PHOENIX -- The final score of a Spring Training game usually doesn't mean much, but you might think otherwise after you hear what Angels manager Mike Scioscia did several years ago and the relevance it has to the first of two Cactus League games between the Mariners and Angels this spring. Rewind the calendar to March 1, 2002, when the AL West rivals played a Spring Training game at Peoria Stadium. "I remember that we dominated them the year before," said manager John McLaren of the Mariners' 15-4 season record against the Angels in 2001, "and noticed two buses out back [parked near the visitors clubhouse]. "I told [former Seattle manager] Lou [Piniella], 'They're bringing a lot of players,' and he says, 'What's that all about?'
"I told him, 'They want to win. That's what it's all about.' " How serious were they? "Look at the Spring Training score," McLaren said. "It was 15-2. You figure it out." The Angels went 3-0 against the Mariners that spring, won nine of the 19 games during the regular season, captured the AL West championship and then won the World Series title. Well, the shoe is on the other foot in '08 and the Mariners are taking a similar approach to Wednesday's game against the Angels at Peoria Stadium. The Angels last season won the season series against the Mariners, 13-6, including a late-August three-game sweep at Safeco Field that turned a two-game division lead into a five-game bulge. "I don't want to make a big deal out of it," McLaren said, "but it might be a small step leading to bigger steps." It was important to Scioscia, entering his fourth year as the Angels' skipper, to show the Mariners that his team meant business and no way was his team going to take a whipping similar to 2001, when Seattle won the season series, 15-4, en route to 116 victories and the West title. "I intend to make a similar message," McLaren said. "There are certain points [of Spring Training] we want to start playing guys two days in a row, and it just so happens this is that time." Left fielder Raul Ibanez, first baseman Richie Sexson, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and catcher Kenji Johjima all started Tuesday afternoon's game against the Athletics in Phoenix and will start again on Wednesday -- along with center fielder Ichiro Suzuki, right fielder Brad Wilkerson and second baseman Jose Lopez. If third baseman Adrian Beltre and designated hitter Jose Vidro were available, they also would be in the starting lineup. But Beltre spent the past two days in Mexico following the death of his wife's grandmother, and Vidro is nursing a sore right elbow.
So, this is not just any old Spring Training game for the Mariners?"It won't be a two-bus game," McLaren said, "but it'll be the first time we play some guys in back-to-back games." Achy back: Starter Miguel Batista overcame a sore back and pitched three innings against the Athletics on Tuesday. "My back tightened up after the first inning and I couldn't 'finish' my pitches in the second," he said. "I left a lot of pitches up." Batista said he pitched the third inning because, "I wanted to prove something to myself. I can honestly say that I am in the best shape of my career and I can pitch when I'm hurt. I don't think I ever will be stronger or better prepared to pitch than I am now." He said he proved his point by retiring the Athletics in one-two-three fashion in the third inning. As for the back, he said it's not a big deal and he'll have treatment on it on Wednesday at the Peoria Sports Complex. Change of pace: R.A. Dickey lost control of his knuckleball during a three-walk inning on Tuesday, so he went back to his fastball-changeup arsenal and worked his way out of trouble. "It was a good day for me," he said after the two-inning outing. "One advantage I have is that I still have the arm strength to throw my conventional stuff and survive when I don't have a good knuckleball. Today I was forced to do that." Dickey said his knuckleball wasn't performing well in the first inning because he was rushing. "The adrenaline was going. [Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre] came out and made a nice suggestion, telling me to stay back over the rubber a little longer. That helped." Oh, doctor: Vidro was examined by team medical director Ed Khalfayan on Tuesday and it's not clear when he'll return to the lineup. "We're not going to rush him back. I don't think he'll be back before Friday for sure," McLaren said, adding that Vidro felt something while taking batting practice and kept hitting. "We don't think it's anything major and there's no use in him keep agitating it. We want him to take care of t now and get it healthy." Up next: The first of only two Spring Training games against the Angels is set for Wednesday afternoon at Peoria Stadium. Left-hander Erik Bedard makes his second Cactus League start. He is slated to throw three innings or 50 to 55 pitches. Four right-handers that have not surrendered a run so far this spring -- Cha Seung Baek, Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Brandon Morrow -- also are scheduled to pitch for the Mariners.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.