PEORIA, Ariz. — Another day, another candidate for the remaining two spots in the Seattle Mariners' starting rotation took the mound with something to prove.
This time it was Blake Beavan's turn to make a case for why he deserves to be one of the Mariners' five starting pitchers.
On the surface, Beavan's numbers in the Mariners' 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers at Peoria Stadium on Sunday were stellar.
Beavan threw six innings, allowing one run on three hits while striking out two and walking none.
"For the most part, I kept the ball down and sank it," Beavan said. "I used my change-up a lot more today. I was happy with everything. That was probably the best I've felt this spring as an outing."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge was pleased with what he saw from Beavan.
"Really good, " Wedge said. "He had a great focus today and that's what he does when he's at his best. He was in the zone all day today mentally and it carried over to him in regards to his performance."
A cynic may point out that Beavan's success came against a lineup of nearly all minor leaguers. On Sunday, the Rangers had split squad teams because of games against the Mariners and a game against the Chicago Cubs in Las Vegas. And with Nelson Cruz, Jurickson Profar and Leury Garcia still playing in the World Baseball Classic, the Rangers' starting nine had only Lance Berkman and utility infielder Jeff Baker as the only veterans among minor leaguers.
Under normal spring training rules, a team must start three regular players in split-squad games but that rule has been suspended for the WBC.
So Beavan carved up a group of hitters that likely won't be seeing the big leagues in the next season or two.
But that didn't matter to Wedge. He was looking at Beavan's mechanics, his velocity and other factors, not who was hitting against him and what they weren't doing.
"You look at the location, first and foremost, " Wedge said. "You look at how the ball is coming out of his hand, the way it approaches home plate. So, that was good today."
The fastball was coming out of Beavan's hand particularly well. He was getting swings and misses with his fastball.
"I was really impressed with the way he spotted up his fastball, " Wedge said. "His secondary stuff worked off that well. He was very efficient."
When Beavan saw the type of command he had with his fastball, he stayed with it. Nothing fancy, just coldly efficient.
"I know as well as the next guy that if your fastball is on, you're locating it, they aren't going to do much with it, " Beavan said. "You just get ahead and put them away with one pitch."
When hitters did make contact, it usually resulted in a ground ball. Beavan had nine ground-ball outs.
That's something Beavan has focused on this spring. He worked in the offseason to change his mechanics to stay tall and pitch with more of a downward angle to get sink on the ball, which would result in more ground balls. The biggest aspect of that change has been being able to repeat that delivery in games and in different situations within the games. It's why Beavan hasn't really worried about his stats this spring.
"Results aren't really looked at as far as spring training goes, " he said. "I think it's more about repeating your delivery, keeping the ball down and mixing in all your pitches. Obviously, everybody wants to have good results in spring training. But if you've played in spring training enough and gone through the season, you know it's not the same thing."
Still, Beavan finds himself in competition before the regular season starts. The Mariners have 14 games to decide who will grab the final two spots in the starting rotation among Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, Jon Garland, Jeremy Bonderman and Brandon Maurer.
"Obviously, you notice if someone doing really well in spring training that's going for the same job as you, " Beavan said. "You can't really let yourself get too much into it. You want to compete. It's always good to have that kind of pressure to go out there and maybe have a little bit more of an edge. For me, I am going out there working on things, but I'm also competing for a job."
It's hard to tell who is leading that competition. Wedge certainly isn't dropping any hints.
"Everybody knows where we are at, what we are looking for and where the competition is. That's what it's all about, " Wedge said. "We are into it. It should be a lot of fun."
Beavan said he believes he's showing the Mariners what he needs to do to earn one of those spots.
"I feel like my stuff is definitely better than it was last year, just from my mechanical changes I've made, " he said. "I'm definitely showing I can keep the ball on the ground better."
Beavan knows the best he can do to secure a spot in the rotation is continue to pitch well.
"At the end of the day, it's up to them. They have to make the decision for what's best for the team, " he said. "All I'm trying to do (is) trying (to) throw strikes and not walk people. If you are throwing strikes and not walking people, you will usually be OK."
Hernandez gets work in
The Mariners held Felix Hernandez out of the Cactus League game against the Rangers and instead pitched him in a minor league game against Single-A Bakersfield on Sunday.
Hernandez threw four innings, giving up one run on three hits with six strikeouts and no walks. He threw 62 pitches.
"It was pretty good, " Hernandez said. "The first inning was a little rough. I was throwing a lot of pitches, but other than that, it was good."
Hernandez tried to make sure he treated the outing against the wide-eyed minor leaguers the same as if it were the American League West rival Rangers.
"These guys were pretty good, " he said. "They swung the bat a lot. You just gotta make pitches. I don't think it's different. I came with the same mentality - make my pitches."
Hernandez will make two more starts before he throws on opening day April 1 against the Oakland A's.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483