Fountain of Youth?

  • By Kirby Arnold Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, February 23, 2011 12:01am
  • Sports

PEORIA, Ariz. — There’s little doubt the 2011 Mariners will feature several young players with little or no major league experience.

Starting pitcher Michael Pineda, first baseman Justin Smoak, left fielder Michael Saunders, catcher Adam Moore and second baseman Dustin Ackley are likely to get considerable playing time, and there are young relievers like Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke competing for bullpen roles at spring training.

Asked Tuesday how much youth would be considered too much youth on the roster, Eric Wedge didn’t flinch like some managers might have.

“I’ve had young clubs before,” Wedge said. “I feel like if they can handle it and they’re the right guy for it, then that’s what we’ll do. I feel strong about our coaching staff and I feel strong about the program we’re developing here and we’ll be able to give them the help they’ll need.”

That doesn’t mean that all those kids will break camp with the team.

Ackley is likely to start at Class AAA Tacoma and continue his conversion to second base, a position he’d never played in his life until last year.

“He’s impressive and he’s young,” Wedge said. “With the transition to second base, that comes into consideration. I think it’s really too early to talk about that. We’re going to give him a good chance to play this spring, get a good look at him at second base and go from there.”

Pineda has never pitched in the majors, but Wedge said if the 22-year-old right-hander shows he’s good enough for the rotation, he’ll be with the team.

“We don’t have anything pre-determined with him,” Wedge said. “He’s a young pitcher but he’s in camp to compete for one of the spots in the rotation.”

One issue with both Ackley and Pineda is the service time that would start when they become major leaguers. If the Mariners can hold off until mid-June to bring them to the big leagues, they can delay for a year the three-year clock that would tick toward their Super Two arbitration status.

“I don’t get into that,” Wedge said. “For a younger guy, you’ve got to take into consideration his development. Does he benefit from going back down (to the minors)? Are there certain things he needs to go back down to do? Ultimately you want to make sure they are in the best position they can be in, especially when they hit the big leagues for the first time.

“We’re playing for today but we’re preparing for tomorrow. That’s somewhat of an attitude that you have to have.”

No Felix, no Vargas, no worries

A few hearts may have skipped when Felix Hernandez didn’t step onto the mound to face hitters the way nearly every other pitcher did the past two days.

Relax. It’s early in spring training.

The Mariners are easing Hernandez into camp, and having him fully amped-up by the April 1 opener at Oakland is much more important than anything he’ll do on a late February morning in Peoria.

That’s why both Hernandez and left-hander Jason Vargas — two-fifths of the projected starting rotation — haven’t faced hitters yet. Tuesday morning, both threw their normal bullpen sessions.

“It’s consistent with what we talked about, holding them off from ramping up too early,” Wedge said. “It allows them to throw in the bullpen and get their work done.”

This is much like the team’s take-it-easy plan with Hernandez at spring training last year, which turned into a Cy Young Award-winning season for the 24-year-old. He and Vargas are the only healthy pitchers in camp who didn’t pitch to hitters in batting practice Monday and Tuesday (Shawn Kelley and David Aardsma are injured).

Hernandez has set career highs in innings each of the past three seasons, including an American League-high 2492/3 innings last year. Vargas pitched a career-high 1922/3 innings.

“It’s a series of steps,” Wedge said. “Your bullpen (session) is a certain heartbeat, then you get the hitters in there and then you get to the games. We’re just slow-playing that a little bit.”

Wedge didn’t say when Hernandez or Vargas would face hitters. Today, he planned to announce pitchers for Friday’s intrasquad game. The exhibition season begins Sunday against San Diego.

Of note

Among pitchers who looked sharp during live BP was left-hander Cesar Jimenez, a 26-year-old who’s out of minor league options. Traditionally stronger against right-handed hitters than lefties, he has worked hard on his breaking pitches the past year. Tuesday, he threw a few beauties to Matt Mangini and Ryan Langerhans, both left-handed hitters. … The Mariners will split into two groups Saturday, with half the team working out in Peoria Stadium during the annual spring training FanFest at the ballpark. The rest of the team will work out on the practice fields. … Carlos Peguero, the star of Monday’s live batting practice with his long home run off Manny Delcarmen, turned 24 Tuesday. Franklin Gutierrez turned 28 on Monday and Ryan Langerhans 31 on Sunday. … Some fans have made a little too much of the home runs hit in the live BP sessions, especially the ball that light-hitting shortstop Jack Wilson hit off left-hander Garrett Olson. Hitters have the advantage of knowing the type and location of each pitch.

Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog and follow his Twitter updates on the team at @kirbyarnold.

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