PEORIA, Ariz. — Cliff Lee isn’t the only one feeling the strain of his sore abdominal muscle.
The injury is forcing the Seattle Mariners to consider multiple options in how they assemble their opening-day roster, which isn’t expected to be finalized until the day before their April 5 opener at Oakland.
While the Mariners haven’t announced anything, Lee is expected to miss the start of the season because of a strained lower abdominal muscle, suffered in a game March 15.
He played catch Thursday for the second time in three days but continued to feel discomfort. The Mariners said the pain wasn’t as severe as earlier in the week, but Lee won’t throw again until Wednesday.
“I think we’re just going to wait and see how he responds Wednesday,” Wakamatsu said.
He wasn’t smiling.
This isn’t how the Mariners expected things to turn out, even after Lee began spring training recovering from a minor procedure to remove a bone spur from his left foot.
With Felix Hernandez and Lee, the Mariners came to spring training planning to carry an 11-man pitching staff, confident their top two starters would consume innings and ease the burden on the bullpen. That would allow them to keep an extra position player.
Without Lee, the reliability of the starters drops significantly, with relatively untested Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister currently in line to comprise the rotation behind Hernandez.
Because of that, the Mariners are seriously considering seven relievers for the bullpen and one less position player than they had hoped.
“We set out to try to go 11,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s going to be hard to do that.”
Also complicating things is Fister’s health. He was hit on his pitching arm by a line drive March 26 and, while the Mariners say he has recovered well, he isn’t scheduled to pitch in a big-league exhibition until Monday.
“There’s so many dynamics going on,” he said. “Fister, we’re counting on. Everything is OK with his arm. We need to see him pitch one more time. There’s so many variables, and I foresee announcing it in San Francisco.”
Wakamatsu had wanted to start the season with a bench built around speed and versatility, but what he may wind up with is a four-man collection that could look like this:
Sweeney could play some first base, although Wakamatsu said that left-handed-hitting Casey Kotchman will go into the season as his everyday first baseman and not platoon. Kotchman is such a strong defensive player that the Mariners don’t want to lose that even if they lose something offensively with Kotchman facing left-handed pitching.
Complicating things even further is Lee’s suspension for throwing at a batter in the same March 15 game when he suffered the abdominal injury. He was suspended for five games and the Mariners don’t expect the appeal to be heard until the first week of April.
One thought is to have Lee serve his suspension time, forcing the Mariners to play with a 24-man roster during those days, then put him on the disabled list and replace him with another player at that time.
Wakamatsu said Lee has suffered two previous abdominal injuries in his career that required about six weeks of recovery time each. This one is in a different location, and Lee had a platelet injection which the Mariners hope will speed his recovery.
“You don’t know that for sure,” head trainer Rick Griffin said. “Everyone is different.”
Grandest of spring training slams
When The Natural meets a 20 mph Arizona wind blowing out to right field, you don’t get exploding light towers and Robert Redford leaving a blood trail around the bases to flutter the heart.
For the Mariners on Friday, it was the feel-good moment of spring training provided by Ken Griffey Jr. His grand slam with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Mariners a 6-5 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
“I was just happy to get a ball up in the wind tunnel,” Griffey said.
The wind was howling, but the Mariners were glad to see their 40-year-old DH show life in the old bat that they haven’t seen all spring training. Griffey entered the game with a .167 batting average and two extra-base hits in 29 plate appearances.
The Mariners trailed 5-2 with one out in the bottom of the ninth, veteran Kip Wells on the mound and most from the crowd of 9,009 hanging around to see if Griffey would get one last at-bat in what had been an 0-for-3 day for him.
He did, thanks to Chris Woodward’s leadoff single, minor leaguer Jeff Dominguez’s one-out single and minor leaguer Daniel Carroll’s walk to load the bases.
That brought up Griffey, who has rarely driven the ball deep this month.
But in this at-bat, Griffey worked a 3-0 count against Wells, then swung and missed two filthy split-finger pitches. And then Wells left a pitch up in the zone and Griffey stung it to deep right-center field. Reds outfielder Vladimir Balentien chased it all the way to the wall before watching it fall onto the grass berm for a grand slam.
The Mariners mobbed him when he reached home plate.
“That’s one of the best feelings in base ball, to see all your guys at the plate waiting for you,” Griffey said.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said Griffey has looked much better this week in batting practice, especially Friday morning.
“I like the fact that we’re getting him at-bats,” Wakamatsu said. “Today in batting practice was the first time I’ve seen him get to the pitch down and in extremely well. He’s been hitting the ball pretty hard. He lined out to first base (earlier Friday) and in his last game he hit the ball well. He’s getting in shape like everybody else. I think it was good for him.”
Griffey said his swing is getting closer to being ready for the regular season.
“I have just started to be able to do some things,” he said. “Being able to sit back and look at pitches. I get caught a lot of times being in front, being anxious. It’s a matter of getting your work in and getting ready.”
Today in camp
The Mariners play the Los Angeles Dodgers at 1:05 p.m. at Glendale (on ESPN 710 AM radio). Right-hander Ian Snell will start for the Mariners, who also will pitch David Aardsma. Right-hander Charlie Haeger will start for the Dodgers.
Felix Hernandez’s final spring training outing will be Wednesday in a minor league game. The Mariners play the Rangers that day but, with Hernandez scheduled to face them April 10 at Texas, they’ll avoid too much exposure and have him face minor league hitters. He’ll throw 90-100 pitches in his final tuneup for the April 5 opener at Oakland. David Pauley, still among those hoping to win a long-relief role, will start the game against the Rangers. … Catcher Rob Johnson caught in back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for the first time since offseason surgery on both hips. He’s scheduled to catch nine innings Sunday. … Utility infielder Jack Hannahan will be examined Monday by a specialist in Philadelphia. He’s dealt with a groin injury since March 4 and the Mariners suspect he may have a sports hernia. … Reliever Sean White had his first tough outing of the month, allowing a walk and Joey Votto’s two-run homer in the fifth. “But physically he felt fine and that’s what we care about right now,” Wakamatsu said. … Starter Luke French wobbled through the first inning, allowing two runs on two hits and a walk, but settled himself and allowed only two hits the next three innings. French remains a candidate for long relief and possibly the rotation if there’s an injury. … Catchers Guillermo Quiroz and Eliezer Alfonzo were re-assigned to the minor-league camp Friday. … The Mariners have re-signed right-handed pitcher Yusmeiro Petit to a minor league contract. The Mariners acquired Petit off waivers from the Diamondbacks on Nov. 4 and, after he produced a 3.86 ERA in 4 2/3 exhibition innings, they released him last week.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog