Not just another exhibition for Mariners, Angels

PEORIA, Ariz. — Spring training games are all about getting at-bats for the hitters and building arm strength for the pitchers. The outcome of the games are meaningless.

If you believe that, then today’s clash between the Seattle Mariners and L.A. Angels is nothing special.

Hardly.

“I’ve said all along that we want to shake hands after we play the Angels,” Mariners manager John McLaren said.

He didn’t mean shake hands with the Angels.

After what they did to the Mariners last year — dominating the season series 13-6 and finishing six games ahead in the American League West standings — it’s no surprise the M’s want to send an early message.

McLaren’s lineup today will be filled with regulars — only third baseman Adrian Beltre (death in the family) and designated hitter Jose Vidro (sore elbow) — won’t play. Among the Mariners’ pitchers will be opening-day starter Erik Bedard, Brandon Morrow and closer J.J. Putz.

Catcher Kenji Johjima, first baseman Richie Sexson, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and left fielder Raul Ibanez will play a second straight day, rare for this early in spring training.

Apparently, it’s never too early to make a statement against the Angels.

“There’s a point when we want to start playing guys two days in a row, and it just so happens this is that time. By design,” McLaren said. “I don’t want to make too big a deal out of it, but it might be a small step leading to bigger steps.”

To understand why, it might help to take a step back — to spring training, 2002.

The Angels came to Peoria on March 1, clearly remembering what the Mariners had done to them the previous regular season. On their way to 116 victories in 2001, the Mariners beat the Angels 15 of 19 games.

When the Angels pulled into the Peoria Sports Complex, McLaren noticed they’d brought two busloads of players.

“What’s that all about?” former manager Lou Piniella asked McLaren, who was the M’s bench coach.

“They want to win,” McLaren told him. “That’s what it’s all about.”

The Angels did, beating the Mariners 15-2 in that exhibition. McLaren won’t call today a “two-bus” game, but it’s also not just another exhibition.

“I intend to make a similar message,” he said.

Horror story: Miguel Batista likens life’s journey to reading a book, where the greatest lesson is learned on the last page.

In a way only Batista can explain, that’s why he pitched through pain in his left side Tuesday against the A’s. He felt it during the second inning and, instead of being cautious this early in spring training, decided to back out for the third.

Why risk further injury?

“How many chances in life do you have to learn?” he asked. “It’s like reading a great book and whatever it is you are going to learn, you learn it on the last page.”

Bee-line: R.A. Dickey was preparing to throw his first pitch in the bottom of the fifth inning when he realized the defense behind him wasn’t ready.

In the outfield, Raul Ibanez and Wladimir Balentien were flat on their stomachs, and for a few seconds it wasn’t apparent why.

A swarm of bees had invaded the Phoenix Municipal Stadium outfield, and Ibanez and Balentien avoided them by lying low.

“When Balentien went down, I wasn’t too sure what was going on,” McLaren said. “But when Raul went down, I remembered that swarms of bees go through here.”

No knucklehead: Dickey’s knuckleball wasn’t knuckling Tuesday, so he threw more fastballs than usual and was pleased with how it turned out. Dickey walked three hitters and gave up a sacrifice fly in his first inning, then followed it with a scoreless inning despite two singles.

“I had a mediocre knuckleball the first inning and walked some guys,” he said. “But one advantage I have is that I still have the arm strength to throw my conventional stuff and survive when I don’t have a good knuckleball. Today I was forced to do that.”

Of note: Mike Morse continued his great start, going 2-for-4 with a home run, giving him a .636 batting average and six RBI in five Cactus League games. … McLaren praised Morse for a smart baserunning move Monday when he saw the third baseman out of position and went from second to third on a grounder to shortstop. “You don’t have to be a Vince Coleman to be a good baserunner,” said McLaren, who’s emphasizing baserunning in camp. “This is what we’ve been talking about — heads-up baseball and thinking the situation, anticipating the situation and executing the situation.” … The Mariners have played with the DH in every game so far, but that will change Sunday and Monday when they play the Diamondbacks and Rockies in Tucson. … Pitcher Erik Bedard’s 29th birthday is today. Third-base coach Sam Perlozzo turned 57 Tuesday.

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com

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