02/26/11 9:16 PM EST
Mariners begin spring slate against Padres
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
For one thing, it'll be the first glimpse of Erik Bedard as he gets the start on the mound, his first game action in a Mariners uniform since July 25, 2009.
For another, Wedge has given no inkling yet on his potential batting order, other than saying Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins will bat one-two this year. After that it's anybody's guess.
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The lineup for the 12:05 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium will hardly be set in stone for the year, but it should at least serve as an early indicator of how Wedge might attack things on a team searching for answers in the middle of the order.
New designated hitter Jack Cust surely will fill one of those key spots, but finding another thumper is a challenge that might take time. Young first baseman Justin Smoak figures to be targeted for a No. 3 or 4 role eventually, but Wedge isn't eager to throw him into the fire with just 100 Major League games to his name.
"That depends on some of the other guys," Wedge said Saturday when asked how soon Smoak might fit into the heart of the order. "I feel like he's going to be a middle-of-the-lineup guy at some point in time. Whether it'll be early or late, I don't know. A lot of that depends on the other pieces.
"Ultimately, you always feel you'd like more of a veteran guy in the middle of the lineup early and let the young guy move himself in, but we'll see."
Wedge must also sort out starting battles in left field (Michael Saunders vs. Milton Bradley) and shortstop (Jack Wilson vs. Brendan Ryan). And if Ryan doesn't beat out Wilson, he figures to challenge Adam Kennedy for the starting second base position.
The other starting jobs seem settled, but there will be intense competition for backup spots. One of the suddenly more critical positions is center field, where Franklin Gutierrez is dealing again with a stomach issue. Wedge says he'd like to give Gutierrez a little more time off regardless this season, so it'll be critical to find an outfielder who can play center as well as left field.
Saunders can slide over and play center if needed. The other logical candidates are veterans Jody Gerut, Ryan Langerhans and Gabe Gross -- all non-roster invitees -- as well as young prospect Greg Halman.
Gerut has 126 career starts in center field, Gross has 59 and Langerhans 54.
Gutierrez underwent tests on his stomach problem Thursday in Seattle, but was back working out with the team Saturday and is expected to play unless his test results reveal something unexpected.
"They're still gathering information," said Wedge. "But it was good to see him back out there. He seems in good spirits. Hopefully, it's not much to speak of and we can move forward. It is as much peace of mind as anything."
Bedard could provide some peace of mind as well if he emerges intact from his first start Sunday. The veteran lefty missed all of last season with shoulder issues, but has been throwing extremely well in the first two weeks of camp.
Luke French, another left-hander competing for a rotation spot, will follow Bedard. Also in line for one-inning stints will be Manny Delcarmen, Denny Bautista, Justin Miller, Cesar Jimenez, Yusmeiro Petit and Chris Smith.
Right-hander Tim Stauffer will start for the Padres. He went 6-5 with a 1.85 ERA in 32 appearances last season, pitching long relief until moving into the rotation in the final month.
Wedge was still figuring out his lineup as of Saturday afternoon, but indicated starters would play 4-5 innings and likely get several at-bats. The apparent first team through camp thus far has been Miguel Olivo behind the plate, Smoak at first, Kennedy at second, either Wilson or Ryan at shortstop, Figgins at third, Ichiro in right, Gutierrez in center and either Bradley or Saunders in left with Cust at DH.
The pitching staff also has some sorting out to do, with Bedard competing for one of two open rotation spots. If he remains healthy and throwing as well as he has early in camp, he'll almost surely get that opportunity. But there is still a month of Spring Training games to play before the Mariners must make that decision.
The bullpen also must come into focus. Delcarmen, a former Red Sox reliever, is a prime candidate for a late-inning job. Bautista, who went 2-0 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 appearances for the Giants last season, is another hard-throwing contender along with Miller, who was with the Dodgers a year ago.
There was concern over potential rain on Sunday earlier in the week, but the latest forecast calls for just 10 percent chance of showers in the afternoon. Temperatures will be only in the low-50s, however, before warming to the mid-60s by Monday and the upper-70s the remainder of the week.
Sunday's game will be carried live on the Mariners Radio Network with Rick Rizzs and Dave Sims calling the action.