Mariners narrowing down roster

Mariners narrowing down roster

TUCSON, Ariz. -- So many players still in camp and so few Opening Day roster spots available.

That's the situation facing the Mariners, who basically have two or three vacancies heading into the final 10 days of camp, and a bus full of players hoping to line up on the first-base line at Safeco Field on April 2.

"I think the final bullpen spot and a utility spot will be the toughest decisions we'll have to make," manager Mike Hargrove said Thursday. "There might be two bullpen spots [available], but probably one, and our backup catcher still has to be determined.

"But [backup catcher] won't be as tough as the other two."

Every starting position has been virtually locked up since the start of Spring Training, and the starting rotation has blended into a nice group this spring, although the exact order hasn't been determined. The bullpen remains a bit unsettled, even if the elbows of closer J.J. Putz and setup lefty Arthur Rhodes are fine and dandy.

Willie Bloomquist and Ben Broussard appear to have security in backup roles, which could mean either Jeremy Reed or Mike Morse could be on the bubble. Other position players -- Rey Ordonez and Adam Jones come to mind -- could be a visit to the manager's office from being sent to the Minor Leagues.

The same goes for several pitchers still in camp, including Sean Green, Jon Huber and Eric O'Flaherty.

Left-hander George Sherrill, surprisingly, is straddling the fence.

He has been rocked regularly this spring.

"He needs to show us something," Hargrove said. "There is a certain amount of grace time that you give people who have been in the big leagues and been important to your club. But there comes a point in time when they need to step up.

"Now would be a real good time [for Sherrill] to step up."

Sherrill was a bullpen workhorse last season, appearing in 72 games. He was used primarily as a situational lefty, facing the league's toughest left-handed batters.

But unless he gets his act together in the final 10 days, the Mariners' season might start without him, which could open the door for either Brandon Morrow or Sean White. Both are right-handed, and while Hargrove said he would prefer having three right-handers and three left-handers in the 'pen, he would rather have the best 12 pitchers on the staff, period.

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And as of Thursday, Morrow (0.00 ERA) and White (1.64 ERA) are better than most candidates.

"I can envision breaking camp with Morrow on the staff," Hargrove said. "Will that happen? I don't know."

As for White, the Rule 5 Draft pick from the Pirates by way of the Braves, has a legitimate shot.

"Generally, I don't like Rule 5 picks," Hargrove said, "But Sean White has certainly made a case for himself. He's not your typical Rule 5 guy. He's older, has more maturity and has more of an idea of how to get people out. He's not just a wide-eyed kid throwing as hard as he can."

Here's a closer look at how the Mariners roster, which must be submitted to Major League Baseball by noon ET on April 1, shapes up.

Pitchers (12)
Starters: Right-handers Felix Hernandez, Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver and left-handers Jarrod Washburn and Horacio Ramirez

Comment: Hargrove still hasn't decided on the exact order of the rotation. He could go with the 20-year-old Hernandez to pitch Opening Day and come back with veteran southpaw Washburn in the second game or vice versa. That decision could come as soon as Friday after Hernandez starts against the Angels.

Ramirez and Washburn have been sensational all spring, while Batista has been solid and Weaver up-and-down.

Relievers: Left-handers Jake Woods, Sherrill and Rhodes and right-handers Putz, Julio Mateo, Chris Reitsma and/or White and Morrow

Comment: Morrow has been the pitching star of the spring, looking more like a seasoned vet than someone who was pitching in college at this time a year ago. Inexperience is one factor going against him, along with the fact that he isn't on the 40-man roster, and White must be on the 25-man Opening Day roster or offered back to the Braves for $25,000.

Sore elbows experienced by Putz and Rhodes have been a bit of a concern, but both should be ready to go by Opening Day against the Athletics.

Catchers (2)
Starter: Kenji Johjima

Reserves: Rene Rivera or Jamie Burke

Comment: There are enough new pitchers on the staff this spring to keep Johjima busy learning different pitching patterns. The overall ERA of the projected five starters has been superb this spring, and Johjima deserves some of the credit for that. But as of Thursday, he still was pitching a shutout (0-for-9) when it comes to throwing out basestealers.

Infielders (6)
Starters: First baseman Richie Sexson, second baseman Jose Lopez, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and third baseman Adrian Beltre

Reserves: Bloomquist and Broussard

Comment: The left side of the infield should be one of the best in the American League this season. Beltre has quick hands and feet and an accurate throwing arm. Betancourt has great range and a strong arm. He could become a .300 hitter with some power -- the best all-around shortstop since Alex Rodriguez played the position from 1996-2000. Sexson and Beltre again will be counted on to be two of the primary run producers in the lineup.

Outfielders (4)
Starters: Left fielder Raul Ibanez, center fielder Ichiro Suzuki and right fielder Jose Guillen

Reserve: Reed

Comment: The versatility of Bloomquist and Broussard are critical to the overall makeup of the roster. Bloomquist can play seven positions, including all three outfield spots, and Broussard, a natural first baseman, has looked good this spring in both right and left field. With Guillen coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, right field could provide the best chance for Reed to get some playing time.

Designated hitter (1)
Starter: Jose Vidro

Comment: The switch-hitter with a .301 career batting average, 115 home runs and 550 RBIs, is a three-time All-Star (2000, '02 and '03) for three different teams. He's not exactly the next coming of Edgar Martinez, but should handle the DH duties with plenty of positive results. His walk-to-strikeout ratio (397-463) in 4,257 career at-bats is the sort of hitter the lineup needs.

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