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3/26/2014 1:53 P.M. ET

Almonte still expected to lead off for Mariners

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Abraham Almonte wasn't in the leadoff spot on Wednesday with a rare day off this spring for the Mariners outfielder, but it's pretty clear that manager Lloyd McClendon has targeted the youngster to fill that role when the regular season opens Monday.

McClendon still isn't committing to lineup positions beyond Robinson Cano being his permanent No. 3 hitter, but Almonte led off and played center field in 20 of Seattle's first 29 Cactus League games prior to Wednesday's contest with the Rangers. And four of the nine games he didn't start in that spot were in split-squad situations where he could only suit up for one of the games.

Endy Chavez led off in seven of the other spring games, including Wednesday, but the veteran outfielder has already been assigned to Triple-A Tacoma to start the season.

While Almonte leads the team with 69 at-bats this spring, he's only hit .174 with a .237 on-base percentage. But McClendon continues to say he likes what he's seen from the 24-year-old, who batted .264 in 25 games with Seattle as a late-season callup last year after an outstanding season with Triple-A Tacoma.

"He's been swinging the bat pretty good for awhile," McClendon said. "He hasn't had the results; even last night he hit a couple balls extremely hard that were caught. In the end, all that stuff evens out. I just look to make sure he's not being overmatched, going out of the strike zone consistently, and I haven't seen those things. I've seen a very consistent approach, where he's barreling balls up, making solid contact. His speed is a pretty nice dimension. It's just nice to have."

And while McClendon has yet to officially commit to a set leadoff man, he leaves little doubt what his message is for Almonte.

"I just want him to be himself," McClendon said. "Don't have a preconceived notion of the type of hitter I want you to be or the type of leadoff hitter other people think you ought to be. Just be yourself. Play your game. Play the game you know how to play.

"Like I tell all my guys, unleash your talents. You've got to be carefree. You can't be afraid to make mistakes. You have to be conscious of mental mistakes, but don't be afraid to make physical mistakes. Go out and unleash your talents and have fun. That's the message I sent to him just like I sent to the rest of the guys."

Acquired from the Yankees for reliever Shawn Kelley last year, Almonte stole 20 bases for Tacoma and has had four seasons in the Minors with 30-plus steals. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder has a blend of speed and power that intrigues McClendon. But there's little doubt as to his main asset.

"Speed is his forte," said the skipper. "Listen, we're all blessed with certain things and he's blessed with speed. If he doesn't use it, shame on him. If he doesn't use it, he's not going to be here. That's the way it is."

Ramirez tabbed as Mariners' No. 2 starter

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said Erasmo Ramirez will start the season's second game in Anaheim on Tuesday after the young right-hander wrapped up a strong spring with five-plus innings of one-run ball in Seattle's 5-3 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old from Nicaragua has put up the best numbers of any Mariners starter this spring, going 3-0 with a 1.14 ERA in 23 2/3 innings over his six Cactus League outings.

While Felix Hernandez will start Monday's opener and Ramirez is slated for Game 2, McClendon declined to name his Nos. 3, 4 and 5 starters yet.

James Paxton is pitching in a Minor League game Thursday - an off day for the Mariners - and seems to be lining up for the No. 3 spot. Roenis Elias will throw Friday against the Rockies, which would line him up to be the No. 4 starter against the A's next Thursday.

But the Mariners haven't named a starter for their final Cactus League game on Saturday, which would presumably go to the No. 5 starter.

McClendon was critical of Ramirez after his previous start, saying he'd gotten away with several pitches when he was ahead in counts that would have been hammered by quality big-league hitters.

"He's a strike thrower," McClendon said. "It's never been an issue of whether he could throw strikes, it's been an issue of whether or not he could throw quality strikes and throw the ball outside the zone when he needed to throw it outside the zone. Today he did a good job with that."

Ramirez threw five scoreless innings against Texas before allowing a leadoff single in the sixth to Adam Rosales. McClendon replaced the youngster with Charlie Furbush at that point and he allowed Rosales to come around to score for the lone run on Ramirez's tally.

He allowed just three hits with no walks and six strikeouts in a 70-pitch outing.

"Today everything was working," Ramirez said. "I got talked to the last time about missing too close to the strike zone on 0-2, 1-2 pitches. I missed a couple strikes in the strike zone and they got a base hit, but most of the time I got ground ball, foul ball or strikeout.

"And that's what I'm looking for, just to be more consistent in that. If I get ahead, just go and finish it. I have to just continue working on that every day. I'm happy with this Spring Training. Now I just have to continue doing my best."

Ramirez was 5-3 with a 4.98 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) last year for Seattle after missing the first few months of the season with soreness in his right triceps. Though he's not always listed among the big-name Mariners pitching prospects, the 5-foot-11 right-hander has risen through the system since signing as an international free agent in 2007 and could be critical to the team's fortunes this season.

"Now I just have to work and keep healthy," he said. "That's my goal for this year, keep healthy and help out the team as much as I can. The last spring I was a little lost and didn't know what to do. But this year, the pitching coach, the trainers, just everyone is putting some ideas in me and helping me find out what I need to do.

"If I feel tired for a day, don't miss that day, just do something for your body to keep it strong. That's what's happened this Spring Training and I want to bring it to the season."

Morrison jumps at chance to promote Motte's cause

PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Cardinals reliever Jason Motte began recruiting Major League players to help promote his "Strike Out Cancer" T-shirt fundraiser this spring, new Mariners first baseman Logan Morrison didn't need to think twice.

Morrison's father, Tom, died of lung cancer in 2010, two months after Logan completed his rookie season with the Marlins. He has since developed his own LoMo Camp for the Cure during offseasons with proceeds going to the American Lung Association, and he'll gladly chip in with Motte's fundraiser, which is being promoted by the MLB Players Association.

"My dad passing away from lung cancer gives me a personal attachment to the cause," Morrison said. "They wanted a volunteer from each team, and I was more than happy to do it.

"It's good to spread the word and get the awareness out there," he said. "Cancer can affect anybody. You don't have to do anything bad to your body for it to affect you. My dad was a non-smoker and he got lung cancer. He thought he had a cold the whole time. He ended up feeling like he was having a heart attack, went into the emergency room and three days later they found out it was Stage 4 and he only lived six more months. It can jump up on you."

Morrison, 26, grew up playing catch and having his dad throw batting practice to him in Kansas City. He said that influence and those memories will never wane as he's dedicated his career to his father.

"Every day, every pitch," he said. "When I'm out there, I don't take anything for granted. I'm trying to play the way he taught me to play and that's all out and hard, staying focused. Even when I work and practice, whether it's taking ground balls every day or fly balls in the outfield or swinging in the cage, all those things were a product of what he taught me.

"The most important thing I took from him was a work ethic, showing up every day, being accountable, all those things that he got from the military. I'm probably not as disciplined as he was," Morrison said with a smile, "but I couldn't be luckier than to have a dad like him and I got 22 years to spend with him."

The website 108stitches.com went live on March 17, with 108 Stitches showcasing the "Strike Out Cancer" tees in each team's colors. Each is promoted by a different player who agreed to join Motte in a partnership that will benefit multiple charities. Each participating player has chosen a charity that will benefit from the T-shirts sales, and for each shirt sold, $5 will go to the Jason Motte Foundation and $5 to a charity of that player's choice. A full list of recipient charities will be listed on the 108 Stitches website soon, along with a photo of each player rep in his team-colored shirt.

"At the end of the day, it's about reaching people," Motte said. "Baseball is great and everything, but there are other really important things going on out there that affect a lot of people. Wearing these T-shirts shows people that they're not alone. They're not sitting there doing chemo by themselves where no one cares. People do care, whether it's friends, family or baseball players. There are people who this has touched and this has affected. This is something we're trying to do to get the word out there and try to raise money to help."

Worth noting

• All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma continues to play catch every day as he works his way back from a sprained tendon in his right middle finger that didn't allow him to grip a baseball all spring until this past week.

"There haven't been any setbacks," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "He's feeling good. I think he wants to rush the process a little bit, but we just can't do that."

• After an 0-for-16 start this spring, outfielder Stefen Romero has gone 16-for-38 (.421) over his last 16 games.

• Veteran catcher Humberto Quintero, who was released from Major League camp on Tuesday, rejoined the Mariners on a Minor League deal Wednesday and will be assigned to Triple-A Tacoma. Outfielder Endy Chavez went through the same process on Tuesday.

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.