PEORIA, Ariz. – On the eve of the Seattle Mariners’ flight to Japan, manager Eric Wedge announced who was in his starting rotation – and who was not.
Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood are the five starters, Wedge said, and Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will pitch long relief out of the bullpen.
Hernandez and Vargas will start the two regular-season games against Oakland in Tokyo, Noesi and Iwakuma will start the two exhibition games in Japan, and Millwood will stay in Arizona.
Beavan? He’ll travel with the Mariners to Japan as insurance, in case anything should happen to Hernandez or Vargas.
“We talked to Iwakuma and I think this is the best transition for him this season, especially given his health problems last year,” Wedge said. “We started camp with 35 pitchers, he’s one of 12 on our roster, and we will need all 12.”
Iwakuma was limited to 27 starts last season and spent two months on the disabled list with a sore shoulder.
Hernandez, Vargas and Noesi are no surprise, but for weeks it was thought Iwakuma would start and either Beavan or Millwood would make the rotation.
In the end, Wedge said, Beavan and Millwood pitched their way onto the staff.
MARINERS CUT CAMP, TOO
When the Mariners signed veteran free agent reliever Shawn Camp and left-hander Hong-Chi Kuo on Feb. 3, conventional thinking was that both would likely make the Seattle bullpen.
On Wednesday, it became official: By releasing Camp one day after releasing Kuo, neither will be part of the 2012 Mariners.
Kuo never could find his command, allowing five home runs and a .412 batting average in six appearances. Camp, 36, made seven appearances and compiled a 2.16 earned run average, but was released despite his spring success.
“Camp will be pitching in the big leagues this year, I have no doubt,” Wedge said. “We expected him to make our club. Looking at our young kids, that was the separator.
“Our kids came quicker than we expected.”
ON THE FIELD IN JAPAN
So, what 30 players are going to Tokyo? The Mariners won’t say until this morning, but here are the players still in camp to choose from. The best guess for which players will go are in boldface:
Right-handed pitchers (11): Beavan, Steve Delabar, Hernandez, Iwakuma, Shawn Kelley, Brandon League, Millwood, Noesi, Erasmo Ramirez, Chance Ruffin, Tom Wilhelmsen.
Left-handed pitchers (5): Charlie Furbush, Cesar Jimenez, Lucas Luetge, George Sherrill, Vargas.
Catchers (6): John Jaso, Jesus Montero, Adam Moore, Miguel Olivo, Guillermo Quiroz, Jesus Sucre.
Infielders (9): Dustin Ackley, Vinnie Catricala, Chone Figgins, Munenori Kawasaki, Alex Liddi, Luis Rodriguez, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager, Justin Smoak.
Outfielders (7): Mike Carp, Franklin Gutierrez, Carlos Peguero, Michael Saunders, Ichiro Suzuki, Casper Wells, Mike Wilson.
Gutierrez (partially torn pectoral muscle) and Moore (broken right hand) aren’t going to Japan with the team but might be close to game-ready by the time Seattle returns.
Gutierrez, the Gold Glove center fielder, has begun lightly swinging a bat again but has yet to be cleared to throw a baseball. Injured before spring games began, he is more than a month behind most of his teammates.
Moore, the catcher trying to re-ignite his career, can catch but not yet throw.
Both men, doctors reprted, will likely be able to participate fully in baseball activities sometime while the Mariners are away. Both will need plenty of work to get up to playing speed.
In his final start before opening day, Felix Hernandez pitched five innings – threw 92 pitches – and was hammered in what became a 13-8 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Hernandez shrugged off the beating, saying everything he threw, they hit. He’ll throw two bullpen sessions in Tokyo, then start against Oakland on March 28. Ichiro Suzuki homered and Justin Smoak and Alex Liddi doubled in the loss.
Seattle flies to Japan today to play a pair of exhibition games and then, on March 28-29, play regular-season games against Oakland in Tokyo.