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03/27/10 7:05 PM ET

Mariners confident in Lopez at hot corner

Third baseman unlikely to be replaced late in games

PHOENIX -- A one-run lead in the ninth inning would not precipitate a change at third base for "defensive purposes."

Jose Lopez has convinced the Mariners that he can handle the position from start to finish.

"I think it is the same way you approach it with a young guy," manager Don Wakamatsu said on Saturday. "Do you take him out of the ballgame and scar him a little bit? Or do you leave him in?"

The transition from second base to third base has gone so well that Lopez will play complete games when the regular season begins on April 5 in Oakland against the Athletics.

Unless he becomes a defensive liability, Lopez will be on the field for the final outs of close games.

"I have been impressed with the work Lopey has done over there," Wakamatsu said before the Mariners' 3-1 loss to the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix. "He has shown me maybe more range than I originally thought he would."

Interestingly, the primary reason the Mariners decided to make the position switch with Lopez was to get stronger up the middle by also putting Chone Figgins at second base.

The pre-camp game plan was to experiment for a couple of weeks, see how it went and then go to Plan B, which would have moved Lopez back to second base and Figgins to third, where he played the past two seasons with the Angels.

Through 15 Cactus League games, the 26-year-old Lopez had committed just two errors -- both coming in a game against the Brewers in Maryvale on March 8.

He is not yet being compared to the man he replaces, Adrian Beltre, but he has been working nearly as hard as his former teammate and still good friend.

Lopez added another dandy play on Saturday, going to his right to backhand a shot headed past the bag, turning it into the second out of the third inning while robbing Matt Kemp of an extra-base hit.

It was his 35th fielding chance of the spring -- the highest among Major League third basemen -- and his 30th assist. He also has three putouts and participated in four double plays.

"He has made some great plays," Wakamatsu said. "I just believe we're going to get the most out of Jose Lopez."

Apparently, from first pitch to last pitch.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.