Notes: Mariners put faith in Rivera

Notes: Mariners put faith in Rivera

PEORIA, Ariz. -- While the Mariners aren't concerned at all about who will start at catcher this season, the same can't be said for who will serve as Kenji Johjima's backup.

Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said on Thursday that the team needs to get more offense from its reserve backstop in 2007 -- a point manager Mike Hargrove reiterated on Friday, stating Rene Rivera simply has to produce more.

"When you take Joh's bat out of the lineup, you'd like to replace some of it and we didn't at all last year," Hargrove said. "So it's important that we get more offense out of him. Is it imperative? It depends on who you talk to."

That could mean Seattle is in the market for a more dependable backup catcher, one with more offensive skills, though Hargrove thinks Rivera can handle the job. He just hasn't shown that he can do it yet.

Last season, the 23-year-old Rivera appeared in 35 games, but he hit just .152 and struck out 29 times in 99 at-bats. That's getting essentially nothing in nearly 100 at-bats, and that's not something Bavasi or Hargrove are willing to watch again this season.

"You'll have one manager tell you he wants his backup catcher to be a left-handed-hitting, offensive catcher," Hargrove said. "Another manager will tell you that he wants a catch-and-throw guy. If the only thing he does is handle a pitching staff well, for me that's good enough."

The Mariners think they have both in Johjima, who is not only a strong defensive catcher but one with veritable offensive skills. He hit .291 last season with 18 home runs and 76 RBIs, while leading the team with a .344 batting average with runners in scoring position. Along with that, he was also the toughest player to strike out in the American League.

Finding someone who can capably handle the backup job isn't as easy as it might seem, according to Hargrove.

"A lot of people look at role players and backup catchers as an easy position to fill and play," he said. "Probably physically and mentally, it's tougher than playing every day, because you have to do extra stuff and talk yourself into the fact that you can do that job mentally. Not everyone can do it. I don't know if Rene can do it."

Rivera reported to Spring Training in the best shape the Mariners have seen him in. He weighed 214 pounds, 24 pounds lighter than he did a year ago.

"I think that it's important that we get more offense out of Rene, and there's more offense there," Hargrove said. "For him to be a legitimate Major League catcher, we need to have more performance out of him."

Glove still good: Infielder Rey Ordonez hasn't appeared in a Major League game since 2004, though his defensive skills hardly looked rusty following the first four days of workouts at the Peoria Sports Complex.

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Ordonez flashed some fine leather playing shortstop and second base during drills. With second baseman Jose Lopez out for a few weeks, Ordonez could get a lot of repetition there, along with Willie Bloomquist.

"It felt like playing real baseball again," said the 36-year-old Ordonez.

Aside from playing in roughly two dozen winter-ball games in Puerto Rico, the veteran shortstop hasn't been on a big-league field since appearing in 67 games with the Cubs in 2004.

Ordonez is in camp as a non-roster invitee and a long shot to make the Mariners' 25-man Opening Day roster. A three-time Gold Glove shortstop with the Mets from 1996-2002, Ordonez understands his odds of making the team aren't good.

"I'm happy the Mariners signed me," he said. "There's 30 teams out there. If I don't make it here, there are 29 more teams."

Lowe update: Still no official word on the MRI that reliever Mark Lowe had on Wednesday, though the right-hander indicated that the only thing they found in his elbow is some scar tissue toward the back.

"Everything was fine where the surgery was, everything is healing up smooth," Lowe said. "The only thing is there's scar tissue on the back side. So they'll either go in and clean it up, or get more aggressive with the rehab and get some more range of motion and go from there."

Mariners team physician Dr. Edward Khalfayan and Dr. Lewis Yocum -- who performed Lowe's original surgery in October and administered the MRI -- had yet to discuss the MRI, but Lowe knows he'll either be faced with minor arthroscopic surgery or a more aggressive rehabilitation program with more range-of-motion exercises.

Either way, Lowe said, he's been told he could start pitching competitively again by June.

Defending Sexson: First baseman Richie Sexson has drawn a lot of criticism in his first two seasons -- everything from not hitting for average to striking out too much.

Hargrove isn't buying it.

"It always amazes me watching people criticize a guy with 39 home runs because he's only hitting .240. C'mon," Hargrove said. "I'd love Richie to hit .300. ... But I'd much rather he hit 30 homers. [Safeco Field] isn't built for right-handers, and guys with power usually give up some average to get those homers."

Sexson has 73 combined home runs the past two seasons, 38 at spacious Safeco Field, where right-handed power hitters typically struggle.

"I know a lot of people are down on the season I had," Sexson told The Associated Press, "but find another right-handed hitter who can do that in that in that park, and I would say, 'Thank you very much.'"

Corey Brock is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.