PEORIA, Ariz. — Chris Taylor had logged exactly 11 innings at third base over four professional seasons when he learned the Mariners wanted him to add that position this spring to his defensive repertoire.
"Make sure I get the reps in."
Taylor made his spring debut Friday at third base with four defensive innings in a 5-2 loss to Milwaukee in Maryvale. The only play he handled was a bunt by Jonathan Villar. Taylor’s throw to first was late and off-line.
It was a learning moment.
"The biggest thing for me right now is the positioning," said Taylor, who has spent his career playing shortstop and second base. "Just understanding who the bunters are and the different depths you have to play. And then the shifts.
"Understanding who you have to move over on. When you have to guard the line. That’s probably the biggest adjustment."
Taylor said he spent most of Friday looking at coach Manny Acta for instruction, but his learning curve goes beyond being in the proper position prior to the pitch. He is also figuring out where to be when backing up plays or for relays and cutoffs.
"I know where I have to be," he said, "but I have to think about it. When I’m in the middle (at short or second), it’s just a natural reaction. I naturally go to where I’m supposed to be. At third, I might have to think about it for a split second."
Other hurdles lie ahead, including tests in his ability to react quickly enough to handle a position often tagged as the hot corner. Taylor has taken grounders at third in workouts; that helps hone technique but hardly approaches game speed.
"Exactly," he agreed. "I anticipate it’s going to require me to react a lot faster (than playing shortstop or second base). The ball is going to get on you quickly. So you’ve got to make your decisions a little quicker."
Taylor’s ability to master the position this spring will likely determine whether he wins a roster spot over Luis Sardinas as the club’s utility infielder. The Mariners need their utilityman to be able to play second, short and third.
"And Chris knows that," manager Scott Servais said. "For us, when you make (personnel) decisions in camp and when we break, it’s ‘Who is going to help us win?’ I like both players a lot."
While both players have options, it’s hard not to view Sardinas as the current favorite because his resume shows extended time at all three positions. He’s also a switch-hitter and a better pinch-running option.
And while Taylor is working to become a serviceable backup at third to Kyle Seager, Sardinas is ticketed for some duty in center field, where he could potentially serve as a backup to Leonys Martin.
"Different skill sets," Servais said. "It may go back and forth throughout the year. They both may be on the roster at one point."
But only one is likely to be on the roster when the Mariners open the season April 4 at Texas. The other is likely to be playing shortstop on April 7 at Cheney Stadium when Triple-A Tacoma opens its season against Albuquerque (Rockies).
This bottom line is this: Can Taylor play well enough over the next four weeks at third base for the Mariners to see him as a better utility option than Sardinas?
It’s a lot to ask.
"It was good just to get my feet wet (Friday) and get a feel for it," Taylor said. "I was open to (playing third base). I wasn’t against it at all. I knew there was a chance I’d be moving around."
First baseman Dae-Ho Lee’s is back in camp and, from all appearances, his issues concerning a work visa have been resolved.
Lee missed time earlier this week when he had to travel twice to Vancouver, Canada, to obtain a work visa. Club officials said applicants must apply for work visa at an embassy or consulate located outside of the country.
"From everything I understand," Servais said, "he’s good to go."
The Mariners signed Lee, 33, on Feb. 3 to a minor-league contract to bolster their competition for a right-handed-hitting first baseman. Lee spent the last four years in Japan after an 11-year career in the Korean Baseball Organization.
Servais acknowledged a keen interest to see Lee in game conditions.
"Obviously, that’s what we’re waiting for," Servais said, "to see how he plays in the games. We’ve seen him in the workouts and in the few at-bats he’s had in the minor-league (workouts) to get the timing going."
Stefen Romero tested his recovery from bone bruise on his right knee by returning to workouts. He suffered the injury Thursday on a sharp grounder while playing first base.
"He’s still a little sore," Servais said, "but we’ll try to get him out on the field and see how he feels swinging the bat. See if we can get him ready to go (Sunday)."
Lefty (now-)reliever Danny Hultzen thew 25 pitches to hitters in live batting practice and, barring something unexpected, should make his Cactus League debut early next week…The Mariners have set their rotation for their next four games: Hisashi Iwakuma on Sunday vs. Texas; James Paxton on Monday vs. Arizona; Nathan Karns on Tuesday vs. Cleveland; and Taijuan Walker on Wednesday vs. Kansas City.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners