Mariners first base prospect Ji-Man Choi broke the fibula bone in his right leg on Wednesday after landing awkwardly trying to haul in an errant throw in the ninth inning of Seattle’s 4-3 victory over the Padres in their Cactus League opener.
Choi, a 23-year-old from South Korea, was carted off the field after going down in a heap at the first-base bag following his leaping attempt to pull in a high toss from shortstop Tyler Smith.
“That’s a tough break,” said manager Lloyd McClendon. “It was almost a little freakish. He went up and came down on the opposite foot and fractured his [lower leg]. It’s a little tough. He just landed awkwardly.”
Choi played 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 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 last year after a strong 2013 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.
Choi is one of three first basemen on Seattle’s 40-man roster, along with Morrison and Jesus Montero. But McClendon has talked of using newly acquired veteran Rickie Weeks as a backup first base option and Willie Bloomquist can also play that position.
Manager Lloyd McClendon isn’t rolling out a lot of his starters for today’s first Cactus League game, but fans will get a chance to see the slimmed-down Jesus Montero at first base and a number of the club’s top young prospects when they take on the Padres at 12:05 p.m. PT.
The game will be broadcast live on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.
“The one thing you have to be careful and really conscious of is you want to keep your horses strong for the entire season and this is just the start of hopefully 162-plus,” McClendon said. “You’ve got to build. You don’t want to run them right of the gate and start playing them six-seven innings and they leave here and they’re fatigued and worn down. We’ll pace them. They’ll play tomorrow. They’ll probably have a day off after that and then we’ll continue to build.”
Taijuan Walker will throw the first two innings, or about 30 pitches max, with relievers then to pick up an inning apiece. Right-handers Sam Gaviglio, Carson Smith and Dominic Leone and lefties Mike Kickham, David Rollins and Rafael Perez are slated for bullpen action today
Chris Taylor gets the start at shortstop and Brad Miller likely goes there tomorrow as that battle begins playing out. Those two will often alternate days, but McClendon said there will also be games when one of them plays second base. And yes, young Ketel Marte will get some time at short this spring as well.
“He’s a very talented individual,” McClendon said. “He’s come quite a long way in a short period of time and I can see why. He’s got a lot of talent and is pretty poised for a kid who is 20 years old.”
McClendon will be among those interested in seeing how Montero looks now in game situations at 230 pounds, having dropped about 45 pounds from 2014.
“I haven’t seen much yet,” he said. “We’ve just been in batting practice for most part and ground balls in the infield. I saw a little last year. I’m excited to see him play and how far he’s progressed.”
In other Wednesday news:
— Felix Hernandez will throw his first live batting practice session this morning. McClendon said he may then throw another live session later in the week or go right into an inning of work in a game situation, depending how he feels.
— After throwing his first live BP on Tuesday, Danny Hultzen could see his first game action later this week as he returns from a year rehab for shoulder surgery.
— Left-hander James Paxton played long toss on Tuesday and was fine. He’ll take today off, throw on flat ground again Thursday and is scheduled for his first bullpen session on Friday as he returns from a bruised forearm.
— The Rangers are returning lefty reliever Edgar Olmos to the Mariners after claiming him off waivers last week. Olmos has had a shoulder impingement and hasn’t been able to throw since joining Texas. The Mariners acquired Olmos off waivers from the Marlins in December, but Texas picked him up after Seattle dropped him from its 40-man roster just prior to camp.
The sun returned Tuesday and the Mariners were back out on the field for their last day of practice before Cactus League play opens Wednesday.
Third baseman Kyle Seager (right) and shortstop Chris Taylor converge on a fly ball during pop-up drills.
Backup catching candidate John Baker tries to quiet the roaring crowd before taking batting practice. Okay, not really sure what he was doing. But it’s an interesting picture.
Robinson Cano fires to third base during infield drills.
Rickie Weeks works on his bat toss.
Danny Hultzen threw live batting practice for the first time this spring as he returns from a year’s absence with shoulder surgery.
Franklin Gutierrez continues working his way back following his own year off to recover from illness.
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.