Rule 5 pick Rollins aims to nail down lefty role in 'pen

Southpaw brings experience as starter in Minors

Rule 5 pick Rollins aims to nail down lefty role in 'pen

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Clearly, the Mariners have wanted to see David Rollins in a Seattle uniform for a long time. They drafted him twice, after all, in 2009 and '10, before he elected to return to school both times.

This past December at the Rule 5 Draft, Seattle got their man. The 25-year-old Rollins is now in camp in Peoria, competing for a job as the second lefty in the bullpen -- the spot once held by the departed Joe Beimel.

"It means a lot, knowing that a team wants you that bad," said Rollins, who will pitch in the Mariners' Spring Training opener on Wednesday. "That means something. To me, it just says they really want to see me succeed."

In a crowded 'pen, Rollins enters the competition with a slight advantage. Per the stipulations of the Rule 5 Draft, he must remain on the big league roster throughout the season, or the club risks losing him back to Houston.

Among Rollins' chief competitors are Lucas Luetge, who posted a 5.00 ERA in 12 outings last season, and Michael Kickham, whose career ERA for San Francisco sits near 11. Rollins, who has never seen big league game action, posted a 3.81 ERA for Double-A Corpus Christi last year.

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"I look forward to it every day, coming in," Rollins said of the battle for a job. "There's nothing better than a little competition with everybody. It makes you better."

Both times Rollins was selected by the Mariners, he opted to return to San Jacinto College -- a few hours from his hometown of Carthage, Texas. He joined the Blue Jays after they drafted him in the 24th round of the 2011 Draft. The following year, he was traded to Houston in the deal that sent J.A. Happ -- also a Mariners offseason acquisition -- to Toronto.

Manager Lloyd McClendon called the competition for the second lefty spot behind Charlie Furbush "open" and added that he's looking for a southpaw who can get outs against hitters from both sides of the plate.

"I don't particularly care for a guy that's just a specialist," McClendon said. "I'd rather have a guy that's capable of giving multiple innings."

Rollins certainly fits the bill, having made 64 starts in the Minor Leagues and 12 for Double-A Corpus Christi last season. He also posted relatively even splits against righties (.239 BAA, 1.20 WHIP) and lefties (.256, 1.32 WHIP).

Perhaps the most important pitch in Rollins' arsenal -- especially if he's going to be asked to get righties out -- is his breaking ball. He called the pitch "a work in progress" so far in camp.

"I was throwing it the other day in our live BP," Rollins said. "I was throwing it backdoor -- I need that pitch to keep them off balance and keep them off my fastball."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.