The middle of the Mariners’ infield will get even thinner this weekend when players start leaving for the World Baseball Classic.
The Dominican Republic and the Mariners jointly confirmed Thursday that shortstop Jean Segura will join second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Nelson Cruz on the Dominican’s roster.
“It means a lot,” Segura said. “Not just to me but my family and the country, too. There are a lot of people who love to watch us play baseball. It’s an honor to be a Dominican boy and to represent your country.”
Dominican general manager Moises Alou made it clear in recent days that Segura was his preference for an alternate if either Hanley Ramirez or Adrian Beltre are unable to compete in the 16-nation tournament.
Ramirez announced Thursday that he will not play because of a sore shoulder. Beltre’s status remains uncertain because of a strained left calf muscle.
The News Tribune cited a source early Thursday as saying Segura had a “99.9 percent chance” of being added to the Dominican roster. Shortly thereafter, Alou and the Mariners confirmed the selection.
“I had a 20-minute conversation this morning with Moises Alou,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said, “just to ensure how Jean would be used.
“Especially in our case being that he played last year at second base, we wanted to make sure he was going to stay in-tune at shortstop as he goes through this. I was assured that would be the case.”
Cano, Cruz and Segura are expected to leave camp after Saturday’s game against Colorado in Scottsdale to join the Dominican team, which is the pre-tournament favorite to repeat as champions.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Segura said. “Me and Robby, we’ve been working together and spent a lot of time together. Now with Nellie, it feels like a family.”
Six others are also departing from the 62-player camp roster: Outfielder Tyler O’Neill (Canada); pitcher Pat Venditte (Italy), pitcher Yovani Gallardo and catcher Sebastian Valle (Mexico), pitcher Edwin Diaz (Puerto Rico) and pitcher Felix Hernandez (Venezuela).
Losing Segura will force the Mariners to play for an unspecified period without either of their starting middle infielders. The WBC runs through March 22.
“We’re going to get a pretty good look at the (high Single-A) Modesto Nuts next week,” Dipoto said. “That’s the reality of our situation. We’re losing a dozen guys camp-wide, 10 of them at the big-league level.
“We’re losing our middle infield and, roughly, half of our lineup. And 40 percent of our starting rotation. At least 40 percent. It’s going to be an interesting 10-day stretch for us.”
The Mariners’ middle-infield depth was thinned further Wednesday when they designated Mike Freeman for assignment in order to clear space on their 40-man roster for pitcher Chase De Jong, whom they obtained in a trade from the Dodgers.
That means utility candidates Shawn O’Malley and Taylor Motter are likely to draw much of the time over the next several days at second base and shortstop. Another utilityman, Tyler Smith, also appears in line for extra playing time.
Several minor-league players are likely to get steady one-day promotions, including Rayder Ascanio, Zach Shank, Bryson Brigman and Adam Law.
Freeman could also return to the mix if he clears waivers.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners