While internal discussions are ongoing, the Mariners appear increasingly open to the idea of beginning the season with an eight-man bullpen.
"We won’t know until we get right to the end," manager Scott Servais said. "Looking at how our schedule starts, looking at 10 consecutive dates, seven on the road, we’ll see how our starters are going. We like our starting rotation, but…
"We’ll also have to look at that extra position player and how much is he actually going to play? We have to balance where the value may be."
An eight-man bullpen would leave the Mariners with a three-man bench — and effectively just two available reserves since one spot would be taken by backup catcher Carlos Ruiz.
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But Taylor Motter’s ability to play virtually every position makes the short bench a viable option. First baseman Danny Valencia adds additional flexibility in his ability to play third base and right field.
Motter now seems a virtual certainty to make the roster after Shawn O’Malley, who was also battling for the utilityman role, underwent an emergency appendectomy on Tuesday night.
The Mariners continue to move Motter around the diamond this spring. He started Wednesday at first base after making previous starts at second base, shortstop, third base and left field.
"He looks very comfortable," Servais said. "He’s obviously super athletic."
The Mariners are still sorting through their bullpen options with six spots appearing to locks or near-locks: right-handers Edwin Diaz, Nick Vincent, Evan Scribner and Dan Altavilla; and lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Ariel Miranda.
Right-hander Tony Zych is poised to make his spring debut later this week after recovering from October surgery for a biceps tendon transfer. He will be watched closely over the camp’s closing days.
Other candidates include veteran right-hander Casey Fien and lefties Nick Hagadone and James Pazos. Hagadone is in camp on a minor-league contract, which would require a corresponding space-clearing move to put him on the roster.
"One thing about our roster this year," Servais said, "is we have a ton of flexibility with all of the options these guys have. We can go up and down with guys and not lose anybody. That’s by design."
Two other rehabbing right-handers are also making progress but won’t be ready for the April 3 opener in Houston.
***Shae Simmons played catch Tuesday for the first time since being diagnosed with a strained forearm muscle after a March 11 outing against Cincinnati. At that point, he appeared to be a good bet to win a job.
"We’ll be cautious," Servais said, "and slowly work his arm back into shape before he gets on the mound. We’ll get him stretched out and playing catch. I do not have a timetable."
***Former closer Steve Cishek is scheduled to throw Thursday from a bullpen mound for the first time since undergoing surgery in October to repair a torn labrum in his left hip.
The best-case scenario for Simmons and Cishek projects as a mid-April return.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners