PEORIA, Ariz. _ The Seattle Mariners’ running game so far is off to, well, a running start.
The Mariners stole four bases in their Cactus League opener Friday against the San Francisco Giants, two of them by swift outfielder Charlton Jimerson. They followed up Saturday by putting their game in motion against the San Diego Padres, particularly in the fourth inning when Jose Lopez executed a hit-and-run, grounding the ball into right field as Mike Morse sprinted from first to third.
Manager John McLaren has stressed more running from the first day of spring training and he’s pleased with the results so far. But he cautions that this is just a test to see what limits he can push with this team, which isn’t blessed with blazing speed.
“We don’t know our final roster, but our starting team is not going to be a speed merchant type club,” McLaren said. “What we want to do is maximize what we have. We want them to try to take the extra base and see what they’re capable of doing here at spring training. So far, I like what I’ve seen and we will stress it at spring training.”
Friday, speed helped get the M’s a victory over the Giants when Jimerson stole both second and third in their two-run sixth inning, followed by a run-scoring wild pitch and a sacrifice fly.
More than sheer steals, McLaren wants the Mariners to become more of a first-to-third team on the bases this year, and the next month of workouts and exhibition games will determine if they can do that.
“We’re stressing it,” he said. “We’ve got some baserunning drills coming up that we’re going to work on. I’d like to do some things in the games but sometimes situations in the games don’t present themselves.”
When they do, it’s not just the responsibility of the baserunners. Hitters play into it with their ability to put the ball in play and hit behind runners. Lopez did that with his hit-and-run single on Saturday.
“We always stress that,” McLaren said. “It’s part of situational hitting. All our hitting coaches preach it. We’ve had a couple of times we hit behind the runner, and that’s expected. With nobody out and a runner on second, we expect him to be on third base.”
Morse, Balentien star: Morse and Wladimir Balentien, competing for the 25th roster spot, both showed their strengths in Saturday’s 11-10 loss to the Padres.
Balentien hit two home runs, including a two-run poke just inside the left-field foul pole to tie the score in the ninth inning.
Morse went 2-for-2, drove in two runs, scored once and threw out a runner at the plate from left field. He’s 3-for-4 in the Mariners’ two exhibitions.
“I’m relaxed and I’m just playing,” said Morse, who is out of minor league options and could force the club to make a difficult roster decision before the season begins. “I’m going out every morning getting my ground balls, my fly balls. I’m playing for me and trying to do the best I can do.
“They say the last couple games of spring are the ones that matter. I’m going to keep going and keep an even keel.”
Ichiro’s command: Ichiro Suzuki rarely speaks English around the media, although teammates say he’s very fluent. That’s apparently true of his Spanish.
“There will be times when Ichiro is on second base and he’ll be talking with a Latin shortstop in Spanish,” said Ted Heid, the Mariners’ international scouting projects coordinator who was Suzuki’s interpreter his first season with the M’s. “Ichiro is the artful dodger. He can do it all.”
Of note: Horacio Ramirez, whose 8-7 record last year belied his 7.16 ERA and his fall from the starting rotation to nothing better than a bullpen role this year, gave up two hits in two scoreless innings Saturday. “I just want to prepare for the season, that’s it,” he said. “I’m not focusing on what role I’m in. I’m just focusing on keeping pitches down in the zone and getting outs.” McLaren said Ramirez would start Wednesday morning’s B game against the Padres. … McLaren was visibly, and verbally, miffed Saturday morning at the questions he got from reporters about Erik Bedard’s outing Friday, when he gave up four hits and three runs to the Giants. “Some of the questions you guys asked me yesterday, it actually (ticked) me off and it’s carrying over to today,” McLaren said. “I just don’t know what the (bleep) we’re expecting in spring training.”… Right-hander Phillippe Aumont, the first-round draft pick who experienced back and hip soreness last week, is scheduled to pitch in a B game Wednesday morning against the Padres. … The Mariners’ training facility will get even busier today when 75 minor league pitchers and catchers report. Later in the week, that number will swell to 125 when position players show up. … Monday’s game against the Cubs, starting at 12:05 p.m. (PST) will be the first of six exhibition this month televised by FSN Northwest. … The Mariners game April 7 in Baltimore will start at 12:05 p.m. (PDT).