Mariners have some issues to resolve before their season opener

PEORIA, Ariz. — After a day off Tuesday, the Seattle Mariners return to work today for a stretch of 15 games in 15 days before their next break. By then, they’ll be 10 games into the regular season.

In the five days before their Monday season opener at Oakland, the Mariners have some important issues to sort through. Here’s a look:

  • How the starting rotation will be arranged?

    After Felix Hernandez, will left-hander Ryan Rowland-Smith pitch the second game or will the Mariners go with right-hander Ian Snell? That’s how they were lined up, although the off day Tuesday allowed the Mariners to alter things.

  • Who will pitch in the fourth and fifth spots?

    The Mariners altered their pitching for Sunday’s exhibition, pulling Doug Fister from his scheduled start against the A’s and pitching him in a minor league intrasquad game. They said it was because Fister, 10 days after he was hit on his pitching arm by a line drive, could pitch in a more controlled environment in the minor-league intrasquad.

    No doubt about that, but also created the possibility that the Mariners may slip Fister into the rotation’s fourth spot, which would get him the April 8 game at Oakland and avoid having him pitch the next night against some of the Rangers’ left-handed mashers at the home-run factory in Texas. That would put left-hander Jason Vargas in position to pitch the series opener at Texas.

  • Who’s the No. 1 catcher?

    Rob Johnson is the incumbent, but Adam Moore has impressed everyone in camp and has gotten the majority of the innings. The Mariners have brought Johnson along slowly because of the offseason surgery on both hips and had planned to play him all nine innings Monday against the A’s. Instead, he was replaced after the sixth. Manager Don Wakamatsu made no mention of it in his comments after the game against the A’s.

  • How will the bench shake out?

    Mike Sweeney has done everything possible to win a spot, but putting him on the roster would give the Mariners two DHs with him and Ken Griffey Jr. That would work for a DH platoon, although Wakamatsu went into spring training hoping to have a bench built on versatility.

    With the team expected to start with a 12-man pitching staff, and if Sweeney does win a job, it puts a premium on versatility in the other spots.

    Eric Byrnes has been the most impressive of those competing for the fourth outfield job. His legs seem healthy and he not only can play effective defense, he provides an element of speed on the bases.

    The last spot appears to come down to Matt Tuiasosopo vs. Josh Wilson.

    Tuiasosopo can play every infield position plus left field, and he showed a nice bat early in spring training. But he slumped at the plate the past week — a time in camp when the decision-makers take note of how the pressure to make a team affects the bubble players.

    Wilson doesn’t have the potential bat that Tuiasosopo does, and he’s not on the 40-man roster, but he’s a stellar defender at second, third and shortstop. The Mariners clearly put greater value on defense, especially with their backup infield job because it’ll need to be a player who can play shortstop in order to give starter Jack Wilson regular rest for his vulnerable legs.

    Today in camp

    The Mainers face the Rangers at 1:05 p.m. in Peoria (ESPN 710 AM radio), with right-hander David Pauley starting for the Mariners. The most-anticipated action is scheduled to happen on a lower practice field, where opening-day starter Felix Hernandez makes his last spring training appearance in a minor league intrasquad game. The Mariners don’t want Hernandez to face the Rangers twice in a span of 10 days (he’ll get the ball April 10 at Texas), which is why Pauley is coming up from the minor league camp to start in the Cactus League game. Pauley will start the season at Class AAA Tacoma, but he pitched well enough in spring training for the Mariners to consider him if there’s a need at the big-league level. Right-hander Rich Harden will start for the Rangers.

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