PEORIA, Ariz. — What looms as the biggest positional battle in Seattle Mariners camp is fully engaged just four games into Cactus League play as Brad Miller and Nick Franklin each have made two starts at shortstop.
Franklin went hitless in three at-bats Sunday in a 6-3 loss to Cleveland in nearby Goodyear. He went 2-for-3 with a home run in his previous start.
Miller is 0-for-5 in his two starts.
Franklin’s view is, “All I can do is come out here and compete.”
Miller framed the battle earlier this spring as “supporting each other” and “competing against the other teams.”
Maybe so, but don’t be fooled.
Club officials remain cautious in assessing the recovery timetables for injured pitchers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, and offer only guarded optimism in projecting Corey Hart as a full-time outfielder.
But they show no ambiguity regarding the Miller/Franklin competition. The winner will play regularly in the big leagues; the loser can expect a ticket to Triple-A Tacoma.
Barring a trade, of course.
“With young players,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “it’s very important that they play regularly.
“Their development has everything to do with gaining experience, the number of at-bats and getting the necessary defensive preparation. Then when he’s called upon, he’s ready to be the player you need.”
In short (no pun intended), neither Miller nor Franklin are candidates to fill a utility role.
“We brought Willie (Bloomquist) in for that reason,” Zduriencik said. “We know that Willie is a veteran guy who can play all over the place, infield and outfield. He gives you a right-handed bat and versatility.
“If you need Willie to play, he’s ready to play.”
Trade rumors began dogging Franklin, who finished last season as the starting second baseman, once the Mariners lured Robinson Cano to the Northwest with that 10-year, $240 million megadeal.
Those whispers have intensified in the belief the Mariners are looking harder for a starting pitcher after learning neither Iwakuma nor Walker are likely to be ready when the season starts.
For now, though, club officials appear content to evaluate who’s on hand and show little urgency to deal Franklin — willingness, yes, but little urgency — because he has minor league options remaining.
That is, he can be sent to Tacoma if Miller retains the starting job. The same holds true for Miller if Franklin wins it.
“Where we’re at right now,” Zduriencik said, “is we’ll let this thing play out in spring training. And we’ll see. No one has to do
anything. Nick Franklin and Brad Miller are both very talented players.
“We’re not making any decisions until we see what’s going on there. I don’t think you’re going to see us make any move just to make a move.”
That said, if the right offer comes along, Zduriencik indicated the Mariners won’t hesitate to pull the trigger because they believe they possess sufficient depth to weather the departure of either player.
“We’ve got a battle going on at shortstop,” Zduriencik said, “but we’ve also got other players sitting right there, like Carlos Triunfel. Or Gabriel Noriega, who wants to come in here and make some noise.
“Then we’ve got Chris Taylor, a young kid who everyone is impressed with. A little below that, we’ve got a young kid named Ketel Marte. We’ve got a kid named (Jack) Reinheimer who we like quite a bit.”
Triunfel, 24, saw limited big league duty over the past two seasons but spent most of last year at Tacoma, where he batted .282 — although with little pop (five homers, 31 RBIs) — in 100 games.
Taylor and Noriega, both 23, are nonroster invitees to big league camp.
Noriega batted .256 in 104 games last season at Double-A Jackson; Taylor provided more pop in batting .314 with a .455 slugging percentage while splitting 134 games at Jackson and high Single-A High Desert.
Marte, 20, opened last season at low Single-A Clinton before shifting to High Desert. He batted .295 with 23 extra-base hits. Reinheimer, 21, was a fifth-round pick last year who batted .269 at Single-A short-season Everett.
For now, though, the Miller/Franklin competition continues.
“I hope that’s the way it is,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “That means they’re both playing extremely well. That’s what I anticipate.”
Third baseman Kyle Seager is nursing a sore right index finger, which he jammed in Thursday’s spring opener on a slide at third.
The injury isn’t considered serious. Seager should return to action in the near future.
Tacoma manager Rich Donnelly might not depart big league camp this week when the Mariners open their minor league camp.
Donnelly has been serving as third base coach in the absence of John Stearns, who likely will be sidelined at least another month as he recovers from hernia surgery.
McClendon said he and Zduriencik continue to discuss options to fill Stearns’ vacancy on an interim basis and noted, “I wouldn’t say there’s a time frame on it.”
Regarding Donnelly’s departure, McClendon said: “It depends on how long his guys stay (in big league camp). He’s going to have quite a few guys here that he’s going to need to look at. So we’ll see.”
Minor league pitchers and catchers report Tuesday and begin workouts Wednesday. Other minor league players report March 10. Full workouts begin the following day.