If there was any doubt that the Mariners are in a “win now” mode — and there shouldn’t have been — manager Scott Servais re-emphasized the point recently when questioned regarding a promising player’s development.
“I think the way we’re built this year, we want to compete,” Servais said. “We feel good about our club. So it’s who is going to be able to help us win on a daily basis?
“That’s in whatever role you’re in, whether it’s pinch hitting or starting against left-handed pitching. You’ve got to produce. This is the get-them-out league or the production league.
“That other league is on the minor-league side. That’s the developmental league. That’s not the league we’re in right now.”
Keep that in mind as the Mariners begin the process of trimming their 60-player camp roster to a 25-man unit for the April 4 season opener at Texas. The first cuts could come as soon as Sunday.
The Mariners opened camp with four major questions: a fifth starting pitcher, a final spot or two in the bullpen, a right-handed-hitting first baseman and a utility infielder.
Here’s an update:
This is emerging as an intriguing choice. Jesus Montero and Dae-Ho Lee have each had some fine moments, while long-shot candidate Stefen Romero is having a terrific camp.
Lee has shown (surprisingly?) impressive defensive skills. His back-pick for an out at second base against Cleveland revealed deft instincts, which could be a key factor in the decision.
“The defense often gets overlooked at first base,” Servais said. “If you’re thinking of a pinch hitter late in the game, it’s (usually) a tight game, and that guy is going to have to run out there and play defense.
“You want someone who is capable of handling the ball around the bag, is efficient with the bunt plays and things that come up late in the game. It’s not just bat only. There is a defensive component to that as well.”
Romero is batting .529 (9 for 17) and leading the club with seven RBIs and 14 total bases in eight games through Friday — and drawing consistent raves from club officials.
“He continues to do it every day,” Servais said. “He’s getting a lot of confidence, and it’s great to see when a young guy is ready to step up like that.”
But Romero is still learning to play first base — defense, again! — and has an option remaining, which means he can be sent back to Triple-A Tacoma without needing to clear waivers.
In contrast, Montero is out of options, and Lee has an opt-out clause later this month that permits him to become a free agent if he’s not on the big league club. All signs point to a decision between Montero and Lee.
“Those decisions … we want those to be hard decisions,” Servais said. “I think they will be as we keep moving along.”
The fifth starting pitcher
Left-hander James Paxton and right-hander Nathan Karns are just getting to the point in camp where they will face more than one cycle through the lineup — a key determining factor.
So no clear favorite at this point.
Paxton and Karns would each likely make the club if anything sidelines one of the four other starters: Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Wade Miley and Taijuan Walker.
The field of candidates thinned considerably when right-handers Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook suffered strained latissimus dorsi muscles in their backs. Both are expected to open the season on the disabled list.
Scribner’s injury, in particular, created an opening because he is out of options and was virtually guaranteed to make the seven-man unit. What now seems increasingly likely is that Tony Zych and Joel Peralta will make the club.
The Mariners signed Peralta, an 11-year veteran, to a minor-league deal on Feb. 9. He was almost 40, coming off an injury-interrupted season and viewed as a low-risk gamble.
“Joel Peralta, I didn’t really know what we’d get there,” Servais said. “Obviously, he’s a seasoned big leaguer. He’s done a nice job on the field, and he’s added to our clubhouse culture.”
Peralta had his first spring hiccup Friday when he gave up a two-run homer to Hunter Pence in a 5-4 victory over San Francisco in Scottsdale. Overall, though, he’s yielded only three hits in five innings.
Zych also wobbled Friday in giving up two runs in the ninth inning before closing out the victory by stranding the tying run at third.
He was always a good bet to win a job, but he’s got options and it was possible — still is — that he could start the season as the closer at Tacoma. But it’s hard now to see how he doesn’t make the Mariners.
“Stuff,” Servais said. “We all look when he’s taking the mound at how he’s attacking guys. The fastball is 95 to 97 (mph). The slider has been very good for the most part. He’s a two-pitch guy.”
Zych needed that second pitch, the slider, on Friday when the Giants started whacking his fastball.
“I like the demeanor,” Servais said. “He’s not afraid. He’s going to continue to go after them every day. He is wired like a late-inning reliever.”
Three right-handed veterans are virtual locks to break with the Mariners: closer Steve Cishek, veteran setup man Joaquin Benoit and workhorse Justin De Fratus.
That leaves space for two more right-handers and, at this point, Zych and Peralta rate as strong favorites over Jonathan Aro, Mayckol Guaipe, Casey Coleman and Blake Parker.
The only other bullpen question is lefty Charlie Furbush, who has yet to appear in a game. Furbush, Servais and everyone else contends that there is no problem in Furbush’s recovery from biceps tendinitis and a small tear in his rotator cuff.
But that reassurance only goes so far until Furbush begins pitching — and the Mariners need an effective Furbush. They want two lefties in their bullpen, and their remaining collection is perilously thin.
Swingman Vidal Nuno has good left-on-left numbers and figures to get a job. If Furbush is unavailable, that second lefty could be Mike Montgomery, a starter who is out of options.
The other choices are David Rollins and Paul Fry; the Mariners would prefer that both gain additional seasoning in the minors.
Luis Sardinas appeared to enter camp as the favorite over Chris Taylor and Shawn O’Malley based on the skills openly preferred by club officials.
Nothing has changed.
Sardinas is a switch-hitter who is batting .500 at 9 for 18 in eight games while showing desirable defensive skills at shortstop, second base and third base. He’s learning to play center field and is the fastest runner of the three.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners