moved to Tuesday; Paxton aiming for 17th

FelixLIveBPFelix Hernandez’s first Cactus League start has been moved up a day to Tuesday, meaning the Mariners ace will face the Rockies in Scottsdale in his spring debut, and manager Lloyd McClendon also announced positive news on injured starter James Paxton as Seattle’s pitching plans continue to fall into place.

Hernandez initially had been slated to face the Rockies on Wednesday in Peoria, but McClendon adjusted the pitching rotation Saturday.

Newly acquired left-hander J.A. Happ is slated for his Mariners debut on Sunday against the Reds in Goodyear, Taijuan Walker will make his second spring start Monday against the Indians in Peoria and Hernandez will now follow on Tuesday in a 1:10 p.m. PT start at Salt River Fields.

McClendon also said Paxton will likely make his Cactus League debut on Tuesday, March 17 against the White Sox in Glendale as he works back from a bruised forearm that has sidelined him since before the start of camp.

Paxton threw his first bullpen session on Friday and will have one more bullpen early next week, throw one live batting practice session and then transition into games.

“He threw extremely well. Really, really well yesterday,” McClendon said. “He feels great.”

If Paxton does progress without any delays, he’d be on line to make four spring starts before regular-season play begins.

The Mariners could potentially go with four starters the first week since they have an off day on April 9 after their initial three-game homestand against the Angels.

“We’ve talked about it and really haven’t come to a conclusion yet,” McClendon said. “We’ll see how it all plays out. There’s a chance we could just go with four. It’s nice to have those off days early. We’ll see what happens.”

In other news Saturday:

— Willie Bloomquist didn’t have any issues with his surgically repaired knee after going 2-for-2 in his first Cactus League game on Friday and will be back in the lineup Sunday against the Reds, this time at first base, according to McClendon.

— Well-regarded middle infield prospect Ketel Marte committed four errors in two games on Thursday and Friday at second and shortstop, but McClendon said he wasn’t worried about the 21-year-old and thinks he’s just pressing early trying to make an impression.

“He’s a switch-hitter. He slashes it from both sides, he can steal bases. He’s going to hit and hit for a little power. And he plays the middle very well,” McClendon said. “There’s a lot to like. With a young player like Marte, they come to camp and want to impress and they probably think the manger is ticked off because they made an error. But that’s not the case. You just have to relax and play. I’ll keep running him out there. One of these days he’s going to catch one.”

— While the Mariners have a big group of left-handed relievers in camp and are looking to find a second southpaw to team with Charlie Furbush in the bullpen, it’s not set in stone that they have to go with two when the regular season opens.

“Is it a possibility we’d go with just one? Sure it is,” McClendon said. “We’ve got right-handers that can get lefties out. One in particular is [Danny] Farquhar. He’s devastating against left-handers. I prefer to have two because of the workload. But is it a 100 percent necessity, no.”

— It’s a split-squad day today with many of the regular veterans facing the D-backs at Peoria in a game with Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound. But several starters — including Kyle Seager — are headed to Glendale to face the White Sox with Jordan Pries getting the start.

Neither game is on ROOT Sports TV, but the Peoria game will be broadcast live on 710 ESPN radio in Seattle.

Here are the full lineups:

Dbacks

WhiteSox

Felix to start Wednesday, plus other news from camp

FelixMarch4Felix Hernandez will make his Cactus League debut on Wednesday when the Mariners host the Rockies in a 12:05 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium.

Per his usual Spring Training routine, Hernandez will be the last of Seattle’s healthy pitchers to make his debut. The Mariners ace takes a slightly slower approach than most in spring due to the heavy workload he accumulates during the regular season. The 28-year-old is the only active pitcher in the Majors to have totaled 200-plus innings and 200-plus strikeouts for each of the last six seasons.

Hernandez will then be on line for four more spring starts before making his club-record eighth Opening Day start on April 6 against the Angels at Safeco Field. The Angels have already announced Jered Weaver will be their Opening Day starter in the 1:10 p.m. PT contest.

Manager Lloyd McClendon also said Friday that closer Fernando Rodney is slated for his Cactus League debut on Sunday when the Mariners travel to Goodyear to face the Reds.

“They’re both well ahead of schedule,” McClendon said.

In other Friday news:

— Left-hander James Paxton threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Friday as he returns from a bruised forearm suffered when he fell doing agility drills prior to the start of camp. Paxton threw 30 pitches — all fastballs — and said everything felt fine. He’ll throw another bullpen in a few days before facing live batters.

— Edgar Olmos was in camp with the Mariners for the first time Friday after the Rangers reversed their waiver claim on the southpaw reliever due to health issues, but isn’t ready to begin throwing yet. Tests on Friday showed inflammation in the 24-year-old’s left shoulder and it remains to be seen when he’ll be able to start a throwing program. Because Major League Baseball voided the Rangers’ waiver claim, Olmos was automatically returned to Seattle’s 40-man roster.

— Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday as the Mariners look to see if he’s ready to return following a year off due to health issues.

We need to find out what he’s capable of doing,” McClendon said. “He actually looks pretty good. He’s moving around pretty good, swinging the bat well. We all know he’s a very talented young man. His biggest problem is just staying on the field and we need to find out if he can do that.”

— Kyle Seager said he’s been overwhelmed by the early response to his efforts with the Vs. Cancer charity fundraiser in conjunction with former North Carolina teammate Chase Jones. Seager has promised to match the donations of the first 100 pledges and said the initial goal of $30,000 was almost met after just three days.

“It’s been exploding way faster than we could have even hoped for,” he said. “That’s a testament to the fans we have and just how loyal they are. It’s not just about baseball. They’re just good people.”

To make a pledge, fans can go to the foundation’s website at Seagervscancer.org.

— Rickie Weeks makes his left-field debut today against the Dodgers in the 12:05 p.m. PT game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale nd Willie Bloomquist will play the first several innings as well as he returns from knee surgery. Here’s the full lineups:

LineupMarch5

Olmos returned to Mariners; Choi DFA’d

The on-again, off-again saga of Edgar Olmos with the Mariners continued Thursday as the left-handed pitcher was returned to Seattle’s 40-man roster after Major League Baseball voided a Rangers waiver claim on him following a dispute over the health of his shoulder.

The Rangers claimed Olmos off waivers on Feb. 24, but then asked to have that reversed based on their belief that he has an impingement in his throwing shoulder.

Seattle had designated Olmos for assignment earlier in the month to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Rickie Weeks, but now returns the 24-year-old to their own Major League roster.

To make room on the 40-man squad, Seattle designated first baseman Ji-Man Choi for assignment. Choi broke his leg while leaping for a high throw in Wednesday’s Cactus League opener and underwent surgery Thursday in Phoenix to repair a fractured fibula in his right leg and a torn deltoid ligament.

Seattle now has 10 days to trade, release or outright Choi’s contract to the Minors. Should Choi clear waivers, he could be outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma and spend the season rehabbing his injured leg.

Olmos originally was claimed by Seattle off waivers from the Marlins on Nov. 20, but had yet to arrive at Mariners camp when he was placed on waivers again and claimed by Texas. The 6-foot-4 southpaw from California was 3-3 with three saves and a 4.06 ERA in 51 relief appearances with Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans last season.

Olmos pitched five games in relief for the Marlins in 2013, allowing seven hits and nine runs (four earned) in five innings.

Choi undergoing surgery, plus a good-looking lineup

ChoiJiManMariners first base prospect Ji-Man Choi will undergo surgery on Thursday to repair a broken right leg after injuring himself leaping for a high throw in Wednesday’s Cactus League opener against the Padres.

Choi will likely be sidelined four-to-six months, according to manager Lloyd McClendon, after fracturing his fibula, which is the long, thin bone in the lower leg.

“He clipped a little bit, spun around and landed on his ankle. It was an unfortunate play,” McClendon said of the ninth-inning mishap on a high throw from shortstop Tyler Smith.

Choi, a 23-year-old from South Korea, played in 70 games at Triple-A Tacoma last year in a season shortened by a 50-game suspension following a positive test for a performance-enhancing substance. He was likely ticketed for Tacoma again this year, but he was one of several first basemen in camp providing depth behind starter Logan Morrison.

Choi hit .283 with five homers and 30 RBIs in 237 at-bats for Tacoma in 2014 after a strong ’13 season in which he batted .295 with 18 homers and 85 RBIs in 122 games split between Class A High Desert, Double-A Jackson and Tacoma.

“He’s a nice talent,” McClendon said. “He can swing the bat. It’s unfortunate.”

Choi had to be carted off the field after falling in a heap near the first-base bag.

“That was tough,” teammate D.J. Peterson said. “I didn’t know what happened or how bad it was, I just know instantly he started reaching for it. That’s unfortunate. You never want to see that for anybody.”

In other Thursday news:

— The Mariners are still waiting to clear up the situation with left-handed reliever Edgar Olmos, whose waiver claim by the Rangers was reversed Wednesday due to issues with his shoulder. The Rangers claimed Olmos off waivers last week, but then made the unusual move of returning the 24-year-old after discovering he had an impingement in his throwing shoulder. The Mariners originally claimed Olmos off waivers from the Marlins on Nov. 20, but designated him for assignment to open a 40-man roster spot after signing Rickie Weeks last month.

— After playing all reserves in Wednesday’s Cactus League opener, McClendon put together a lineup for Thursday’s rematch with the Padres that looked very close to a potential regular starting nine against a right-handed pitcher. McClendon said he’ll begin dividing up his veterans in coming days, but wanted to get most of them time together on Thursday since the schedule has road games on Friday and Sunday and a split-squad situation Saturday.

Here’s the lineups for Thursday’s game, which will be broadcast live on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV:

LineupMarch5

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