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Tuiasosopo, Hannahan and Wilson all candidates for role of M's utility infielder

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By Kirby Arnold
Herald Writer
Published:
  • Matt Tuiasosopo is one of three players vying for the utility infielder role.

    Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

    Matt Tuiasosopo is one of three players vying for the utility infielder role.

PEORIA, Ariz. — Since before spring training officially began last month, there’s been a friendly competition among three players hoping to win the Seattle Mariners’ utility infield job.
Jack Hannahan, Josh Wilson and Matt Tuiasosopo all reported early and fielded balls at a variety of positions, knowing anything less than that kind of commitment would leave any one of them behind in the quest to make the team. Hannahan even strapped on catching equipment to learn that job in case he’d be needed on an emergency third-catcher basis.
It became a two-man battle, at least for the next 7-10 days, on Friday when a magnetic resonance imaging exam showed that Hannahan has a strained right groin.
“It’s better than we thought, but we’re going to shut him down for three days of nothing, and then progress,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “It’s not where it’s pulled off the bone. It’s more in the belly of the muscle. That means it’s not something that’s violent. It’s more of an over-stretch deal.”
While it could have been worse, the injury still may alter the competition for the opening-day backup infield job.
Hannahan has played third base most of his career but the Mariners planned to give him considerable work in the middle of the infield, particularly shortstop, in this camp. If he’s sidelined just 7-10 days — that’s the least the Mariners could expect, knowing it’s an injury that could linger — Hannahan still would miss valuable opportunities to play shortstop in exhibition games.
He hurt it in the second exhibition, March 4, when he turned to pursue a fly ball and felt discomfort.
“There was no pop, no great pain,” Hannahan said. “But it didn’t get better. I couldn’t get it loose. I had an MRI done and it showed a small tear. It’s really frustrating. I worked so hard all offseason, I come in here and I’m fighting for a spot on the roster, now this. It’s baseball.”
If it becomes a two-man battle among Wilson and Tuiasosopo, the Mariners may lean toward the one who plays the best shortstop. Jack Wilson is the starting shortstop but, with a history of leg problems of his own, would need regular rest. That’s why Hannahan, especially because he’s a left-handed hitter, went to spring training planning to play a lot of innings at short.
Wilson doesn’t have the offensive potential of Tuiasosopo, with a .227 average in 188 career major league games. But his big-league experience at three infield positions — he played 32 games with the Mariners last year at shortstop, five at third and four at second — give him an edge that fits the Mariners’ defense-first approach when assembling the roster.
However, Tuiasosopo is making a strong statement for himself in early exhibition games, batting .474 after he homered and doubled in Friday’s 6-6 tie with the Kansas City Royals.
Tuiasosopo has played second, third and shortstop so far, and he’s prepared to play the outfield and first base if needed.
“I’ve gotten work in three games at shortstop and I’m taking ground balls there every day,” said Tuiasosopo, who was drafted as a shortstop in 2004 before the team moved him to third base. “I’m more comfortable there, and I told Wak last September, ‘I’m athletic enough to give you good games at first base or the outfield if you need me.’ I’ve got seven gloves in my locker, and I just got a first baseman’s glove.”
Wakamatsu has been pleased in the changes Tuiasosopo made to quicken his swing since the seven games he played in the big leagues last September. However, Wakamatsu said a reasonable baseline for being able to judge his potential at shortstop would be 25-30 games. There doesn’t appear to be enough time at spring training to play him that much there.
“It just depends,” Wakamatsu said. “He’s doing what he needs to do, and that’s the bottom line.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog
Story tags » BaseballMajor League BaseballMariners

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