PEORIA, Ariz. — Veteran lefty Joe Saunders is ready to embrace any role the Mariners have in mind on his second go-round with the club after agreeing to a minor-league deal with an invitation to big-league camp.
“ I’m a jack-of-all-trades these days,” he said Saturday before the Mariners conducted their first spring workout for pitchers and catchers at the Peoria Sports Complex.
“I can do whatever…I feel I can be a lefty (situational) guy, a long guy out of the bullpen. I feel I can be a multiple-inning guy. I can be a starter.
“I think that brings some value.”
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The Mariners signed Saunders to join the list of candidates to replace Joe Beimel as the bullpen’s second lefty, alongside Charlie Furbush.
Other candidates include Lucas Luetge, Rafael Perez and David Rollins.
One difference: Saunders, 33, had never pitched in relief over his 10 big-league seasons before making six appearances last September for Baltimore.
“It was kind of a breath of fresh air for me," he said, “to come to come to the ballpark and be ready to play every day rather than every fifth day. I kind of enjoyed it.
“But do I miss starting? Yeah. Do I think I’ve still got more left in the tank? Yeah. But it’s whatever they want me to do.”
Saunders was 11-16 with a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts for the Mariners in 2013 before spending last season careening through three different organizations and spending much of the year in the minor leagues.
But the Mariners believe his career success against left-handed hitters — a .241/.288/.329 slash — makes him a reasonable spring gamble for their bullpen competition.
The biggest issue, as with any starter transitioning to the bullpen, is the ability to pitch two or three days in a row.
“That will be part of the learning process this spring,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Obviously, you’d (also) like to see a spike in velocity.”
Saunders anticipates no problems.
“I bounced back really well (while pitching as a reliever in Baltimore),” he said. “I thought it was a lot easier on my arm than starting. I didn’t mind it whatsoever.”
WILHELMSEN LOSES CASE
Reliever Tom Wilhelmsen lost his salary-arbitration case in a decision announced Saturday by the three-judge panel and will make $1.4 million in the upcoming season.
Wilhelmsen had sought $2.2 million in a case argued Friday in Florida. It marked the first time in 12 years that the club went to a hearing with a player over salary.
The last time, involving pitcher Freddy Garcia in 2003, resulted in a ruling against the club.
Wilhelmsen, 31, was eligible for arbitration for the first time in his career. He made $528,800 last season when he was 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 57 games.
Saturday's ruling leaves the Mariners with 23 unsigned players on their 40-man roster, but all have fewer than three years of major-league service and can be signed at the club’s discretion.
The minimum salary for 2015 is $507,500.
McClendon isn’t a big fan of the new pace-of-play rules regarding replay challenges.
“I’ve been frustrated by the whole thing,” he said. “I think, in an unfair way, managers have been portrayed as guys who are walking out slow and wasting time.
“Well, what are you supposed to do? You have to wait for the replay system to find out whether or not you should challenge.
“Now, they’re telling you to stay in the dugout, and the umpire is going to be saying, `Hurry up. Let’s go.’ It’s the same process. You’ve got to wait on the replay system to find out whether or not it’s worth challenging.
“I was in favor of a red ball to throw at the umpire.”
Utilityman Willie Bloomquist, who underwent surgery last August on his right knee, says he’s “confident I could play right now.” McClendon said the club would “pace” Bloomquist throughout the spring…McClendon says no pitchers, entering spring, are on a restricted work schedule…Most pitchers who didn’t throw a bullpen workout Saturday will do so Sunday. One notable exception is ace right-hander Felix Hernandez, who plays catch early in camp before he feels ready to get on a mound. “All of a sudden, it’s `I’m ready,’” pitching coach Rick Waits said. “Last year, it was the fifth or sixth day that he got on the mound.”
2015 MARINERS SALARIES
2B Robinson Cano $24 million
RHP Felix Hernandez $24 million
DH Nelson Cruz $14 million
OF Austin Jackson $7.7 million
RHP Fernando Rodney $7 million
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma $7 million
LHP J.A. Happ $6.7 million
OF Seth Smith $6 million
3B Kyle Seager $4 million
UTL Willie Bloomquist $3 million
1B Logan Morrison $2.725 million
OF Dustin Ackley $2.6 million
OF Justin Ruggiano $2.505 million
UTL Rickie Weeks $2 million
LHP Danny Hultzen $1.7 million
RHP Tom Wilhelmsen $1.4 million
LHP Charlie Furbush $1.3 million
Still unsigned (23): 1B/OF Ji-Man Choi, LHP Roenis Elias, RHP Danny Farquhar, RHP Mayckol Guaipe, C John Hicks, OF James Jones, LHP Mike Kickham, RHP Dominic Leone, LHP Lucas Luetge, SS Ketel Marte, RHP Yoervis Medina, SS Brad Miller, 1B Jesus Montero, OF Julio Morban, LHP James Paxton, RHP Erasmo Ramirez, LHP David Rollins, OF Stefen Romero, C Jesus Sucre, RHP Carson Smith, SS Chris Taylor, RHP Taijuan Walker and C Mike Zunino.