PEORIA, Ariz. - As much as Jamie Burke wanted to show his excitement, he just couldn't. Not yet, anyway. The Mariners made five more roster cuts on Wednesday morning, and when the dust cleared, there were only two lockers along "Catchers' Row" at the Peoria Sports Complex still occupied. Above one of them was the name "Johjima." And above the other one was "Burke."
"I haven't been told that it is official, and I still want to hear it from [manager Mike Hargrove] before I believe it," Burke said of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. "Everyone pretty much knows what's happening, and I do, too. But until Mike tells me, I'm not going to jump to any conclusions." The writing on every wall in the place seemingly says that at age 35, Jamie Burke finally will get to participate in Opening Day ceremonies in a Major League ballpark -- in this case, next Monday afternoon at Safeco Field. The Mariners will open the season against the Athletics with two catchers, and the fact there are only two in camp right now suggests strongly that Burke has a spot on Seattle's 25-man Opening Day roster. Rene Rivera, the No. 2 catcher last season, was sent to Double-A West Tennessee. "Don't get me wrong," Burke said. "I'm very excited." But personal history tells Burke that he should wait to celebrate. Burke was in this exact same position three years ago in Tucson, Ariz., when he was told that he would be on the White Sox Opening Day roster. But the day before the Sox broke camp, starting pitcher Estaban Loaiza came down with a sore neck. "They were going to start the season with 11 pitchers," Burke recalled, "but when the [Loaiza] thing happened, they changed their minds and went with 12 pitchers. I was the odd man out." Burke eventually was promoted, batted .333 in 120 games for the Sox and thought his long road to the big leagues was complete. It wasn't. He has played in one Major League game since, and he eagerly awaits his first "real" Opening Day. "If it really happens, I would be at a loss for words," said Burke, the former Oregon State place-kicker said. "The first thing I would say to Mike is: 'Thanks for the opportunity.' He gave me a chance, and that's all I could ask for. I was able to do well, but the main thing is I appreciate the opportunity." Burke signed a Minor League contract Nov. 16, was invited to big-league camp and, apparently, has done what it takes to become Kenji Johjima's backup. But until it becomes unequivocally official, Burke won't assume anything. After all, the Mariners could still trade for another backup catcher or claim someone off waivers. Teams have until the day of their first game to finalize the 25-man Opening Day roster. Five and out: Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez was supposed to pitch seven innings in his final tune-up before Opening Day, but he departed after the fifth inning on Wednesday. Hargrove said Hernandez "tightened up a little" during a long bottom half of the fifth inning. And rather than send him out for the sixth inning, it was decided to have Hernandez finish his day in the left-field bullpen, where he threw 18 pitches. Hernandez held the Rangers to two runs and seven hits.
Afterward, Hernandez pronounced himself "100 percent ready" for his first career Opening Day start."Felix pitched well," Hargrove said. The Mariners hit the ball well, especially third baseman Adrian Beltre (4-for-5 with a home run), designated hitter Jose Vidro (3-for-4) and first baseman Richie Sexson (3-for-5 with three runs scored). Champs honored: The Class-A California League champion Inland Empire 66ers were presented championship rings prior to Wednesday's game against the Rangers. Inland Empire defeated Visalia three-games-to-two in the finals. Among the players receiving rings were former No. 1 draft choice Matt Tuiasosopo, Eric O'Flaherty and Andy Hargrove, the 25-year-old son of the Mariners' manager. This 'n that: Right-hander Mark Lowe has received medical clearance to start playing catch. Lowe underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Oct. 6. He is not expected to pitch in a game for at least one month. ... Both managers were warned in the seventh inning by plate umpire Todd Tichenor after Rangers right fielder Marlon Byrd was nearly hit by a Justin Lehr pitch. Earlier, two Mariners had been hit by pitches. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes was supposed to pitch the eighth inning, but lasted only two batters. He surrendered a double to Brad Wilkerson, walked Miguel Ojeda and then said something to the plate umpire. He was immediately ejected. It would have been Rhodes' final appearance of the spring, but now he'll pitch in one of the two games against the Cubs in Las Vegas. Seats still available: As of Thursday morning, nearly 3,000 tickets remained for Monday's regular-season opener against the Athletics at Safeco Field. Tickets can be purchased at www.mariners.com. On deck: The Mariners are scheduled for split-squad games Thursday, with most of the regulars going on the road for a 7:05 p.m. PT game against the Giants. Meanwhile, the other team will remain in Peoria, Ariz., for a 12:05 PT game against the Padres. Left-hander Jarrod Washburn starts against the Giants, while Sean White, Jake Woods and Jon Huber are slated to face San Diego.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.