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03/02/12 8:30 PM EST

Mariners muscle up in opener

PHOENIX -- Manager Eric Wedge left most of his starters behind in Peoria when the Mariners opened Cactus League play Friday against the A's, but the guys who played brought their bats as Seattle blasted five home runs in the 8-5 victory.

Center fielder Michael Saunders, right fielder Carlos Peguero and catcher Jesus Montero each hit two-run homers and second baseman Luis Rodriguez and reserve right fielder Johermyn Chavez added solo shots to account for all of Seattle's scoring.

"I think we're more ready than last year," said the veteran Rodriguez, who is competing for a utility-infield role. "We had those four intrasquad games and I feel comfortable at home plate.

"That's a good start. We've got a lot of good, young players. I see a team that can score runs. And we've got the pitching. So it should be a different thing this year."

Saunders, competing for the center-field job with Franklin Gutierrez sidelined at least 4-6 weeks with a torn right pectoral muscle, continued an impressive start to his spring. He blistered the ball during the intrasquad games and picked right up on Friday with a well-struck blast over the right-field fence in the second inning.

"I'm just trying to stay aggressive," he said. "One of the things I really struggled with last year was mentality. And my mentality this year is to just go up there and slug the baseball. If I'm going to go down, I'm going to go down like a man, swinging and just trying to slug the baseball."

That approach is welcomed by his manager.

"He's been real good all spring," Wedge said. "He's up there ready to hit. He's got a different look in his eye. He's walking around with some confidence. This is a guy who has worked hard on every aspect of his game. The hitting has just been a little tardy for him, but by all indications, he's much better this spring."

Beavan gets off to strong start

PHOENIX -- Blake Beavan is in a battle to land a rotation spot this spring with the Mariners, and the 23-year-old Texan made a good first impression as he picked up the win in Friday's 8-5 victory over the A's.

Beavan gave up four hits and one run in 2 1/3 innings of work on a blustery day when the ball was sailing and the Mariners hit five home runs at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

"You just try to throw the ball down and try to get them to hit it to left field, I guess, with the wind going out to right," Beavan said. "It just felt good to get out there the first time and get that game feeling again and just throw a bunch of pitches."

Beavan induced five groundouts in his short stint, including a double-play ball by Manny Ramirez that got him out of trouble in the first. He had one strikeout and no walks.

"It's tough because when the wind is like that, it does move your ball a little more," he said. "It might look good going to the mitt, then the last five feet it just moves out of the zone. So it's a little frustrating sometimes. But for me, today, I was just trying to stay within myself, hit the mitt and not try to overdo anything."

Manager Eric Wedge liked what he saw as well.

"He was down, mixed his pitches well, he was under control," said Wedge. "Some things happened behind him that could have gotten to him, but he didn't allow it to happen. He threw the ball well."

Wedge a fan of extended playoffs

PHOENIX -- Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format on Friday, adding one more Wild Card berth in each league beginning this season.

Under the new format, the Mariners would have qualified for the playoffs in 2003, when they finished 93-69. They wound have tied for the final spot in '02 and '07, requiring a one-game playoff to get into the playoffs.

And they would have at least tied for the final spot in 1996, when they finished 85-76 and held a half-game lead over the Red Sox and White Sox, who were both 85-77. Seattle never made up a rainout game that season, something they would have needed to do with a postseason berth on the line.

Seattle skipper Eric Wedge likes the idea of the new format, which will have the two Wild Card teams face each other for one game, with the winner then joining the three division champions in the Division Series.

"I think it's healthy for baseball," Wedge said. "It's just going to give more organizations, more teams, more cities an added opportunity to get to the postseason. It's not just the teams that get in, obviously there'll be other teams fighting for those spots, too. I think it just expands the excitement throughout baseball."

Worth noting

• Felix Hernandez threw 38 pitches against Minor League hitters on Thursday in a simulated game at the Mariners facility, going 2 2/3 innings in his warmup before beginning Cactus League action next week. Hernandez is being lined up to start the Mariners' season opener against the A's on March 28 in Tokyo.

• The Mariners have scheduled a news conference for Monday morning with City of Peoria officials at the Peoria Sports Complex, where the team's 20-year lease is coming to an end.

• A visitation for Mariners scout Frank Mattox, who died last weekend at 49, will be held Sunday from 6-10 p.m. MST at the Sunland Memorial Park and Mortuary in Sun City, Ariz. Mattox spent the past 18 years in the Mariners organization, including six years as the scouting director from 1998-2003.

A celebration of life for Mattox is being planned for later in the month in Northern California, but final details have not been announced.

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.