McClendon, Mariners ready to open Cactus League play

After two weeks of training, players eager to get out on field for games

McClendon, Mariners ready to open Cactus League play

PEORIA, Ariz. -- After nearly two weeks of fielding drills, bullpens and batting practice, manager Lloyd McClendon and his club are eager to get started with games. And the first "Play ball!" call comes Wednesday afternoon at a remodeled Peoria Stadium when the Mariners face the Padres in their Cactus League opener.

Right-hander Taijuan Walker gets the start for Seattle against left-hander Jason Lane of the Padres in the annual Peoria Charity Game, which starts at 12:05 p.m. PT and will be broadcast live on ROOT Sports TV and MLB.TV.

After all the offseason buzz about the Mariners' rising hopes in the American League West, they're more than ready to begin the long journey, even if the 32 upcoming Cactus League games won't count for anything more than preparation for the regular season that begins April 6 in Seattle.

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"Very anxious," McClendon said of the wait to get underway. "It's a grind. You get through these days and you're ready to get going. This will give us a chance to start evaluating and seeing them in action and that's what you want."

Catcher Mike Zunino echoed that thought. The 23-year-old has worked with nearly all 28 hurlers in camp at some point already, but wants to see how opposing hitters react to pitches from that arsenal of arms.

"I've tried to catch all the new guys as much as I can," Zunino said. "I haven't caught all the guys that were here from last year, but I have an idea of what they're doing and I talk to them constantly. Two weeks give you a pretty good grasp of what guys are trying to do and what they're working on.

"It's always good to start the games," he said. "You have live BP and track balls here off your own guys, but it'll be nice to see some other arms and get in that game atmosphere."

The Mariners had a relatively light day of practice on Tuesday as McClendon gave his troops a chance to freshen up before the action gets underway. The Mariners don't have an off-day from Cactus League play until March 16.

McClendon said nearly everyone is healthy and ready to roll. Utility man Willie Bloomquist likely will be held out of games initially as he works back from last August's microfracture knee surgery and left-hander James Paxton is a little behind schedule after missing the first 10 days of camp with a bruised forearm.

But Paxton played catch for the second straight day on Tuesday, extending out to about 110 feet, and is slated to throw his first bullpen session off the mound later this week.

Felix Hernandez is also being brought along slower than the other pitchers, per his usual spring routine. McClendon said he wouldn't know when Hernandez would make his Cactus League debut for several more days. At this point, the Mariners have set their starting pitchers for their first six games, through Sunday.

Roenis Elias will open against the Padres on Thursday, with Erasmo Ramirez facing the Dodgers on Friday at Glendale. Hisashi Iwakuma will face the D-backs in a Saturday home game, while Jordan Pries faces the White Sox in Glendale on a split-squad day. J.A. Happ is slated for his Mariners' debut Sunday at Goodyear against the Reds.

You can see the complete list of Cactus League games and broadcast information at Mariners.com.

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.