When the Seattle Mariners open spring training to pitchers and catchers on Sunday they’ll have 35 pitchers to look at – and 39 days in which to do it.
Seattle will play 21 Cactus League games in Arizona this spring, fly 5,794 miles to open the regular season in Tokyo, then fly 5,794 miles back to the Phoenix area for five more exhibition games.
Before the third game of the regular season, the Mariners will have flown more miles (12,000) than some teams will travel in the first six weeks of the season.
Yes this is going to be one unique camp.
When the full Seattle squad turns out on Feb. 17, there will be 67 players for manager Eric Wedge and his staff to evaluate and run through drills, bullpen sessions and batting practice.
The Mariners will face all the usual spring training issues – new faces, new roles, job competition, minor leaguers on the cusp of a big-league career.
They’ll just take them on at a quicker pace than normal.
A year ago, for instance, Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis had the luxury of bringing their ace, Felix Hernandez, along at a leisurely pace for his April 1 opening day assignment.
This spring, Hernandez will have to make his final Arizona exhibition appearance about March 18, then fly almost 6,000 miles for an extended bullpen session in Japan before opening the season against Oakland in Tokyo on March 28.
Hernandez will then fly another 5,794 miles, pitch in one of five Cactus League games the Mariners must play upon their return, then make his second official start of the season on April 6, in Oakland, in Seattle’s third regular-season game.
Weird, weird, weird.
One thing all Mariners can expect from second-year manager Wedge? A shorter fuse.
“A year ago, some of these kids hadn’t heard or seen things before. Well, now they’ve seen them and heard them – I’ve told them,” Wedge said. “Our coaches have told them. The expectations are different. They’re higher.
“There are things we tolerated last season that won’t be tolerated in 2012.”
For a team that finished 67-95, that seems reasonable.
When pitchers and catchers report for physicals on Saturday, then their first workout Sunday, there will be new faces everywhere.
You want a new-look starting rotation?
The candidates for the spots behind Felix and Jason Vargas include Hisashi Iwakuma, Hector Noesi, Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush and such youngsters as Blake Beavan, Dan Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
Along with returning pitchers Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Shawn Kelley, Chance Ruffin and Steve Delabar are two pitchers the Mariners signed Monday – right-hander Shawn Camp and left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo to go with other newcomers such as left-handers George Sherrill and Aaron Heilman and rookies Forrest Snow and Erasmo Ramirez.
Even behind the plate there are new Mariners to evaluate, from Jesus Montero – the likely opening day designated hitter – to left-handed hitting John Jaso.
The toughest part of Willis’ job with pitchers this spring will be getting all of them enough innings, which explains why the Mariners have scheduled three nine-inning intrasquad games before the Cactus League opens on March 2.
The Mariners will have plenty of hitters to fill two spring lineups.
Need to look at infielders? The Mariners are hosting tryouts at third base (Chone Figgins, Kyle Seager, Carlos Guillen, Alex Liddi, Francisco Martinez), and have plenty of middle infielders (Brendan Ryan, Dustin Ackley, Carlos Triunfel, Nick Franklin, Luis Rodriguez and Munenori Kawasaki).
At first base, there’s a slimmed down Justin Smoak and Mike Carp.
In the outfield, Carp, Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro Suzuki are the likely opening day starters, but Casper Wells, Michael Saunders, Carlos Peguero, Joehermyn Chavez, Trayvon Robinson and Chih-Hsien Chiang will be in camp, too.
There are spots in the rotation and bullpen to be won, and improvements to be made behind the plate in both veteran Miguel Olivo and rookie Montero.
Wedge could likely give you his opening day roster today, but won’t, and in truth it could change as dramatically as Seattle’s lineup.
For the first time in his 12-year big-league career, Ichiro may not break camp as the Mariners’ leadoff hitter. If Wedge makes that change, he’s indicated Ichiro will bat second or third.
What Wedge must do throughout camp is get his team working hard, playing well and not counting on a long spring to work out whatever issues they have along the way.
Position players will be in camp just 34 days before Seattle flies to Japan with 30 Mariners. Getting down to that number won’t be nearly as difficult as getting them all ready for that Arizona-to-Japan-to-Arizona-to Oakland marathon.