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02/20/12 6:20 PM EST

Carp ready for key role in Mariners' lineup

Wedge says left fielder will also be in mix at first base

PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's amazing how much can change over the course of one year when a player is given -- and grabs hold -- of an opportunity.

At this point in 2011, Mike Carp was an afterthought in the Mariners' plans, a guy barely on the radar of then new manager Eric Wedge.

He came to Spring Training thinking he was going to compete for an outfield position, but instead was told to work at first base, where the club already had Justin Smoak as well as backup candidates Adam Kennedy and Matt Tuiasosopo.

Carp's short, compact batting stroke was evident, but reports of his defense were less than glowing and the Mariners sent him packing to the Minor League camp on March 14, more than two weeks before final cuts had to be made for the 25-man roster.

Carp tore up Triple-A pitching and got a quick call to the Mariners in June, his third Major League promotion in three years. But as with his previous stints, playing time was limited and the Mariners optioned him back to Tacoma after he hit .200 (7-for-35) in three weeks of spot play.

Yet Carp didn't get mad. He just kept getting better. And after piling up a .343 average with 21 home runs and 64 RBIs in just 66 games with the Rainiers, he got the return call from Wedge along with a promise of playing time.

Now, fast forward to this spring, where Carp is clearly one of the Mariners' emerging team leaders, both on the field and in the clubhouse. His first round of batting practice on Saturday was a power display that included a monster drive over the 30-foot high batter's eye atop the 410-foot center field fence.

In the clubhouse, his teammates all now possess Greg Halman shirts that Carp purchased in memory of the teammate killed over the offseason in his native Holland. And instead of sitting quietly off to the side along with other prospects, his locker now is in the midst of the core-group of position players, alongside Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Ichiro Suzuki and the like.

This is what happens when you hit .286 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs and rip off a 20-game hitting streak during the 64 games after your second recall of the season. Suddenly you're part of the plans, part of the future, particularly on a Mariners squad searching for offense.

Some guys might take their foot off the gas at that point. But Carp is more of the carpe diem, seize-the-day approach. After losing about 20 pounds a year ago with a rigorous workout plan and change of diet that lowered his weight but increased his strength and quickness, the 25-year-old added more conditioning and lost several more pounds this offseason.

He's not a big guy anymore, packing about 210 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame, but he's rock solid and his increase in hip and leg strength is paying off with his powerful, quick stroke.

And, yeah, he's tuned in at the start of camp this time, a man on a mission. He's pushed hard by the memory of his close friend Halman. And he intends to continue what he started last year and knows there's no time to waste.

"I got locked in early," Carp said. "We've got Japan and two regular season games [at the end of March], so that was my goal. It's felt good. These are just the first days and we've got a long camp to go, but I definitely got a jumpstart.

"I worked hard again, slimming down still but maintaining strength. Hopefully it continues and I keep getting stronger. I lost a few more pounds and added lean muscle."

Wedge loves using Carp as an example of what all his players need to do with offseason conditioning and making the most of chances when they arise.

"He worked hard again this winter and came in ready to go," Wedge said. "He took advantage of that opportunity he had last year and I'm sure he doesn't want to waste it because he has an opportunity to play here now from the outset. He's never had a full year in the big leagues, so to be out there and ready to rock 'n roll, I'm sure that's not lost on him."

Now, Carp is a fixture in the outfield, the expected left-field starter, and has been working almost exclusively with that group in the first days of camp.

"I was joking [Sunday] because this is the first time I've had my name on an outfield glove," Carp said. "They didn't even send me a first base glove this year. So, I've got to call and order one of those. It's kind of cool to see the outfield position take over."

When the Mariners did rundowns and pickoff drills on Monday, Carp came in to work behind Smoak. Otherwise, he's been strictly in the outfield.

"We see him getting the bulk of his at-bats in left field, so we want to make sure he's getting the reps there now," Wedge said. "But he'll still mix in at first."

Carp says it doesn't matter to him where he plays. He just wants to be in the lineup, getting his four at-bats and helping the team any way he can.

And after being lost in the shuffle a year ago, that certainly appears to be the plan for 2012.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.