PEORIA, Ariz. — Every camp seems to a produce a Cinderella in March and, among the Mariners, lefty Tyler Olson is first in line to see whether the slipper fits.
Olson, at 25, is in camp as a non-roster invite less than two years after his selection in the seventh round of the 2013 draft following a standout collegiate career at Gonzaga.
He is also a starting pitcher whose pro numbers, while solid, are hardly eye-popping. Yet, as the Mariners move through the mid-point of camp, Olson is emerging as a leading candidate to win a bullpen job.
“I’m just trying to do what I can right now,” he said, “to show the people who need to see what I’ve got that I can go out there and do what I need to do to make a squad.”
Never miss a local story.
Olson faced nine batters in his two outings. Retired all nine; five by strikeout. He fanned the side Monday in his only inning against Cleveland — three regulars: Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes and Michael Brantley.
“He’s pitched well,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “I like what I see, but it’s a long spring. He’ll continue to pitch. He’s competing just like the rest of those guys.”
The search for Joe Beimel’s replacement as the bullpen’s second lefty, alongside Charlie Furbush, is the most wide-open competition in camp.
The Mariners entered the off-season with Lucas Luetge on their 40-man roster and soon began adding candidates. They claimed Edgar Olmos from Miami and selected David Rollins from Houston in the Rule 5 Draft.
Two veteran additions arrived in February on minor-league deals: Rafael Perez and Joe Saunders. That came shortly after the Mariners chose to include Olson among their minor-league invites.
“He has a really good change-up,” farm director Chris Gwynn said, “and he changes eye location. He knows what he’s doing.”
Olson was a combined 12-8 with a 3.46 ERA last season in 27 starts at Hi-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. His 12 victories were the most among the organization’s minor-league players.
Even so, his roster chances, as camp opened, were thinner than slim.
“I’m just trying to learn,” he said. “I’ve been watching everyone as much as I can in bullpens to see what they’re focusing on, how they execute and how they go about their business.
“I’m just trying to mimic what they’re doing.”
Olson’s next scheduled appearance is Thursday against the A’s in Mesa.
“I’m just going out there and trying to compete,” he said. “Not trying to do too much. Things are going well right now.”
The biggest adjustment is the change in routine from a starter to a reliever.
“It’s quite a bit different,” Olson said. “Obviously, I’ve never thrown two or three hours before I go out and pitch. Usually, I throw in the bullpen, then go out and pitch.
“Now, I try to pace myself throughout the day, try not to do too much. So I can go out there and still feel fresh.”
While Olson’s delivery is particularly tough on lefties, McClendon isn’t looking for a left-on-left specialist — a Beimel-like loogy — to pair with Furbush.
“I would like to have a guy who is complete,” McClendon said, “who is able to throw multiple innings. Get both left-handers and right-handers out.”
That could be Olson.
“Listen, I’m not anointing this guy on our team,” McClendon said. “He’s got to compete and there’s a lot of baseball left. But…I’m not trying to eliminate talent. I’m trying to find talent. I like surprises. We’ll see.”
Who knows? The slipper might fit.
ELIAS ON SUNDAY
While Felix Hernandez pitches Sunday against a collection of minor leaguers on a back field, lefty Roenis Elias will start against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Peoria Stadium.
Elias is in need of a bounce-back outing in his competition with Taijuan Walker for the rotation’s final spot. Elias gave up two runs on four hits and a walk Monday against Colorado in a piggyback start behind Hernandez.
“He was a little erratic with his command,” McClendon said. “He was probably a little hyped up. He’s better than that. He pitched behind in the count quite a bit. He’ll have to get better. I’m sure he will.”
Walker has five scoreless innings in his two starts while allowing just two hits, walking none and striking out six. His next outing is Saturday against Arizona at Salt River Fields.
Lefty James Paxton had “a great live BP,” according to pitching coach Rick Waits, during a morning workout against minor-league players.
Paxton is recovering from a sore forearm, which he suffered when he braced himself on a fall in a pre-camp agility drills.
“He’ll have one more of these,” Waits said, “and be ready for (his spring debut) on the 17th. I think he’s right on target.”
Paxton said he felt no discomfort in his forearm — “nothing’ — either in his 30 warm-up pitches or his 30-pitch session to hitters. He also used the workout to hone a new two-seam changeup.
“I’m looking at getting a little more movement,” he said, “so I can use it as a swing-and-miss pitch as well as late contact. Last year, I felt it was a little bit straight and a little bit hard. This one might be a little bit slower also.”
RUGGIANO ON THE MOVE
Newcomer Justin Ruggiano increasingly projects as the sole moving part in the Mariners’ projected five-man outfield.
“I’m still learning their strengths,” McClendon said, “but I don’t think you’ll see (center fielder) Austin Jackson in right field.
“There’s a chance Ruggiano will play some left field and, for that matter, he’ll play some center field.”
Ruggiano’s primary role projects as the right-handed part of a right-field platoon with Seth Smith.
“I don’t see Smith playing anything but right field,” McClendon said. “(Dustin) Ackley will play left field. (Rickie) Weeks will play left field. But Ruge is a talented kid who can play all three.
“He may move around, and it wouldn’t upset him.”