The Cactus League doesn’t open until Friday – when Seattle plays Oakland – but the Mariners didn’t wait for it.
They banged out two intra-squad games and have two more scheduled (Tuesday and Wednesday). Conclusions? Felix Hernandez and his 9.00 earned run average and the Mariners first looks at Chone Figgins leading off and Ichiro Suzuki batting third have been encouraging.
Yes, Felix gave up a solo home run to Franklin Gutierrez in his one inning of work, then got three quick outs.
Surprises in camp? There have been a few already.
Those three young phenoms – Dan Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton - now each have an inning against big-league hitters, and each was effective if nervous. No surprise there.
Concerns about the health of shortstop Brendan Ryan remain, but one of the surprises in camp thus far has been Japanese import Munenori Kawasaki. He’s shown range, soft hands, a strong arm and a personality. Has he hit? Not yet, although in yesterday’s game he lined two balls the other way – ala the old Ichiro.
If you’re looking for early surprises, try outfielder Michael Saunders or rookie third baseman Vinnie Catricala. Saunders, all but forgotten in the off-season, has looked good at the plate and yesterday took it upon himself to steal a base to set up a run. His aggressiveness is coming in the right way this spring – swinging at strikes and utilizing his speed.
Catricala, who hasn’t played above AA ball, came to camp with a .322 career average in 327 minor league games. The right-handed hitter homered yesterday, then doubled high off the left field wall. In camp with Kyle Seager, Alex Liddi and Francisco Martinez - third basemen, all – Catricala has earned a longer look.
And then there are the not-so-surprising developments. Tacoma DH Luis Jimeenz is huge, and will be among the first players cut when minor league camp opens March 5. Carlos Guillen has brought a veteran presence to the clubhouse but has largely stayed there – sidelined three days by a calf strain.
With weeks to go before the Mariners leave for Japan on March 22, judgements will be made as carefully as possible, though the truth is evaluations have already begun. There simply isn’t time to give 67 players as much time as each might deserve.
That means in the intra-squad games coming up, it would be wise to put your best at-bat or inning pitched forward.