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February 15, 2011 at 1:56 PM

Next generation of Mariners continue working out while awaiting Ken Griffey Jr.’s arrival

Despite the headlines being dominated by Ken Griffey Jr. this morning, the Mariners did indeed continue working out at their spring training headquarters here in Peoria, AZ.
The video you see up above is of Dustin Ackley, thought by many to be one of this franchise’s future cornerstones, taking his cuts in the batting cage during BP this morning. Position players don’t report here for several more days, so this is just some early work being taken by Ackley, Matt Tuiasosopo, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Jack Wilson as they await the rest of their teammates.
New hitting coach Chris Chambliss, who has some stories to tell from his fabled days with the New York Yankees, is using this time getting to know some of his players.
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Tuiasosopo arrived here today and has a big year ahead of him. He’s got one more season remaining as Mariners property before the team has to make a final call on him as a six-year free agent.
I chatted briefly with Tuiasosopo this morning and he’s ready to take a shot at a backup corner infielder’s job. It’s not entirely in his hands, since the team already will likely already has other players who can fill backup needs in the middle infield. Those would be Adam Kennedy, Josh Wilson and Brendan Ryan.
Ryan will likely be the starting second baseman on opening day and would also fill a backup need at shortstop. If he had to move over, Kennedy could play second base.
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Kennedy can also play the infield corners and some outfield. That’s what Tuiasosopo primarily does, so it could come down to his being able to out-hit Kennedy, Wilson and whoever else is in the way. But if the team only goes with one backup infielder, he could be out of luck.
With the Mariners likely looking to carry a 12-man pitching staff, Tuiasosopo could become victim to a numbers game. If the team takes only four extra bats, Tuiasosopo’s fate could come down to whether the M’s carry one added infielder or not. If they go with an additional guy in the outfield, then there’d be no room for an additional infield backup in the corners.
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Besides the early arrivals to camp, the Mariners have all pitchers and catchers accounted for except reliever Yusmeiro Petit, delayed by visa troubles in Venezuela. The news on that today was good, with Petit now expected to arrive in another day or two.
Over on the pitching side, Felix Hernandez got in his first bullpen session since camp opened.

We spoke to Hernandez the past couple of days and he says his life hasn’t changed all that much since he womn the Cy Young Award. He appears to be taking on more of a leadership role. This morning, I saw him seated with some of the minor leaguers in the clubhouse before the workout, chatting casually with them as though he was a part of their regular group.
There’s been quite a bit of talk about Hernandez’s Mohawk hairdo. I asked him whether it was inspired by Brandon League, who sits in the locker next to him. Hernandez laughed and shook his head.
“I was in Venezuela and I said ‘I want something different’,” he said. “And my barber said ‘We can do this’ and so, I said ‘Alright, let’s do it.’
“And I like it now. But we’ll see when the season starts. If I lose one game — gone!”
Hernandez has a diamond-stud earring I saw him attaching prior to yesterday’s workout. But that was before a team meeting in which manager Eric Wedge introduced some rules for the players.
Among them: no cellphones in the clubhouse and no earrings on the field.
Off came Hernandez’s earring. He’s OK with it.
Hernandez is also more than OK with the fact the Mariners signed his older brother, Moises, 26, to a minor league contract last week. The elder Hernandez, plagued by arm troubles in recent years, didn’t pitch at all in 2010 although he just recently served as a relief pitcher in the Venezuelan Winter League.
“He was happy,” Hernandez said. “He was so happy.”
Hernandez’s said his parents are thrilled as well. He and Moises work out regularly together.
“He has a chance to be here with me someday,” he said. “We work out together because I don’t like to work out alone. We just motivate each other all the time.”
Hernandez’s parents might be happy just to have both kids out of their house for good. Hernandez described playing baseball with his brother when they were younger.
“When we were little kids, we’d break all the lights in my house,” he said. “When we were 13, 14 years old, we used to play on the porch and we’d break everything. Now, they’ve got two pros from the house.”
Mariners manager Wedge watched Hernandez throw his bullpen session today. Wedge has made no secret of the fact that Hernandez — obviously — will be the opening day starter and plans to backload his work schedule from that April 1 date. So, while there are no plans to hold Hernandez out of any spring games, the team will be monitoring his workload here to make sure things don’t get too crazy.
“He looked like Felix,” he said. “He’s a special pitcher with special ability. He looked good. His first couple of times around, you let him get his feet under him. But it’s a little bit different for a lot of us because I haven’t seen a lot of these guys live. I’ve seen them on videotape, a few of them across the diamond on other teams a few years back. But it’s been neat to see the guys that I’ve been reading on and watching on video get out there and throw for the first time.
“But I am not quick to judge. So, I think it’s important for them to know that. I’ll just give them some time to get into it.”
I asked Wedge about Griffey and the fact he’ll be coming to spring training in March. Wedge said he was used to having former Cleveland Indians ballplayers like Tim Belcher, Ellis Burks and (Mariners bench coach) Robbie Thompson serve as special assistants and come in to help out.
“I think there’s always a place for that,” he said. “I think the one thing that has to be done is…give them the direction. Make sure that you’re spreading him around to where he’s having an impact. If he’s in spring training for a week, then you make sure you put him in a position where he can help out, whether he’s in the outfield, or the offensive side, or just general conversation.
“I think that’s all good. You look at, obviously, the Hall of Fame player that he is, the experiences that he’s had, the success that he’s had, and obviously there’s a lot to be taken from that.”
Wedge would also like to see Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson and maybe John Olerud come down to spring training.
“I think it’s important to have that connection to the past,” Wedge said. “I want our players to understand, first and foremost, the history of baseball and have a good understanding of what’s gone on before them. I think you have to respect that.
“But ultimately, you have the history of the Seattle Mariners, too. It’s a short-term history. It’s not going to be a thick book like some of these 100 years-plus organizations. So, there’s no reason not to understand the short-term history of Seattle and some of the things that have happened here.”
Once you learn that history about a team and city, he said, “the more passionate you’re going to be about it.”

Comments | Topics: Brendan Ryan


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