By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — The Seattle Mariners’ first serious spring casualty is in the third-base coaching box.
Former Class AAA Tacoma manager John Stearns will be sidelined from all baseball activities for four-to-six weeks after undergoing surgery to correct a hiatal hernia.
The procedure took place Monday night at Arrowhead Hospital in Glendale, Ariz., which is located a few miles from where the Mariners train at the Peoria Sports Complex.
But here was Stearns, nicknamed “Bad Dude” in his playing days for his take-no-prisoners approach, strolling Tuesday afternoon into the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“I just got out,” he said. “I’m doing well.”
The training staff sent him home to rest.
Manager Lloyd McClendon said Stearns experienced pains that required a hospital visit shortly after arriving in spring training. A subsequent examination revealed the hernia.
Now, Stears is being told, as the training staff reminded him, to cease all activity.
“Including screaming,” McClendon joked. “He’s going to be a miserable son of a (gun) … Our thought process is he’ll stay (in Arizona) with us.”
McClendon said the club is discussing internal options to replace Stearns as third-base coach, presumably on an interim basis, but have yet to reach a decision.
Stearns, 62, spent 11 seasons as a major-league catcher from 1974-84, primarily with the New York Mets, and was selected four times to the All-Star Game. He is entering his 40th season in professional baseball.
The Mariners hired Stearns as a scout in 2010 and shifted him to duty as the organization’s minor-league catching coordinator prior to the 2012 season.
Stearns replaced Daren Brown on May 2, 2013, as the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers’ manager and guided the club to a 59-58 record. He was promoted after the season to serve on McClendon’s staff.
All concerned keep saying right-hander Taijuan Walker is having no renewed shoulder soreness — or any ailments for that matter — and that his go-slow spring pace is merely a precaution.
“He’s doing fine,” McClendon insisted. “He’s moving along with the program at the trainers’ pace. He’s doing everything they’ve asked him to do.”
Walker threw roughly 40 throws of long toss during Tuesday’s workout and is tentatively scheduled for more of the same today; his last mound duty was last Thursday in a routine bullpen workout.
“All good,” Walker said, flexing his arm while flashing a smile.
Eight more players reached one-year agreements prior to Tuesday’s workout. All eight lack the necessary service time to qualify for arbitration, which means the club has virtually all leverage in negotiations.
The eight included four right-handed pitchers: Blake Beavan, Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina and Tom Wilhelmsen.
The others were first baseman Ji-Man Choi and outfielders Abraham Almonte, Xavier Avery and James Jones.
Financial terms were not announced but such deals are rarely for sums significantly higher than the major-league minimum salary, which rises this year to $500,000.
Eleven players remain unsigned on the club’s 40-man roster and must reach agreements or have their contracts renewed solely at the club’s discretion by March 11.
That list include seven pitchers: Bobby LaFramboise, Lucas Luetge, Brandon Maurer, Hector Noesi, Stephen Pryor, Erasmo Ramirez and Walker.
The others are catcher Jesus Sucre and infielders Brad Miller, Jesus Montero and Carlos Triunfel.
Tentative pitching plans are in place for the Cactus League opener Thursday between the Mariners and complex co-tenant San Diego at Peoria Stadium.
The Mariners plan to start Erasmo Ramirez, who is slotted for two innings.
Beavan’s scheduled for the third and fourth followed by Logan Kensing, Luetge, Wilhelmsen, Joe Beimel and Farquhar.
The Padres list lefty Eric Stults as their starter. Also scheduled: Donn Roach, Kevin Quackenbush, Anthony Carter, Blaine Boyer and Tony Sipp.
The two teams meet again Friday when lefty James Paxton will start for the Mariners against San Diego right-hander Andrew Cashner.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez is tentatively scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on March 4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Glendale.
The Mariners have tentative starters in place for games through March 8. After Ramirez and Paxton face the Padres on Thursday and Friday, right-hander Scott Baker is slotted for Saturday’s home game against the Los Angeles Angels.
Veteran lefty Randy Wolf will get his first mound test in his recovery from a second Tommy John surgery Sunday against Cleveland in Goodyear.
Plans call for Ramirez and Beavan to get starts next Monday in a split-squad doubleheader: Ramirez against Cincinnati in Goodyear, and Beavan against Colorado at Peoria Stadium.
After Hernandez starts against the Dodgers, Paxton will get his second start in a March 5 game against Cleveland in Peoria.
Then it’s Baker on March 6 against the White Sox in Glendale, followed by Wolf on March 7 against Cincinnati in Peoria.
A March 8 split-squad doubleheader has Ramirez starting against the Dodgers in Glendale, and Beavan against San Francisco in Scottsdale.
Outfielder Jabari Blash provided the highlight of Mariners’ only scheduled intrasquad game with a booming homer to left field off Logan Bawcom.
“That was pretty impressive,” McClendon said. “I thought it was going to hit my car. That’s why I jumped up. I thought, ‘Holy (smokes), that’s my car out there. Actually, it went over the car.”
Blash, 24, isn’t in big-league camp but drew a one-day promotion because of a series of strong performances in a minor-league minicamp that runs through the end of the week.
Prior to his homer, Blash was nicked by a Bawcom pitch but remained at the plate.
“He said, ‘I want to hit,’” McClendon said. “OK, stay up there.”
Other intrasquad highlights included two-run homers by Stefen Romero (off Anthony Fernandez) and Nick Franklin (off James Gillheeney). Franklin’s drive was as a right-handed batter and cleared the right-field wall.
Avery provided the defensive highlight when he threw out Montero at second base on a line drive into the left-field corner.