Credit the Seattle Mariners for seeking to fill the void in a non-Seahawks’ weekend by kicking off a four-day run of activities Thursday with their annual pre-spring training media luncheon at Safeco Field.
Highlights included news that erstwhile super prospect Jesus Montero is 40 pounds lighter, that general manager Jack Zduriencik is looking to add still another veteran outfielder, and manager Lloyd McClendon declaring four of the five rotation spots are locked down.
“We didn’t acquire (J.A.) Happ to pitch out of the bullpen,” McClendon said. “We can put all of that to rest. He will be pitching in our rotation. We have candidates for one spot in my mind.”
That last item gets an asterisk because McClendon declined to identify which pitcher joins Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Happ in the top four slots.
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When pressed, McClendon said: “I’m not going to answer that.”
All signs point to it being James Paxton. If so, that positions Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias and possibly Erasmo Ramirez as candidates for the final slot — presuming no injuries or further acquisitions.
Zduriencik said the Mariners are still hopeful of landing another starting pitcher but acknowledged any such addition would likely be a nonroster veteran who could also provide organizational depth in the minors.
Such a signing appears difficult because any viable candidate would likely prefer to sign with a club that offers greater opportunity to win a big-league job in spring training.
The Mariners are more likely to sign a veteran outfielder even though they already have acquired Seth Smith from the Padres and Justin Ruggiano from the Cubs with offseason deals.
“We may do a few little tinkerings before we get into spring training,” Zduriencik said. “We’re working on some things right now that could bring us a veteran player or two. (We) could let them compete for a job as well.”
Such an acquisition would likely be similar to Endy Chavez, whom the Mariners signed last January to a minor league deal. He opened the season at Triple-A Tacoma before playing 80 games with Seattle after a May 30 promotion.
The Mariners’ busy weekend continues Friday, when they unveil their new alternative uniform for Sunday games. The annual FanFest runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Club officials see Montero’s weight loss — he’s now down to a club-targeted 235 pounds — as a crucial first step in his bid to resurrect a once-promising career.
“He appears to be a guy who, maybe, the lights have gone on for him,” Zduriencik said. “He’s going to get a chance in spring training. We’ll see.”
Montero, 25, was a consensus top-10 prospect from 2010-12 before a series of personal problems scuttled his career.
Other items of note from Thursday’s news conference:
• Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, as expected, will wage a spring competition to determine a starting shortstop, but Zduriencik said there are no definitive plans for whichever player loses out. That opens the possibility that both could be on the big-league roster.
• Veteran utilityman Willie Bloomquist is recovering well after having season-ending surgery Aug. 9 on his right knee. Trainer Rick Griffin said, “We anticipate him being ready for spring training.”
• Elias is fully recovered from the elbow tendinitis that ended his season in mid-September. He completed an offseason throwing program without any setbacks.
• Lefty Danny Hultzen, the second overall pick in the 2011 draft, will have no restrictions this spring after missing last season while he recovered from major shoulder surgery. Griffin said Hultzen is cleared “to do what everybody else is doing.”
• Left fielder Dustin Ackley saw a specialist to assess his ongoing ankle problems. Ackley was told “that what we were doing is exactly what (the specialist) would do,” Griffin said.
• Zduriencik said free-agent left-handed reliever Joe Beimel remains a “possibility” on the club’s radar. Beimel compiled a 2.20 ERA last season in 56 games.
• The Mariners still haven’t determined a position for Patrick Kivlehan, whom Baseball America
ranks as the team’s No. 4 prospect. Farm director Chris Gwynn said, “We’re going to figure that out. But while we figure it out, we’re going to keep giving him at-bats.” Kivlehan, 25, played first, third and all three outfield spots last season when he batted .295 at Advanced-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson with 20 homers and 103 RBIs.
• Outfielder Alex Jackson, the club’s top pick in last year’s draft, will get a chance to open the season at Single-A Clinton, Gwynn said. Jackson, 19, is ranked by Baseball America as the organization’s top prospect.
SEE YOU IN THE SPRING
The Mariners announced 12 more nonroster invit to big-league camp, which brings the total to 15. The club previously invited infielder Carlos Rivero and right-handed pitchers Mark Lowe and Justin Germano.
Also invited were right-handed pitchers Sam Gaviglio, Stephen Landazuri, Jordan Pries and Forrest Snow; left-handed pitcher Tyler Olson; catchers Steven Baron, Mike Dowd and Tyler Marlette; infielders Shawn O’Malley and D.J. Peterson; outfielders Patrick Kivlehan and Jordy Lara.
O’Malley, 27, is a Southridge High of Kennewick graduate. He was 3 for 16 in 11 games last season for the Angels. He spent the eight previous seasons in the Rays’ organization.
Peterson and Lara were the organization’s co-minor league players of the year in 2014. Kivlehan was the organization’s Unsung Hero recipient. and Pries was the co-minor league pitcher of the year.