PEORIA, Ariz. – This is the day Bryan Price has waited for since the last pitch of last season.
Spring training begins in earnest today for the Seattle Mariners when pitchers and catchers take part in their first workout, and Price is ready.
“It’s a lot of fun to get all that talent into one room,” the Mariners’ pitching coach said. “You’re eager to lay your eyes on them, to see who’s come in the best shape.”
In the 45 days before the April 6 season opener, Price has a few important items on his wish list:
“The starting rotation is intact, and right now I would say we have four positions that we know are concrete in the bullpen,” Price said.
Left-hander Eddie Guardado, who saved 41 games for the Twins last year, became the closer after Kazuhiro Sasaki decided to go return to Japan.
Rafael Soriano returns as a right-handed setup reliever and righty Julio Mateo comes back as a middle-inning bridge to the setup men.
Shigetoshi Hasegawa, the versatile right-hander who saved 16 games after Sasaki was hurt last year, will return to the setup/long relief role that made the M’s bullpen so strong the last two years.
“They knew their roles,” manager Bob Melvin said. “They knew that at this time in the game, Nellie (Jeff Nelson) was going to get these guys, Arthur Rhodes was going to finish up on the lefties and maybe a righty or two in between, and Kaz would close.”
Sasaki is back in Japan, Rhodes became a free agent and signed with Oakland, and Nelson is with the Texas Rangers after the Mariners traded him to the Yankees late last season.
Melvin is perfectly pleased with the pitchers who remain.
“The emergence of Mateo and Soriano, and what Shiggy did in every role that we needed to patch, was phenomenal,” he said.
In the next seven weeks, the Mariners hope they can say that about the bullpen openings for a long reliever and, of course, the left-handed specialist.
“Will it be Mike Myers or Ron Villone, or could it be Terry Mulholland?” Price asked, intrigued at what the answer will be. “That’s probably the only question mark we have on the staff.”
Price also hopes to get a good look at some of the organization’s best young pitchers, especially right-handers Clint Nageotte and Rett Johnson, who were in camp last year and should be more at-ease this time around.
Korean right-hander Cha-Sueng Baek (8-4 last year at Class A Inland Empire and Class AA San Antonio) and Australian left-hander Travis Blackley (17-3 at San Antonio) will take part in their first big-league camp.
Today, Price will lay his eyes on all of them.
“We want the camp to run well,” he said. “That’s probably the one thing that keeps me awake at night. We want to have everybody going where they’re supposed to go, and it’s important that I know from a physical standpoint who can handle what.”
Beyond that, it’s up to the pitchers to determine who will round out the staff.