James Jones and Stefen Romero, two young outfielders who saw considerable playing time for the Mariners last season, were among 11 players sent to Minor League camp on Friday as the club continued getting closer to its final 25-man roster.
Also optioned to Triple-A Tacoma were first baseman Jesus Montero, shortstop Ketel Marte, catcher John Hicks and lefty reliever Lucas Luetge, all of whom are on the 40-man roster.
The club also re-assigned five players to Minor League camp who were non-roster invitees, including veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez. Also in that group were highly regarded infield prospects D.J. Peterson and Patrick Kivlehan and two veteran pitchers, right-hander Justin Germano and southpaw Rafael Perez.
The moves leave 39 players remaining in big-league camp with 2 1/2 weeks remaining until Opening Day on April 6.
“All these young men have done a nice job in camp for us,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “It’s a combination of two things. No. 1, the innings, the at-bats, the playing time is not here for them anymore. And the second part of it is, they need to go get ready for a season. They’ve got to get at-bats and build the innings up and get ready to pitch. It’s just that time of the year.”
Jones, 26, played 108 games for Seattle last season and hit .250 with a team-leading 27 stolen bases. Romero, 26, hit .192 in 72 games in 2014. But the offseason addition of veterans Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano, Rickie Weeks and Nelson Cruz has made the outfield situation far more crowded this spring.
Both Jones and Romero have played well this spring – Romero hitting .364 and Jones batting .267 with a team-leading 10 runs scored – but faced long odds from the beginning.
“It was tough,” McClendon said. “One thing I explained to the club when camp opened, when you become good it becomes very difficult to make a club. The options become tougher and I think that was the case with both these young men. It’s not so much what they did or didn’t do, it was just the type of talent we’ve acquired that they’re pushed back to Triple-A.”
Montero arrived at camp with much fanfare after losing 40 pounds and re-dedicating himself over the winter. But he, too, faced a number’s crunch with no opening at first base or designated hitter. After batting .200 (3-for-15) in seven Cactus League games, he’ll get more opportunity to work at first base in Tacoma.
“He just needs to play,” McClendon said. “The at-bats weren’t here. And one thing I told him, the competition at Triple-A is going to be tough and stiff. You’ve got to go compete and compete for at-bats. I think he’s prepared to do that.”
Gutierrez, a former American League Gold Glove center fielder attempting to come back following a year away from baseball, hasn’t played since March 8 due to a sore groin muscle and will attempt to get healthy now in the Minor League side.
“It’s quite simple,” McClendon said. “He just hasn’t been able to get out on the field. That playing time is not there any more. The opportunity is there at the Triple-A level and we’ll see if he can get over there and get back out on the field and compete.”
By sending down Luetge and Perez, the Mariners have three remaining candidates to be the No. 2 lefty reliever in the bullpen – veteran Joe Saunders, Rule 5 Draft pick David Rollins and former Gonzaga standout Tyler Olson.
The club also has three remaining catchers in camp with starter Mike Zunino, backup Jesus Sucre and non-roster veteran John Baker.
The remaining outfielders are Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, Endy Chavez, Smith, Ruggiano, Weeks and Cruz.
Infielders still in camp are starters Logan Morrison, Robinson Cano, Brad Miller and Kyle Seager, along with Willie Bloomquist, injured shortstop Chris Taylor and non-roster invitees Shawn O’Malley and Carlos Rivero.
Mariners shortstop Chris Taylor was held out of Saturday’s game against the D-backs and may be sidelined another day or two after taking a pitch off the right wrist in the sixth inning of Friday’s 10-5 win over the Brewers.
Taylor was hit by an 0-2 fastball from Milwaukee’s Jim Henderson. The pitch was ruled a foul tip and after taking a few practice swings, Taylor stayed in the game and wound up singling up the middle on the next pitch.
But manager Lloyd McClendon said Taylor was “a little sore” on Saturday and would be undergoing further tests to make sure nothing was damaged.
“I’m hoping he’ll be ready tomorrow, but I’m doubtful,” McClendon said Saturday morning.
The Mariners have Monday off, so if Taylor sits out Sunday, he could get an extra day of rest before the club resumes Cactus League play on Tuesday against the White Sox in Glendale.
Taylor went 3-for-3 with a triple in Friday’s game and is batting .421 (8-for-19) with an .842 slugging percentage in eight spring games as he competes with Brad Miller for Seattle’s starting shortstop job.
In other news Saturday:
— Felix Hernandez will throw three or four innings in a simulated game situation on Sunday morning at the Mariners’ Peoria complex against Minor League hitters, then is scheduled for his next Cactus League start on Saturday, March 21, against the Cubs in Mesa.
— Seattle’s upcoming probable pitchers: Roenis Elias on Sunday vs. the Dodgers, Hisashi Iwakuma Tuesday at the White Sox, Erasmo Ramirez on Wednesday vs. the A’s, Taijuan Walker Thursday night vs. the Indians, Elias on Friday at the Rangers and Hernandez on Saturday at the Cubs.
— Recently signed veteran Kevin Correia is slated to throw an inning or two in relief of Iwakuma on Tuesday in his first game action since agreeing to a Minor League deal.
— James Paxton will make his first appearance of the spring in a simulated game on Tuesday morning, pitching about three innings or 45 pitches against Minor League hitters as he returns from a bruised forearm. J.A. Happ will throw a similar simulated game on Wednesday rather than facing the AL West rival A’s.
— Left-hander Edgar Olmos is still 2-3 weeks from being able to throw after being returned from the Rangers on a waiver claim due to a shoulder issue.
— Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez won’t play for a few more days as he continues working back from a sore groin muscle that cropped up as he attempts to return from a year’s absence from baseball.
— McClendon said as things stand, he’s seen enough from his left-handed relief competitors to believe the club can go with a second southpaw in the bullpen behind veteran Charlie Furbush. McClendon didn’t name names, but both Rule 5 Draft pick David Rollins and Tyler Olson have yet to allow a run in Cactus League play and are pushing for a spot despite never pitching above Double-A ball.
“Having said that, we still have a long way to go,” McClendon said. “But I like what I’ve seen to this point. I like the chances of being balanced. Now a week from now, it might be different.”
— Robinson Cano is back in the lineup today against the D-backs at Scottsdale after missing six games following his grandfather’s death in the Dominican Republic and Rickie Weeks returns after missing two games with a sore hamstring. Here’s the full lineups for today’s 1:05 p.m. game, which will be a radio only broadcast on 710 ESPN Seattle and Gameday Audio.
Newly converted outfielder Rickie Weeks was pulled early from Wednesday’s game and held out of Thursday’s Cactus League contest for the Mariners due to some tightness in his right hamstring, though the issue is believed to be minor.
“It’s nothing serious,” manager Lloyd McClendon said Thursday morning. “We just took him out for precautionary measures. We didn’t want to take a chance. I will not play him today, but I expect him to be right back out there.”
In fact, Weeks said he would be going through his normal workout Thursday, but just wasn’t making the trip to Mesa for the afternoon game with the A’s as originally planned.
“It tightened up a little when I was running down the baseline and hit the bag,” Weeks said. “I just ran through it, but it was like a little cramp. I could have stayed in there, but with Spring Training they just want to be cautious.”
After playing strictly second base in his 11 years with the Brewers organization, Weeks has played exclusively left field since joining a Mariners squad that has Robinson Cano at second. He’s gone 2-for-9 with a home run in four Cactus League games so far and said he’s feeling more and more comfortable in his new position.
In other Thursday news:
— McClendon had Nelson Cruz in right field in Thursday’s lineup for the first time this spring and says the club’s new designated hitter will continue being included in that mix.
“I’m confident he can play the outfield,” McClendon said. “He needs to be out there and I’m trying to be as smart as I can be with this, get him some time out there to keep him sharp and at the same time keep him healthy in the spring. I don’t have a number [of games], it’ll be more of a feel. But he’ll be out there a few more times.”
— Left-hander Danny Hultzen said he felt great the day after pitching an inning against the Rockies in his first game action since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2013.
— Felix Hernandez will throw three or four innings in a simulated game situation on Sunday morning at the Mariners facility instead of facing the Dodgers in a Cactus League game that afternoon.
— After Kyle Seager went deep on Wednesday, the Mariners were tied with the Royals for the most Cactus League home runs with 11.
— Will Ferrell won’t enter the game until the second inning today in his whirlwind attempt to play for 10 teams in one day. So here are today’s starting lineups at the noon start at Hohokam Stadium.
Pretty 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.
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.
Kyle Seager has the Mariners pointed toward a big season in 2015.
Former third baseman and current ROOT Sports broadcaster Mike Blowers interviews Taijuan Walker for a pregame show.
Outfielder James Jones chatting with Jesus Montero at the batting cage.
Veteran reliever Mark Lowe is back with the Mariners this spring as a non-roster invitee, fighting for a spot in the bullpen.
Pitching coach Rick Waits — the man with the ‘stache — talks strategy with Danny Hultzen.
Here’s a good look at Tom Wilhelmsen’s circle changeup grip.
Big Nelson Cruz is an imposing figure with a bat in hand.
Veteran 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.
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.
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.
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:
Felix 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: