Lopez shines at third
M’s like initial results of infielder’s conversion
PEORIA, Ariz. – Five days into Jose Lopez’s trial conversion from second base to third, the Seattle Mariners have learned one thing. He has the arm to play third.
The rest remains so questionable that the Mariners may need until mid-March or later to know if they’ll continue with Lopez at third and Chone Figgins at second. If nothing else, they know now that Lopez can make the long throw across the diamond.
“His arm plays at third base,” manager Don Wakamatsu said Saturday. “That slow roller, he’s got enough arm strength to do that.”
Lopez showed that Saturday morning when the Mariners took infield and batting practice at Peoria Stadium. He fielded grounders to his left, to his right and some slow rollers that challenged his ability to charge the ball and make the throw to first.
“I’ve seen some good things out of Lopey at third base,” said Wakamatsu, who credits new third-base coach Mike Brumley with helping Lopez with his catch-and-throw mechanics.
“Mike is going to make a lot of those guys technically better,” Wakamatsu said. “The technique, his balance, are better. He’s had some flaws we’re addressing right now.”
That doesn’t mean the Mariners have any better idea whether Lopez can make the conversion than they did when he started working there last Tuesday. Lopez said then that he would “play a couple of games. If we don’t like it, we tried.”
But Wakamatsu said Saturday that Lopez would keep working at third, and Figgins at second, at least through the middle of the exhibition schedule.
“I don’t have an exact date, but we want to be able to see them a little bit,” Wakamatsu said. “We can always go back the other way. The question is getting them (time to get) comfortable back in the other position. We don’t want to lose that.
“These guys have played the majority of time at those positions, so I think the flip side is that we can extend that at little bit if we’re still not sure.”
Cliff Lee threw off the bullpen mound and, if his schedule holds, he’ll throw again in the bullpen Tuesday with a simulated game Friday. … The Mariners will play an 81/2-inning intrasquad game Monday morning and a five-inning game Tuesday morning. … The Mariners signed right-handed pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen to a minor league contract in hopes the 26-year-old can resurrect a career that stalled out in 2003 after only a couple of seasons because of substance abuse. He was a seventh-round draft pick of Milwaukee in 2002 and was pitching independent ball last summer before suffering an elbow injury that required surgery.