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March 21, 2012 at 10:56 AM

Mariners announce rotation and starting pitching assignments in Japan

The Mariners answered one big question about their 2012 season today by announcing their starting pitching rotation.
The team had already announced that Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas will be the first two starters and will start the games against the A’s in Japan March 28-29.
Today, manager Eric Wedge said the other three starters to begin the season will be Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood.
Noesi came over from the Yankees along with Jesus Montero in the Michael Pineda deal and appears to be the No. 3 starter (Wedge didn’t specifically say it that way, but he did say Noesi then Beavan then Millwood in that order). Beavan, part of the Cliff Lee deal two years ago, will be in the season-opening rotation for the first time in his career — he started 15 games last year, going 5-6.
Millwood, a 14-year Major League vet signed as a minor league free agent, beat out Japanese import Hisashi Iwakuma for the final spot. Wedge announced Iwakuma will begin the season in long relief. Erasmo Ramirez has also gotten starts this spring. Wedge did not talk about any other pitchers so it’s left unclear where Ramirez will begin the season, but Tacoma is a good bet.
Wedge also announced that Noesi and Iwakuma will start the two exhibition games the team will play in Japan on March 24 against the Hanshin Tigers and March 26 against the Yomiuri Giants.
The team can take 30 players to Japan, and Millwood will stay behind since he will not be needed to pitch there. However, he will likely be on the 28-man playing roster the team must declare for the Japan trip so that he will be eligible for the first games when the team returns.
The team currently has 38 players in its Major League camp and will announce tomorrow the 30 who will make the trip. Larry Stone does a nice job here of breaking down how he thinks the rest of the roster will look.
Here’s what Wedge said in announcing the rotation: “Noesi, Beavan and Millwood will fill out our rotation. We are going to have Noesi, he is going to start the first exhibition game, Iwakuma will start the second exhibition game. As of right now we are going to leave Millwood back here, as has been our plan all along in regards to leaving one pitcher back here, and he will continue to make his starts as he continues through it. We’ll have Beavan and Vargas have simulated games which will prepare Vargas for the second game that counts as well as make sure Beavan is ready in case we need him.”
“. … We are going to have Iwakuma in the bullpen and he is going to serve as our long guy as well as middle relief and quite frankly I think that’s the best way to transition him this year with the history he had last year with the health and what not and introducing him to this game and helping him initially get off to a good start we feel like that’s his best role. We feel like that’s the best thing for him initially.”
There has been some question as to the time it takes Iwakuma to warm up and whether that would make him a good fit for the bullpen. Wedge said that was “another thing that went into our decision. The guy loves to throw. It’s not a problem for him to get up early and throw a little bit and get a little bit closer to where he needs to get to and then if we call on him he’s ready and if we don’t call on him he’s thrown a little bit anyway which iss what he would normally do. I think this is a young man that is getting stronger and really working hard and as we break camp I feel like that is the best role for him right now.”
Many expected Iwakuma so step right into the rotation when he signed. Wedge said he has had a few talks with him the last two days to make sure he understood the decision.
“I told him that ‘listen, you are on the ball club and that’s an honor in and of itself,”’ Wedge said. “Talk about 12 pitchers of 35 we had in here and also let him know that the role that we are going to have him in I think he was appreciative of the conversation that we had and he understands the whys and the wherefores after we had it with him. But you never know what to expect when you walk into an office with a manager so I wanted to make sure that he understood it the best that he could, and we talked to him again this morning. But ultimately what he needs to understand that when you are playing Major League baseball and you have 162 games and you are playing every day, you need every bit of those 12. It’s a little bit different than in Japan when you are not playing as much and it’s just a little bit different mindset and set up — here you need all of your guys and they all serve a primary role for you and he is going to be part of that mix.”
As for Millwood, Wedge said: “He made this ballclub. He made the decision for us just by the way he went out and pitched and competed and the stuff that we saw, he did a great job with his fastball yesterday and he did a nice job throughout camp. And the way he can control the ball game all of those are separators on his behalf.”
Wedge said he saw all he needed to see of Millwood to know he can still be competitive.
“(There were) really no questions, just a matter of stuff and making sure that we saw what we needed to see,” Wedge said. “You don’t question his mindset or his work ethic or the way he competes or his knowledge and feel — those are all a given. It was just making sure that his arm was far enough along.”
The team also today released veteran right-handed reliever Shawn Camp. Wedge said Camp didn’t really do anything wrong but was simply caught in the numbers game.
“And that’s again a product of our camp here, too,” he said. “When you look at all the veterans that have competed here and all the young kids, we expected him to be on our ballclub when we made that decision this winter. But when you look at some of the young kids and how they have performed and that they are going to be in this mix, and quite frankly a few are going to be on the club. That’s really the separator. And Shawn is going to be in the Big Leagues with somebody, I’m sure of that. But ultimately when you talk about where we are with everything and the options that we have and the depth that we have and the way these kids have stepped up a little bit quicker than we anticipated, that’s where we are.”
You can watch Wedge make the announcement in the video below:

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Comments | Topics: Hisashi Iwakuma, Jesus Montero

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