Here sat Willie Bloomquist, the Mariners’ all-everything utilityman, at a locker Tuesday morning that brimmed with gloves. He pounded his hand, over and over, into the one he was wearing.
What is he doing?
“I’m trying to find one right now that feels good,” he said, glancing up while continuing to pound away. “I’ve used the same glove for the last four years. It had a tear in it (in the pocket). They tried to fix it, but it was bad.
“So I sent it back to the (glove company). They re-did the whole inside. It came back, and it had a big bubble in the palm. It was like an ejecto-mitt. So I sent it back again, and I’m waiting to get it returned.
“In the meantime, I’m trying to find one that feels good.”
To see Bloomquist combating annoyance as he searched for just the right glove is an encouraging sign.
He entered this camp as something of a question mark after undergoing season-ending surgery in August on his right knee. Could he, at age 37, hold up to the rigors of playing multiple positions?
It was a key concern.
The Mariners’ preferred roster construction requires a utility infielder capable of playing all four positions — especially shortstop. Club officials never wanted to carry both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor on the 25-man unit.
An aside: The Miller/Taylor battle became moot on March 13 when Taylor suffered a broken bone in his right wrist on a foul ball. He is expected to miss another three to five weeks.
Even so, Taylor’s injury, which turned Miller into the starter, didn’t alter the Mariners’ need for someone capable of playing shortstop on a backup basis.
Attention remained focused on Bloomquist, whom manager Lloyd McClendon nursed through a series of increasingly stringent tests to gauge the durability of that repaired knee.
Bloomquist chafed at the caution even as he understood the reasons for it. But he finally played shortstop Monday against the Angels in Tempe, Arizona. All nine innings with no physical problems.
Equally important, there were no problems the day after when he arrived at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“I’ve been doing simulated games at shortstop for most of the spring,” Bloomquist said. “If that helps him (McClendon) feel better, I’m happy for it. Let’s put it that way.
“I’m confident and know that I’m ready to be able to do it. I feel fine today after playing (Monday). He’s obviously being a little cautious. Understandably so. But all in all, I feel good.”
McClendon is nearly convinced.
“I’d like to see him at short a little bit more,” he hedged, “but I think he’s starting to get his legs under him. He looks healthy.”
Now ... if Bloomquist can just find a glove he likes — which, apparently, isn’t as easy as it might seem.
“We’re a little pickier,” he admitted, “because we know exactly what it’s supposed to be like. We have to catch balls that are harder and have more spin on them than guys in the average beer-league softball game.
“It’s got to be perfect. So ... I don’t know. I’m in a little scramble trying to find the right one right now.”
He kept pounding away.
TIME TO BELIEVE
Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano appear on one of Sports Illustrated’s regional covers for its annual baseball preview.
On it, Hernandez is standing with his arms extended and bellowing to the heavens, while Cano looks on while leaning back in wonderment.
The headline: “Time To Believe: Everybody’s Got A Shot, But The Mariners Will Make The Most Noise In The AL West.”
Sports Illustrated also put the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and Washington Nationals on its regional covers.
The magazine says the Mariners’ cover is available to subscribers and from newsstands in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska.
REPORT ON IWAKUMA
The day-after reports were glowing for Hisashi Iwakuma’s effort Monday while pitching for Triple-A Tacoma against Round Rock (Texas) in Peoria.
“Outstanding,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He threw the ball extremely well. Great command of the split. The fastball was in and out, up and down. He really commanded the zone very well.”
The Mariners kept Iwakuma in Peoria rather than have him face the Los Angeles Angels in Tempe because he is expected to face them in the regular season’s first series.
Iwakuma gave up two runs and six hits in five innings while striking out eight and walking one. He threw 44 of 72 pitches for strikes.
“I had a good feel with the split,” Iwakuma said. “It is starting to dive a lot. I feel like I could start the season right now physically. It’s just all mental from here out.”
Iwakuma is scheduled to start Saturday against San Francisco at Peoria Stadium in what projects to be his next-to-final spring outing. He is in line to pitch the third game of the regular season.
Backup catcher Jesus Sucre remains slowed by a sore hamstring, which he suffered after getting hit Sunday by a foul ball.
“They said he’s feeling a lot better,” McClendon said. “They want to give him one more day. I don’t foresee this being a long-term thing.”
OPENING DAY PREVIEW?
McClendon dodged the question — well, he attempted to dodge the question — when asked whether Tuesday’s lineup against San Diego is the one he plans to use in the April 6 opener against the Angels.
“I can’t answer that,” he said. “I don’t even know what the lineup is. Trent made it.”
It’s true enough that bench coach Trent Jewett actually penned the lineup card in his distinctive handwriting. But, for the record, McClendon signed it.
The lineup: CF Austin Jackson, RF Seth Smith, 2B Robinson Cano, DH Nelson Cruz, 3B Kyle Seager, 1B Logan Morrison, C Mike Zunino, LF Dustin Ackley and SS Brad Miller.