PEORIA, Ariz. -- Munenori Kawasaki was an eight-time All-Star shortstop in Japan and the energetic infielder is excited to return to his homeland for his first action with the Mariners.

Kawasaki is one of three Japanese players in Mariners camp -- along with Ichiro Suzuki and new pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma -- and he learned this week that he will indeed be among the 30 players boarding the charter Thursday for Tokyo.

Kawasaki is a non-roster invitee and hasn't officially made the 25-man roster yet, as those decisions won't come until just prior to the Opening Day game against the A's in Tokyo on March 28. But he's played extremely well this spring and appears to have a spot locked up as a utility infielder.

"I am very happy, from the bottom of my heart," Kawasaki said of being part of the Japan trip. "This was one of my goals, coming here, making the team and going to Japan. This was one goal that I've accomplished and I'm very happy about that."

Kawasaki, who had a single, a walk, an RBI and two runs scored in two plate appearances during Wednesday's 13-8 loss to the White Sox, has played all over the infield this spring, as the Mariners have looked to see if he can handle a utility role. He's proven to be an excellent defender and has surprised the club by hitting .387 in Cactus League play as well.

"It is fun, but there's a lot to do," he said. "I played many positions back in Japan, mainly shortstop, but this is my first Spring Training that I'm playing second, short and third all at once. It's a challenge, but at the same time, I'm having fun."

How versatile is the 30-year-old native of Kagoshima, Japan? He sounded like a member of the marketing department Wednesday when asked about what reception might be in store for Ichiro when the Japanese icon returns to his homeland for the first time with the Mariners.

"I don't know. I couldn't tell you," he said. "But I could tell you this. If I was a fan, I'd be the first one to buy a ticket and be there at the games."

The two regular-season games at the Tokyo Dome are sold out, though tickets remain for exhibitions against the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants on March 25-26.

Beavan, Noesi to start season in rotation

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners skipper Eric Wedge named his five-man regular-season rotation on Wednesday and the news was welcomed by young right-handers Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi, who earned spots with strong springs.

Those two will both be breaking camp as Major League starters for the first time, along with veterans Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Kevin Millwood.

Beavan, 23, started 15 games after a midseason promotion last year for Seattle. Noesi, 25, made two spot starts last year for the Yankees, but was primarily a reliever in his rookie season.

"It was good to hear that," Noesi said after learning he'd won a spot. "I've been waiting for that since whenever I started in baseball, to start in the big leagues."

Although he was with the Yankees last season, Noesi is eager to take a larger role in Seattle.

"It's big," he said. "I have just one year of playing in the big leagues. I'd like to be part of the team. I just have to keep me in there now."

Noesi will pitch the first exhibition game in Japan against the Hanshin Tigers on Sunday, while Beavan will be held in reserve in case something should happen to Felix Hernandez or Jason Vargas prior to the March 28-29 regular-season openers against the A's in the Tokyo Dome.

Beavan said it was a relief to win a job after all the competition that emerged for the rotation with the trade for Noesi and signings of Millwood and Hisashi Iwakuma.

"It's pretty hard for a rookie to look around and see everybody they signed and still think you have a shot," he said, "but being as competitive as I am, I never let anything try to get to me too much and I tried to stick to what I do and just come to camp ready to throw strikes and keep the ball down."

He succeeded with both and now has a starting role, though he and Noesi won't likely pitch in a regular-season game until the April 9-12 road trip to Texas.

Wedge concedes trip a distraction in loss

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Eric Wedge isn't normally one to use excuses, but the Mariners' skipper understood his team had half a foot out the door as it got beat, 13-8, by the White Sox on Wednesday in a rough outing by ace Felix Hernandez.

After six weeks in Arizona, the Mariners fly to Japan on Thursday morning and players and staff were busy packing and taking care of last-minute arrangements much of Wednesday.

Thus, Wedge wasn't worried about this last Cactus League game, even with Hernandez giving up 10 hits and eight runs (seven earned) in five innings.

"Sometimes it's good to get some of that stuff out of the way before it counts," Wedge said. "Everybody is anxious and anticipating leaving tomorrow. We had a lot of meetings about Japan this morning.

"We have some normal human things going on today that I think you can expect with a very unusual set of circumstances coming our way. It's time to get on a plane and go to Japan."

Hernandez said he felt strong and threw some "nasty pitches," insisting the getaway day had nothing to do with any difficulties.

"It was tough because I gave up eight runs, not because we're leaving tomorrow," he said.

But Hernandez later noted he's ready for the regular season to begin. The Mariners play two exhibition games against Japanese teams before he'll pitch their Opening Day game March 28 against the A's in the Tokyo Dome.

"It's time to be serious," said Hernandez.

Worth noting

• Jesus Montero went 2-for-4 on Wednesday to raise his spring average to .306 and recorded his team-leading 11th RBI. Alex Liddi finished with three RBIs in a 2-for-2 day and is tied with Munenori Kawasaki and Carlos Peguero for second on the team with 10 RBIs.

• The Mariners concluded Cactus League play for now, as they'll head to Japan for the next eight days. But they return from that trip March 30 and resume play in Arizona for five more games from March 31-April 4 before resuming regular-season play in Oakland on April 6.

The idea is to let teams participating in the Japan series to recover from the travel without any disadvantage from the unusual scheduling.