By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will be first on the bump Thursday when the Mariners open their 33-game Cactus League schedule against campus co-tenant San Diego at Peoria Stadium.
Ramirez, 23, is slotted for the first two innings in what amounts to the start of his bid to hold onto a job in the starting rotation. He was 5-3 with a 4.98 ERA last season in 14 games.
The Mariners have their pitching tentatively lined up for their first three games. Lefty James Paxton will start Friday against the Padres, while right-hander Scott Baker will start Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Paxton and Baker, like Ramirez, are in the first tier of candidates, along with Taijuan Walker, for slots in the rotation behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Paxton and Baker are also scheduled for two innings.
Plans call for right-hander Blake Beavan to follow Ramirez on Thursday in a piggyback start for two innings. Righty Matt Palmer will fill a similar role in Friday’s game behind Paxton.
Piggyback starts are when a pitcher gets a starter’s full warm-up time before entering the game. If the actual starter exits early, a reliever is usually summoned to bridge the gap.
Also scheduled for one inning in Thursday’s opener: Logan Kensing, Lucas Luetge, Tom Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel and Danny Farquhar.
Scheduled for one inning on Friday: Nick Hill, Zach Miner, Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush and Andrew Carraway.
Scheduled for one inning on Saturday: Bobby LaFromboise, Mark Rogers, Yoervis Medina, Stephen Kohlscheen, Ramon Ramirez, Jonathan Arias and Logan Bawcom.
The Mariners have also set their tentative pitching plans and lineups — but not their batting orders — for Tuesday’s intrasquad game, which is tentatively set for four or five innings.
Lefty Roenis Elias will start for one side, followed by Hector Noesi, James Gilheeney, Bawcom and Arias. Lefty Anthony Fernandez will start for the other side, followed by Carraway, Kohlscheen and Chance Ruffin.
The tentative lineups:
C Jesus Sucre, 1B Jesus Montero, 2B Ty Kelly, SS Brad Miller, 3B Nate Tenbrink, LF Cole Gillespie, CF James Jones, RF Stefen Romero and DH Chris Taylor.
C Manny Pina, 1B Ji-Man Choi, 2B Carlos Triunfel, SS Nick Franklin, 3B Hector Noriega, LF Jabari Blash (up from minor-league minicamp), CF Abraham Almonte, RF Xavier Avery and DH Burt Reynolds.
Remember when Justin Smoak created a minor stir when, after avoiding arbitration, he characterized first base as his job to lose despite the club’s off-season moves to add Corey Hart and Logan Morrison?
Turns out, it is.
“I told him he’s my first baseman,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I told him that this winter. Having said that, he still has to go out and perform. I like what I see (this spring) from him. He’s doing a pretty darn good job.
“He’s come here in great shape, and he’s making the (necessary) adjustments at the plate. His BP is a lot crisper now. He’s taking BP with a purpose. … We might have something.
“It’s sitting there, and we’ve got to get it out of him.”
Sunday’s schedule highlights included a significant step for right-hander Stephen Pryor in his recovery from a torn back muscle that forced him to miss nearly all of last year: A first bullpen session.
Just 20 pitches, all fastballs, but all positive.
“At this point,” he said, “I don’t think there is a schedule. If I throw five bullpens and feel really good, maybe I’ll go into a game. Maybe it takes seven. I don’t know at this point.”
Pryor, 24, was 3-1 with a 3.91 ERA over 26 relief appearances as a rookie in 2012. He had seven scoreless outings last season, covering 71/3 innings, before suffering the injury in mid-April.
“It’s going to be a day-to-day adjustment thing,” he said. “See how it goes from there. … It felt good today. I didn’t have any setbacks. That’s always a positive.”
Felix Hernandez threw his first session of live batting. Such sessions seldom generate a lot of swings, but what few there were weren’t good. … Right-hander Brandon Maurer reported a lessening of the back tightness that forced him to be scratched Saturday from a scheduled session of live batting practice. But the improvement wasn’t sufficient, as had been hoped, to allow him to throw a bullpen workout. He’ll be reevaluated today. … Pryor says he’s down 10 pounds from last year and 20 pounds from the end of 2012. His secret: “It’s portions. Not hitting Golden Corral.” … Who knows how much it means, but as the “incumbent” — that’s McClendon’s term — shortstop Brad Miller gets to take batting practice with the rest of the projected starting infield: Justin Smoak, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.