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03/04/12 7:36 PM EST

Mariners' Seager making case at third

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kyle Seager is in a battle With Chone Figgins for playing time this spring, and the young Mariners third baseman made a strong early statement on Sunday with a 3-for-3 day that included a well-hit home run to center field in the first inning of a 5-4 victory over the Padres.

Seager, 24, also made an excellent defensive play to rob James Darnell of a hit in the second inning. He finished the day with two RBIs and two runs scored, before being replaced in the sixth inning by Vinnie Catricala.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Seager worked to add some strength and make his swing more compact this offseason, and the early results have been encouraging.

"I'll tell you, that was probably the best ball I've seen him hit," manager Eric Wedge said. "And he's hit some balls hard last year, and early on this year. But that was a little different sound on that ball he hit to center field.

"And he made a nice play at third base, and hit a couple other balls hard, too," said Wedge. "You can't underestimate just what it means to have a little big league experience under your belt as you come into this year. We've got a lot of guys in that territory that broke in last year. I'm sure it's going to help him, as well as everybody."

Figgins started in center field and went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored.

Vargas on quicker timetable this spring

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas needs to be ready earlier than normal this spring, as he's in line to be Seattle's second-day starter when the regular season opens March 28-29 in Tokyo against the A's.

So the 29-year-old California native was pleased with his Cactus League debut on Sunday, when he threw four perfect innings -- retiring 12 straight batters with one strikeout -- in a 5-4 victory over the Padres.

"It was obviously going to be different," Vargas said of this spring. "Nobody ever really starts the season on the 28th of March, but where we're at now I'm pretty confident that the pitch count and innings aren't going to be a problem."

Vargas got a jump start by pitching 5 1/3 innings in two intrasquad starts last week, and clearly had an advantage over the Padres, who reported to camp eight days later than Seattle and were making their Cactus League debut.

"I think it helped," Vargas said of the intrasquad work. "My arm has felt great since the beginning. I don't know if I did something different or what, but it was easy to get my arm in shape and every time out, I've felt fresh."

Vargas was on a four-inning, 60-pitch count limit, but needed only 50 pitches to get through four frames.

"I felt good," he said. "I was around the zone, was throwing the ball pretty much in the areas I was trying to. It's getting work, but at the same time it's getting outs."

Manager Eric Wedge was impressed by the work of Vargas, who was 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA last year while throwing a career-best 201 innings.

"He threw the ball great today," said Wedge. "He commanded the baseball, worked ahead, and all his pitches were doing what they're supposed to do. I can't say enough about how he pitched today."

The early start for the Mariners definitely has made a difference out of the gate, Wedge said.

"It helped all these guys," he said. "It was necessary for us to do it. The 21st is a key day for us, because that's our last day here before we get on a plane. We have to be pretty close to where we want to be at that time. We'll still be able to do a little work over in Japan prior to those first two games that count, but we need to get a lot of work done here."

Vargas is in line for three more Cactus League starts before the team heads to Japan. Felix Hernandez, who'll be the Mariners' Opening Day starter in Tokyo, will make his first spring start on Tuesday against the Reds in Peoria.

Sherrill slated to return on Monday

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Veteran left-handed reliever George Sherrill will make his first appearance of the spring on Monday, after being held back to rest a sore elbow early in camp. Sherrill is scheduled to follow starter Hishashi Iwakuma in the 12:05 p.m. PT game against the Padres at Peoria Stadium.

Sherrill, 34, signed a one-year deal with Seattle as a free agent, after posting a 3-1 record and 3.00 ERA in 51 games for the Braves last year. He is the one Mariners pitcher who was shut down the first two weeks, after he felt some tenderness when throwing right before camp opened.

In recent days, Sherrill threw his first bullpens, as well as two live batting practice sessions, and says he feels ready to take the next test on Monday.

"I'm eager to get in there and see how it holds up, facing somebody besides our own guys," he said. "But at the same time, I need to be smart and make sure I'm hot and warm and not trying to throw a million mph.

"It's a process. I need to make sure I get all my ducks in a row and make sure everything feels good, and get this first [outing] over with and on to the next step."

Worth noting

• Young catcher Jesus Montero started at designated hitter in his second Cactus League game and hit three balls to the opposite field, all directly down the right-field line. The first two were caught, but the third dropped in for an RBI double.

• The Mariners blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning, helped by a couple of defensive misplays by Catricala and shortstop Nick Franklin, while non-roster reliever Jarrett Grube, 30, gave up three hits and a walk.

"You've got some kids out there and some guys that haven't been in camp before," Wedge said. "Hey, you've got to go through it, and they'll be better for it."

Seattle then won the game in the bottom of the ninth when Mike Wilson singled and scored on a double by Johermyn Chavez.

• The Mariners will send their four top young pitching prospects to the mound Monday in a 'B' game in Goodyear, Ariz., against the Reds. Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez are all scheduled to throw in the 9 a.m. PT contest at the Reds' practice facility.

• The Mariners still have 67 players in camp -- though young pitcher Stephen Pryor has been absent the past week for personal reasons -- but that number figures to be reduced shortly, as Minor League camp opens Monday with pitchers and catchers on the field for the first time. The first full-squad Minor League workout is Saturday.

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.