PEORIA, Ariz. — Reality hit Friday in the Seattle Mariners’ camp when the club moved 11 players, including outfielders James Jones and Stefen Romero, to the minor-league clubhouse.
None of the moves were notably unexpected, although the Mariners tellingly trimmed their candidates for the second lefty in their bullpen by dispatching Lucas Luetge and Rafael Perez.
“It’s a combination of two things,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “No. 1, the innings, the at-bats and the playing time is not here for them anymore.
“The second part is they need to go get ready for a season. They’ve got to get at-bats and start playing and build their innings up, get ready to pitch. It’s just that time of the year.”
The Mariners optioned six players on the 40-man roster to Triple-A Tacoma: Jones, Romero, Luetge, catcher John Hicks, first baseman Jesus Montero and shortstop Ketel Marte.
Five players in camp as non-roster invites were reassigned to minor-league camp: Perez, right-hander Justin Germano, veteran outfielder Franklin Gutierrez and infielders D.J. Peterson and Pat Kivlehan.
The moves leave 39 players in big-league camp, including nine non-roster invites. All clubs must trim their rosters to 25 players by opening day.
Gutierrez, 32, is attempting to re-start his career after missing all of last season because of gastrointestinal issues, but his comeback stalled because of a sore right groin. He hasn’t played since March 7.
“I think it’s quite simple,” McClendon said. “He just hasn’t been able to get out on the field. And that playing time is not there anymore.”
Jones and Romero spent extensive time last season in the big leagues but came to camp with little chance to retain a roster spot after the club’s winter moves netted veterans Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks.
“When you become good,” McClendon said, “it becomes very difficult to make a club. The options become tougher. I think that was the case with both of these young men.
“It’s not so much what they did or didn’t do; it’s just the type of talent we’ve acquired that they’re pushed back to Triple-A.”
Similarly, McClendon said Montero simply needs to get at-bats — but warned there was no guarantee of playing time at Tacoma.
“One thing I told him,” McClendon said, “is the competition at Triple-A is going to be tough. You’ve got to go and compete for at-bats. I think he’s prepared to do that.”
The moves with Luetge and Perez leave David Rollins, Tyler Olson and Joe Saunders as the primary candidates for duty as the bullpen’s second left-hander.
Rollins has an edge because of circumstances: He is a Rule 5 pick from Houston, which means he can’t be sent to the minors this season unless he clears waivers and the Astros decline to pay a $25,000 reacquisition fee.
Olson and Saunders are in camp as non-roster invites and can simply be reassigned to minor-league camp at any point.
“I’ve said I’d like to have two lefties,” McClendon hedged. “That doesn’t mean that I’m locked in to taking two lefties. I think everything is still open on that.”
Even so, he also reiterated his previous statement that competition for the spot has been sufficient to merit keeping a second lefty reliever in addition to Charlie Furbush.
“I haven’t changed my mind on that,” McClendon said. “They’ve all been impressive. If they continue to throw well, we’ll see what happens.”
Olson and Rollins have been among the best pitchers in camp. Olson has yet to allow a run in seven innings over five appearances, while Rollins has allowed one run and four hits in 61/3 innings.
Saunders struggled in his first two appearances but pitched 11/3 scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox in his last outing.
Nothing is official, but the Mariners appear to be lining up their rotation for the regular season.
Felix Hernandez is starting Saturday against the Cubs in Mesa and is, in McClendon’s words, “99.9999 percent” likely to start the opener on April 6 against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
So draw your own conclusions from this:
James Paxton will follow Hernandez and start Sunday against Texas at Peoria Stadium. Hisashi Iwakuma will pitch Monday in a simulated game to avoid facing the Angels in Tempe.
Erasmo Ramirez will replace Iwakuma as the starter against the Angels. (McClendon wants to keep Iwakuma away from LA prior to the season-opening series.)
J.A. Happ is slotted for Tuesday’s game against San Diego at Peoria Stadium, and Taijuan Walker’s next start will be Wednesday night against the Cubs at Peoria Stadium.
A Hernandez-Paxton-Iwakuma-Happ-Walker alignment would provide the Mariners with a right-left-right-left-right mix.
Walker isn’t a yet a lock.
Lefty Roenis Elias started Friday against the Rangers and is next scheduled to pitch Thursday in a split-squad game against Kansas City in Peoria. Hernandez will face Milwaukee on Thursday in Maryvale.
Elias’ schedule could still be adjusted to permit him to be the fifth starter.
Ackley at first
Left fielder Dustin Ackley might need to dig his first baseman’s glove out of his bag, McClendon indicated, because Rickie Weeks hasn’t yet been able to log time at the position.
“I’m not making any promises (about Weeks playing first),” McClendon said. “One thing I will say is Ackley played first base in college. He’s pretty adept at it. I talked to him about doing it as well.”
Ackley hasn’t played first base since logging 141/3 innings as a reserve in 2013. He started five games at first in 2012.
Weeks is expected to return Saturday to the lineup if he recovers as expected from a mild illness. McClendon said: “He was a little dehydrated (on Thursday). Throwing up. He’s going to get some at-bats (Friday) on the Triple-A side. Take it easy, and we’ll get him back in there (Saturday). … Left-hander Andrew Carraway, who spent much of the last three seasons at Tacoma, has retired. Carraway, 28, was 51-33 with a 4.48 earned-run average in six pro seasons following his selection in 12th round of 2009 draft.