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Seattle Mariners

M’S Nearing Deadline For Answers To Final Question Marks

Sun., March 23, 1997

Their record is mediocre and their team earned run average is horrible, but for the Seattle Mariners life is good.

Consider that their major questions of this spring training are:

Who’s going to be the backup catcher?

Who’s going to be the backup infielder?

Who’s going to be the fifth starter?

Is it prudent to keep a rookie left fielder who, until recently, has been hitting the cover off the ball?

But time is getting short. The final cuts are but a week away, and in some respects the M’s are no closer to the answers than they were a month ago. Manager Lou Piniella isn’t tipping his hand, though his comments do allow some reading room between the lines. So let’s try some handicapping:

Catcher: Going into Saturday’s split-squad games against Oakland and San Francisco, holdover John Marzano and newcomer Brent Mayne were in a virtual dead heat; Mayne’s average was better (.381 to .300), while Marzano had more RBIs. But Piniella likes the flexibility Mayne allows as a left-handed batter. Edge to Mayne.

Outfield: Jose Cruz Jr. did enough in the spring to win the job in left, but no man (or position) is an island.

Here’s how it works. Joey Cora can bat leadoff against right-handers, but he hit just .218 last season against lefties. Leadoff is not exactly the best spot to shield a rookie from big-league pressure; Piniella would rather hit Cruz ninth. That would leave veteran Rich Amaral as the right-handed leadoff hitter and left fielder, in a platoon with Lee Tinsley, a switch-hitter. Besides, the M’s don’t feel secure with Amaral, a former second baseman, as Cora’s relief. Edge to Amaral/Tinsley.

Infield: Roll the dice. Four backups. Three can stay. One will be Mike Blowers, who can play first and third. Brent Gates, waived by the Athletics, is a proven hitter and marginal glove at third, short and second. Andy Sheets, a shortstop by trade, has been brutal all spring - a .189 batting average and a team-high six errors. And why Dave Silvestri, a former Expo, has a roster spot is unclear, except he’s hitting nearly .500 and has stolen a few bases in the minors. Odd man out: Sheets, meaning no rest for Alex Rodriguez.

Fifth starter: If it’s not Dennis Martinez - and he’d better find some gas, fast - it’s probably Bob Wolcott. If it is Martinez, Wolcott goes to Tacoma. Salomon Torres, awful every time out, is now clinging to life in the pen. Best bet: Wolcott.

Bullpen: Rusty Meacham pitched himself out of the picture Friday. Paul Menhart did it before that. Bob Wells has been horrid, but given his history with Piniella needs just one good outing to secure a spot. The same for Rafael Carmona. If you just went off the results of the spring, Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala would be the short men, and Edwin Hurtado, Josias Manzanillo, Greg McCarthy and Tim Davis the set-up guys. But that’s probably one lefty - Davis - too many. And the M’s may still think Manzanillo is a mirage.

Mulholland to open

As we said, life is good for the M’s. Elsewhere in the Cactus League, the Cubs just settled on their openingday starter. It’s Terry Mulholland, signed as a free-agent after making 12 starts for Seattle last year.

Edgar stays hot

This is getting redundant, we know, but Edgar Martinez stroked RBI singles in his first two at bats Saturday against Oakland - then doubled off the wall his third time up to knock in two more runs. He finished 3 for 4 and has 20 hits in his last 27 at bats (.740).

The M’s won 11-7. Alex Rodriguez added two hits and drove in three runs as the Mariners beat the A’s for the first time in four tries this spring.

The M’s won a split-squad contest over San Francisco, 13-3.

Martinez must produce

Dennis Martinez makes his fourth appearance of the spring today and termed it “make or break.” Apparently, the 41-year-old grandfather understands that Piniella can’t keep him on faith.

“My arm feels fine, but it is not as strong as it should be,” he said.

Agreed Piniella, “We need to see some stuff and some stamina.”

, DataTimes

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