Observation key in Wedge's first Seattle camp
Fiery skipper must sift through talent, construct roster for long haul
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Pitchers and catchers hit the field for the first time Monday, but the buzz began building the day before when those players reported to Spring Training for physicals and -- for many -- had their first chance to meet new Mariners manager Eric Wedge.
"There's always excitement when you have a new beginning, and there's a lot of that going on here," said Wedge, hunkered in at the desk in the office he'll inhabit for the next seven weeks at the Peoria Sports Complex.
Pitching coach Carl Willis, beginning his 11th season working with Wedge, said the Mariners will quickly learn about the intensity of their new skipper.
"We started together in 2000 in Double-A. We're very familiar with each other, to say the least," said Willis, who worked with Wedge with the Indians before joining the Mariners organization last year. "I told the coaching staff yesterday that I was the unfortunate one who gets to speak after Eric, because it's hard to hold everybody's attention after he gets finished.
"But while our personalities are different, having worked together in the dugout for so long together we tend to think along the same wavelength. And I think players feel that, and the confidence with which you instruct and run the game helps them relax and do what they do. I'm excited about it."
Wedge's eyes dance when he talks about getting started. His two "non-negotiables" with his players will be "respecting the game and being good teammates."
The skipper intends to let Willis do most of the talking before Monday's workout since that will be for pitchers and catchers, but he's already planning his initial address to the troops prior to the first full-squad workout Saturday.
"We won't leave much to the imagination," Wedge said.
Wedge still needs to get to know the vast majority of the 63 players who'll be in camp when the full squad arrives and said the initial sessions will consist more of observing than coaching. He has his thoughts on things, but he wants to see how players perform and talks frequently of the open opportunities at hand.
General manager Jack Zduriencik brought in a big group of pitchers on non-roster invitations, with veterans like Nate Robertson, Justin Miller, Chris Ray, Denny Bautista -- and now former Red Sox setup man Manny Delcarmen, who signed last week -- in the mix.
"It's good," Wedge said. "I've seen Delcarmen in Boston just running it up there and thinking, 'Wow.' We'll see how he comes in and how the ball is coming out of his hand.
"What you're seeing us do is give ourselves as many options as possible. Not just with our young kids, which is a given, but also with these non-roster guys that have some upside and big league experience. That's real, whether it's in the bullpen or as starters."
Wedge and Willis both said Jason Vargas and Doug Fister have a leg up on the competition for rotation spots based on their efforts last year behind Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez. After that, they're eager to see Erik Bedard, Luke French, David Pauley and rookie Michael Pineda, as well as Robertson and some of the other non-roster challengers.
Bedard brings the biggest potential upside, but nobody wants to pin too much on his shoulders after he missed all of last season and much of the previous two years with arm problems.
"I saw him as good as anybody when he was back in Baltimore," Wedge said. "He's just had a lot of trouble with injuries. But I look into his eyes and see good eyes. He looks physically fit. He threw a bullpen the other day that Carl said looks good.
"If this guy does anything close to what he's capable of doing, he's going to have a fantastic shot at that rotation. And I hope he does. He's the kind of guy you want to step up because you know what's in there."
The bullpen situation is even more up in the air, with closer David Aardsma not expected back until several weeks into the regular season -- in the most optimistic outlook -- as he recovers from hip surgery. Brandon League is the logical fill-in, but as with most things in this camp, that will be seen in the coming weeks.
"He's the first guy that comes to mind, but we've got some other guys in camp who'll be fighting for it, too," Wedge said. "I'm anxious to see that competition. Nobody is set in stone in that spot."
Willis mentioned Ray and Delcarmen as closer candidates based on their experience. The club also likes hard-throwing youngsters Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke, but more in late-inning relief roles at this point.
"Both those guys, stuff is definitely not a question," Willis said. "But in the big leagues, you can have stuff and still have to command it."
Seeing how young players deal with adversity and bounce back will be a big part of determining who might be ready for the rigors of a Major League season. Without question, they will be challenged. And according to Willis, they will be motivated when Wedge gets going.
"I don't know how all these guys are going to feel when they walk in the door tomorrow for the first day of Spring Training," Willis said, "but I know how they'll feel when they walk out the door to hit the field because Eric brings energy and passion and motivation and confidence.
"I think guys find it's fun to go out and play for someone who is giving you energy so you don't have to create it all yourself."