Sports

Mariners look at Michael Pineda as possible fifth starter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The Seattle Mariners won’t know if 22-year-old Michael Pineda is ready for their five-man starting rotation until they see him for a full spring training.

In one at-bat in his first exhibition start Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Pineda delivered an encouraging sign.

One out away from a perfect two-inning outing, Pineda fell into a full count against veteran Xavier Nady. He threw a fastball that Nady fouled off, then another fastball for a foul ball.

“So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll throw you the slider!’” Pineda said.

He did, and Nady could only watch it for a called strike three.

Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who hasn’t offered too many superlatives because he knows how early it is in spring training, said the sequence against Nady showed him something about Pineda.

“There are situations we’ll go through when you find out about guys,” Wedge said. “Sometimes they don’t come up early in spring, but that was one.”

The Diamondbacks scored two runs off Yoervis Medina, one off Jose Flores and two more off Justin Miller to beat the Mariners 5-3 for their first loss in three exhibitions.

Pineda, an imposing 6-foot-4, 245-pounder who was the Mariners’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2010, said he felt strong in his first game of 2011.

“This year, I’m a little stronger than last season,” said Pineda, who went 8-1 with a 2.22 earned-run average last year at Double-A West Tennessee and 3-3, 4.76 at Triple-A Tacoma. “I didn’t pitch winter ball this offseason. I worked very hard to be ready.”

Pineda threw 22 pitches, 14 for strikes, and went to the bullpen afterward to throw more.

M’s acquire Laffey

The Mariners added to their collection of pitchers, acquiring veteran left-hander Aaron Laffey from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league infielder Matt Lawson and cash considerations.

To make room for Laffey on the 40-man roster, the Mariners moved injured relief pitcher Shawn Kelley to the 60-day disabled list. Kelley, who had elbow surgery late last season, isn’t expected to be ready until June.

“With Aaron, we felt we had the opportunity to acquire a left-handed pitcher with major league experience,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We will bring him to spring training and give him a chance to compete for a position on our pitching staff.”

Laffey, 25, pitched in a career-high 29 games with the Indians last season. He also pitched at Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron and A Lake County after being placed on the 15-day disabled list in July because of left shoulder fatigue. He started five games with the Indians last year, going 2-2 with a 3.60 ERA.

The Mariners acquired Lawson last July as part of the package of players from the Texas Rangers in the Cliff Lee trade.

Adding a pitch

Left-handed batters hit .243 off Mariners reliever Brandon League last year, the lowest average against lefties of his career.

It wasn’t good enough for League, who this year is adding another pitch that he hopes makes a difference. He’s been working in bullpen sessions on a slider, although with his low arm slot it’s essentially a cut fastball that runs into a left-handed hitter.

“It’s more like a cutter but I call it a slider. That sounds better,” League said. “It looks like my fastball and it doesn’t move a lot. But it’s another look and something I can throw against left-handers. I have the sinker and the fastball, but I can throw the slider in a fastball count.”



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