Outfield competition a lively battle

Outfield competition a lively battle

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The competition for one or two reserve spots on the Mariners' Opening Day roster continues to get more interesting by the day, with no sign of letting up.

With less than three weeks of Spring Training remaining, potential backup outfielders Mike Morse, Wladimir Balentien, Charlton Jimerson and Jeremy Reed are engaged in a "friendly" battle.

"This is as good competition as I've ever seen in a camp," manager John McLaren said.

And it's not at all personal.

"We are all friends and we hope for the best for all of us," Morse said. "We're letting our skills take over and having fun."

While the etched-in-stone outfield starters -- Ichiro Suzuki, Raul Ibanez and Brad Wilkerson -- continue the process of getting their swings groomed for the regular season, the four backup candidates have no such luxury.

It's either play well now or say hello to Tacoma later.

"I have really enjoyed watching them compete," McLaren said. "We want them to show what they got. We're not exactly sure how we want to shape our bench, but our thinking is wide open."

The show-and-tell statistics so far:

• Morse is 18-for-31, leading the team in hits, runs (9), total bases (27), and RBIs (10).

• Balentien is 11-for-34 and leads the team in doubles (6).

• Reed is 6-for-13 with four RBIs and has scored four runs.

• Jimerson is 4-for-18 with four stolen bases in five attempts.

"They all bring something different to the table," McLaren said, "and they are bringing it every day. There are several guys going for that [backup] slot, and it might be two slots, depending how we go with the roster."

If the Mariners open the season with an 11-man pitching staff, it would create an opening on the bench. But a 12-man staff, which is more common these days, would make it more difficult for McLaren to keep both Morse and Jimerson. They are out of options, whereas Balentien and Reed could be sent to the Minors without risk of losing them.

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"I am prepared for anything," Balentien said. "Those things are out of my control so I keep playing my ball and leave that decision up to others. I want to do my job, play hard every day, and let things happen."

Being competitive on the field is one thing, but it hasn't carried over into the clubhouse. The four players have lockers in the same area.

"I never even think about trying to do better than anyone else," Balentien said. "I'm not thinking that way."

Neither is Morse.

"I love these guys like they're my brothers," he said. "We're having fun and that's the main thing. We're all here trying to show our talent. Hopefully we'll all make the team somehow, but we never talk about it. There is no stress, no fighting, no hoping that the other guys do badly. There is none of that."

As the only left-handed hitter of the bunch, Reed appears to have a disadvantage because all three starting outfielders also are left-handed batters.

"That is a factor here," he said. "I would say most teams have a lefty off the bench and it could come down to me or [Greg] Norton. It's a hard thing to think about, a hard thing to talk about. I don't know what's going to happen either way.

"I am trying to prepare myself to be in the big leagues and to help the team win. I don't want to go back to the Minors."

The competition figures to last for the remainder of camp, and finding enough at-bats for the potential reserves could become more limited as the regulars play more innings.

"We're fortunate in that Morse has some versatility," McLaren said. "We can mix him around at third, maybe even at first. We might put one of the regulars in the DH spot and let one of the others play."

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