After recalling left-hander Ariel Miranda to replace an injured Drew Smyly in the rotation, the Mariners moved to set their roster Friday for a regular season that begins Monday at Houston.
Final decisions aren’t required by clubs until noon Pacific time Sunday, but the Mariners appear ready to open the season with an eight-man bullpen that actually won’t have eight relievers.
Lefty starter Dillon Overton will break with the club as the bullpen’s long reliever. How long he remains in that role is uncertain, but the Mariners seem likely to make several tweaks to their roster throughout April.
The flip side to an eight-man bullpen is a three-man bench — and Guillermo Heredia won the job as the club’s backup outfielder, which means Ben Gamel is headed to Triple-A Tacoma.
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If amounts to a bitter pill for Gamel, who batted .300 over the last two seasons at Triple-A in the New York Yankees’ organization and was picked a year ago as the most valuable player in the International League.
"Heredia is very comfortable anywhere you put him in the outfield," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s played outstanding center field this spring. Not that we don’t have center fielders already, but he’s probably more versatile in the outfield.
"With the bat, Gamel has more of a track record at the minor-league level than Heredia does. I think the baserunning and the intangibles they bring are very similar. Heredia may be a little faster. Gamel may be a little better baserunner.
"It’s very close."
But Heredia had the better spring and his skill set, a right-handed hitter and a plus-plus defensive outfielder, is a better fit, at least initially, for the current roster.
Taylor Motter effectively won the utilityman job last week when Shawn O’Malley underwent an emergency appendectomy. Veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz will be the roster’s third backup.
Servais previously identified his primary lineup as::
***Jarrod Dyson, left field.
***Jean Segura, shortstop.
***Robinson Cano, second base.
***Nelson Cruz, designated hitter.
***Kyle Seager, third base.
***Mitch Haniger, right field.
***Danny Valencia, first base.
***Mike Zunino, catcher.
***Leonys Martin, center field.
There could be some tweaks for the season opener since the Mariners will be facing a left-hander in Dallas Keuchel on Monday at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
One possibility is Segura, Haniger, Cano, Cruz, Seager, Valencia, Martin, Zunino and Dyson.
"Our lineup will fluctuate," Servais acknowledged. "There will be changes based on how guys are going. How they’re feeling. My thoughts on it."
Regardless of the order, the base unit adds punch, speed and athleticism to a lineup that ranked third last season in runs scored.
"The additions of Dyson and Segura along with Leonys Martin," general manager Jerry Dipoto said, "gives us a speed dynamic as the nine-one-two part of our lineup that really changes the way we can play.
"Roughly an average year for those three doubles our stolen-base total from a year ago. It gives us an opportunity to play a faster, more electric game that we've talked about for most of the last year and a half."
The rotation starts Monday with Felix Hernandez, who will pitch the season opener for the ninth straight season. From there it projects as Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Miranda (for Smyly) and Yovani Gallardo.
OK, about that eight-man bullpen:
"Looking at those first 10 days out," Servais said, "we play Houston seven times. They’re a very balanced team with the left-handed hitters they’ve added. Anaheim tends to be a little more right-handed.
"We’re just trying to get the best guys we can that can serve in multiple roles out of the bullpen."
It seems likely the Mariners will revert back to a seven-man unit after the open date by adding another position player. The probable addition projects as O’Malley, if he is sufficiently recovered from his surgery.
"When Sean’s healthy," Dipoto acknowledged, "that gives you another degree of versatility and flexibility that should be pretty interesting."
A roster with Motter and O’Malley would provide Servais with enormous flexibility. Having Motter alone forces Servais to pick a single best opportunity each game to use him.
That tentative plan to trim the bullpen by mid-month is what likely resulted in Overton winning the final spot over lefty Dean Kiekhefer and right-hander Jonathan Aro.
Overton is on the 40-man roster, while Kiekhefer or Aro would need to be added — at the expense of a corresponding space-clearing move. Clubs rarely choose to sacrifice inventory for a short-term move at the start of the season.
Keeping Overton also provides competitive advantages. He can serve as a long man, if necessary, throughout the first 10 games, and provide another left-handed option against Houston’s newly balanced lineup.
In short, he’s a good fit as a temporary fix — although there is an asterisk. His wife, Morgan, is expecting the couple’s first child on Tuesday.
"He earned the right to make our opening day club," Servais said. "We didn’t want to penalize him because he’s going to be a dad for the first time. I don’t think that’s a good message to send.
"There are priorities, and we’ll make sure he’s there for the birth of his first child. I don’t want to play short. There is a paternity list where he can miss a few days, and we can bring somebody else up."
The other seven relievers are right-handers Edwin Diaz, Evan Scribner, Nick Vincent, Dan Altavilla and Casey Fien; and lefties Marc Rzepczynski and James Pazos.
The decision last week to option lefty Ariel Miranda to Tacoma effectively secured Pazos’ spot on the roster.
But that seven-man group figures to change, perhaps quickly, throughout April. Club officials believe rehabbing right-hander Tony Zych could be ready by the time the club reaches Safeco Field for the home opener. Maybe sooner.
If so, that would likely force a decision between Zych and Fien, who both have options. Right-hander Steve Cishek should be ready for active duty by late April, which would force a decision between Altavilla and the Zych/Fien survivor.
It’s harder to project a return date for right-hander Shae Simmons, who is resting his strained forearm muscle. Whenever he is deemed ready, the Mariners will face another decision, although Simmons, too, has options remaining.
The Mariners made a series of moves Friday to get to their 25-man projected roster:
Recalled from Triple-A Tacoma: left-handed pitcher Ariel Miranda.
Optioned to Tacoma: outfielder Ben Gamel and catcher Tuffy Gosewisch.
Reassigned to minor-league camp: right-handed pitcher Jonathan Aro, left-handed pitcher Dean Kiekhefer, infielders Mike Freeman and Tyler Smith, and catcher Nevin Ashley.
Placed on the 10-day disabled list: right-handed pitchers Steve Cishek (labrum in left hip), Shae Simmons (muscle strain in right elbow), Rob Whalen (right shoulder inflammation) and Tony Zych (biceps tendon transfer); left-handed pitcher Drew Smyly (flexor strain in left elbow); and infielder Shawn O’Malley (appendectomy).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners