PEORIA, Ariz. – Don Wakamatsu said from the start of spring training that he hoped to use the six weeks here to learn his players’ capabilities.
The Mariners’ manager had plenty of opportunities to do just that in an Arizona portion of camp that wrapped up Thursday with a 9-4 Cactus League loss to the Chicago White Sox.
Wakamatsu’s nerves and patience were undoubtedly tested. Injuries hit the squad, and players were thrust into new roles.
But Wakamatsu said he has accomplished his goals as he prepares to break camp with a pitching staff limited to a surprising 11 arms and a bench that will include Mike Sweeney and a fifth outfielder.
“I feel we accomplished a lot of things,” Wakamatsu said. “I feel pretty good with where we’re at. Cliff Lee is feeling better. (Erik) Bedard threw again today. There are a lot of positives going on.”
Wakamatsu then went into detail on those positives.
“I like what’s going on with the catching,” he said. “I like some of the things we talked about coming in, the concerns with some of the long guys in our bullpen. I feel pretty good about that. Felix (Hernandez) looks as good as I’ve seen him. (Jason) Vargas is throwing well. And I feel pretty happy with the infield defense.”
The long relievers will be Shawn Kelley and Kanekoa Texeira, who both showed they could pitch three innings if needed. They will help the Mariners avoid calling up a seventh pitcher to be an official “long reliever” – at least for now – and keep a spot on the team for Ryan Langerhans.
Eric Byrnes was already going to be the fourth outfielder, but the addition of Langerhans gives the Mariners options on offense and defense. Having both outfielders would enable the Mariners to use Milton Bradley in a more frequent designated-hitter role in the event Ken Griffey Jr. gets off to a slow start or is hurt.
The team will also rely on Sweeney as a right-handed DH. That decision has yet to be officially announced, but sources said Thursday the team will put Lee on the disabled list to start the season, leaving room on the squad for Sweeney.
The Mariners saw a spot on the 40-man roster freed up Thursday when the Texas Rangers claimed Ryan Garko off waivers. The move saves the Mariners $550,000.
This spring also served as an infield test, with Jose Lopez showing he could handle third base and Chone Figgins making a number of tough fielding plays at second. Matt Tuiasosopo made the team as a backup infielder.
Rob Johnson will start at catcher on opening day, but Wakamatsu plans to have him split time with Adam Moore for the opening few weeks and perhaps beyond.
Overall, the manager was pleased with the aggressive style his team showed this spring in challenging hitters, getting after balls on defense and running the bases.
“We don’t want it to change,” Wakamatsu said.