PEORIA, Ariz. – The Seattle Mariners invited Mike Sweeney to camp almost as a courtesy after hhis marvelous 2009 season, and asked only one thing of him.
“We asked him to come in and show us what he could do,” manager Don Wakamatsu said.
What Sweeney can do, apparently, is hit – a monster home run on Thursday that gave him an eight-game spring hitting streak and a .577 batting average.
“I probably haven’t been this healthy in four or five years,” Sweeney said. “I’m being consistent in an inconsistent number of at-bats, and I owe that to (batting coach) Alan Cockrell. He keeps me ready, keeps me hitting.”
A non-roster invitee after batting .281 last season as the Mariners’ right-handed designated hitter, Sweeney’s best chance this spring seemed to be playing well enough to interest another team.
He’s doing that, but the Mariners are now admitting openly that the 35-year-old has all but played himself onto the opening day roster. No, they won’t say it, just yet – not on the record. Yes, it would take something unforeseen to keep him off the 25-man roster.
A huge influence in the clubhouse, Sweeney has shown he can still hit, hit with power and hit coming off the bench. In just 26 at-bats, he has 14 hits and half of them are for extra bases.
“I was talking to Casey Kotchman this morning and telling him not to put a ceiling on what he can accomplish,” Sweeney said. “I told him to expect to be great every day, and I realized that was my goal this spring.
“I strongly desire to be a Seattle Mariner again this season. I’ve got a week left to win a job, and I need to be great every day, every opportunity.”
Sweeney probably makes the team instead of Ryan Garko, whose bat and defense have been ordinary this spring and who has minor league options remaining.
Keeping tabs on Lee
Cliff Lee played five minutes of catch Thursday, but the Mariners aren’t certain he’s much closer to pitching for them than he was last week.
“I felt a little better, but it was only playing catch,” Lee said.
Sidelined by a strained abdominal muscle, Lee has been prohibited from baseball activities but began an every-other-day throwing program Tuesday. The team will continue to re-evaluate its No. 2 starter on a daily basis and determine when he can either be pushed further or shut down completely.
Carp casualty of logjam
First baseman Mike Carp was optioned to Tacoma, a move that surprised no one – including Carp.
The 23-year-old batted .315 in 21 games with Seattle last September, but his chances of making the team in 2010 ended the day the Mariners signed Casey Kotchman.
Once in camp, Carp found himself in line with Garko, Tommy Everidge, Brad Nelson and Jack Hannahan behind Kotchman, and playing time was hard to come by.
In a spring that was 21 games old, Carp had been given 16 at-bats.
For starters, he’s a reliever
He was no Felix Hernandez, but Shawn Kelley enjoyed his first start of the spring against the Kansas City Royals.
“I threw 48 pitches, which was just about where I wanted to be, and got 22/3 innings,” Kelley said. “I usually go one inning, and that second inning I’m kind of just hanging on, but this time my second inning was my best.
“I really wanted to get that last out, but I was tired and getting pitches up.”
The Mariners are stretching Kelley out to make him more versatile in the bullpen, not their rotation, and would like to see him work more than one inning.
“If they want me to go two, three innings, I can do that with the number of pitches I threw today,” he said. “If they want me to start, I need to throw about 100.”
Wakamatsu appreciates the offer, but has no plans to pursue it.
Sorry spring, so far
In a split-squad doubleheader, the Mariners couldn’t score behind Hernandez and lost to the Cleveland Indians, 3-1 – then gave up five ninth-inning runs to lose to Kansas City, 8-7.
The two losses left Seattle with an 8-14-1 spring record.
Here’s the kind of stat managers love to see, even in spring training losses. Against the Royals, all seven Seattle runs scored after there were two outs. … Felix Hernandez has one start remaining before opening day, and he pitched well enough if a little wildly against Cleveland: five innings, one earned run, four walks seven strikeouts. … Leading 7-3 in the ninth against the Royals, Seattle reliever Chad Cordero got two outs but couldn’t get a third, leaving with three runs in and two men on base. Right-hander Wes Littleton allowed a hit and walked two, the last one with the bases loaded, forcing home the winning run. … Kansas City’s Willie Bloomquist, a product of Port Orchard’s South Kitsap High who spent seven seasons with Seattle, is coming off surgeries to both knees and batting .476 this spring. He has 10 hits, nine of them singles. … Josh Wilson showed what hustle can do, scoring from second base on a two-out infield single by Franklin Gutierrez. … Kodak Moment: Bullpen coach John Wetteland, behind the plate before the game, was approached by a little girl in the stands who requested a high-five. Through the backstop screen, Wetteland obliged, and the girl ran back to her parents, beaming. … Gutierrez went 3-for-3 with three RBI, giving him a team-high 11.
Seattle plays host to Cincinnati at 1:05 p.m. today in a game that will be broadcast on 710-AM. Probable starting pitchers: Mike Leake vs. Luke French.