PEORIA, Ariz. — The bullpen math is already in place for the Mariners: 17 relievers competing for five positions. The preferred mix, according to general manager Jerry Dipoto, is five right-handers and two left-handers.
And here’s the grim truth to remember over the next six weeks: What happens in spring training will play only a small role in determining who is in uniform on April 4 for the season opener at Texas.
“Track records weigh very heavily,” manager Scott Servais said. “Spring training, there are always one or two guys every year who come out of nowhere. They have the great spring.
“They throw nine or 10 innings, and they don’t give up a hit. Who is this guy? I think you have to be a little bit careful about that.”
The Mariners signed Steve Cishek to be their closer. They acquired veteran Joaquin Benoit through a trade with San Diego to serve as their primary right-handed set-up reliever.
Charlie Furbush projects as the late-inning lefty setup reliever.
Two other off-season acquisitions, right-handers Evan Scribner and Justin De Fratus, are out of options. That likely means only an exceptionally poor spring keeps either off the club.
While veteran right-hander Joel Peralta is in camp on a minor-league contract, he qualifies as an Article XX (B) free agent. That means he must be notified five days before the regular season starts whether he will make the club.
If not, the Mariners must offer him a $100,000 bonus if they want him to go to the minors in addition to a June 1 opt-out clause. Clubs often release such players and try to re-sign them to avoid paying the bonus.
Either way, Peralta is in a crowded group that, barring injuries, is likely to be competing for just two spots.
“There will be some very good pitchers who end up starting the season in (Triple-A) Tacoma,” Servais said. “They won’t be happy about it, but when the game’s start, they know it’s only a quick call away if we have an issue.”
A mini-camp for 42 minor-league players began Sunday and runs through March 6 under the direction of Andy McKay, the club’s new director for player development.
The camp roster includes five players from the Tacoma News Tribune’s Top 10 list of the organization’s prospects: 1. OF Alex Jackson; 3. SS Drew Jackson; 4. RHP Edwin Diaz; 9. OF Tyler O’Neill; and 10. C Tyler Marlette.
Also participating are six players from the TNT Watch List: RHP Andrew Moore, LHP Ryan Yarbrough, 1B D.J. Peterson and OFs Braden Bishop, Luis Liberato and Austin Wilson.
Another notable participant is infielder Dayner Moreira, a 32-year-old defector from Cuba who signed last month.
All minor-league pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report March 7. All infielders and outfielders must report by March 12. The first full-squad workouts for minor-league players are March 14.
The clock starts Saturday for ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, who is sticking to his plan from recent years in beginning his bullpen workouts later than everyone else.
“We’ve had a program for the last four years,” he said. “It works for me. I’ll throw my first bullpen on Saturday, and then we’ll go from there. Same routine as I’ve had before.”
The rest of the staff will be on it’s third cycle of bullpen workouts by Saturday.
“Felix has this plan in place,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “and it works for him. We’re not messing with it.”
Hernandez, 29, has made at least 31 starts and pitched more than 200 innings in each of the past eight seasons. He leads all major-league pitchers in innings over the past 10 years.
Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush reported no problems Monday with his biceps and rotator cuff after mixing in breaking pitches for the first time this spring.
“Felt good,” he said. “I was pretty pleased at where I finished up.”
Furbush threw only fastballs last Friday in his first workout from a mound since last August, when recurring biceps and rotator-cuff issues aborted his effort to return from the disabled list. He hasn’t pitched in a game since July 7.
Want to know what the Mariners want to see from their pitchers during these early bullpen workouts? The catchers were given three priorities:
n Fastball command down in the zone.
n Change-up usage.
n Quick-step quality.
The latter refers to a pitcher’s delivery time to the plate.
“It’s important to have guys who are 1.3 or 1.35 (seconds to the plate),” Servais said, “and give our catchers a chance (on stolen-base attempts).
“The game is changing a little bit. It evolves and kind of comes back to where it was. The power being less prevalent in the game. There is a little more focus on base-running and stealing bases.”
Veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit eased off on drills Monday because of some minor tightness in his hamstring and lower back. …Lefty reliever Paul Fry was cleared to return to full drills. He missed time over the weekend because he wasn’t feeling well. Servais said: “All the tests came back good for him” but noted Fry had lost weight.