PEORIA, Ariz. — Growing concern regarding Charlie Furbush’s slow recovery from shoulder problems is now prompting the Mariners to shift Mike Montgomery to full-time duty in the bullpen.
Furbush cut short a throwing session Saturday and isn’t expected to test his shoulder again until Tuesday, when he scheduled for a simple session of playing catch.
"I’m not going to lie to you," manager Scott Servais admitted, "there’s a little concern with where he’s at. I still have my fingers crossed that he is going to be OK for opening day, but we just have to see where we’re at."
Furbush didn’t pitch last season after July 7 because of biceps tendinitis and a slight tear in his rotator cuff. Club officials believed, and were initially optimistic, that a non-surgical recovery plan in the off-season would solve the problem.
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But Furbush, while not in pain, continues to experience day-after tightness following in his throwing program. That has become a growing concern.
"We’re getting closer (to the start of the season)," Servais said. "You’ve got to get into games and get going. I think he’s going to play catch on Tuesday, and we’ll see where he’s at."
Montgomery made his spring debut Saturday night by pitching three scoreless innings in a start against Cincinnati in Goodyear. Barring injuries to the rotation, he always seemed a likely bullpen candidate because he is out of options.
"Everybody knows his situation," Servais said. "He’s out of options. What are we going to do there? I think you’ll start to see him come in the game out of the bullpen. That might be his best shot to land a spot with us."
Montgomery, 26, is a nine-year pro who has made just five relief appearances in 182 career games. He made his major-league debut last season by going 4-6 with a 4.60 ERA in 16 games — all starts.
"That’s what I feel most comfortable with," he said. "That’s what I’ve always done. Obviously, I want to contribute in any way I can. But I definitely feel most comfortable as a starter."
The Mariners’ need, though, is for lefties in the bullpen — particularly if Furbush isn’t ready for the season opener on April 4 in Texas.
Beyond Vidal Nuno, the only lefty reliever still in big-league camp is David Rollins, a Rule 5 pick a year ago who compiled a 7.56 ERA in 20 mostly low-leverage situations.
"We’ll probably give (Montgomery) the option to continue starting and see how that plays out," Servais said. "Guys are smart. They look at the numbers. They look at the boards. They know where the opportunities lie."
The crowd at first base got a little thinner after Sunday’s 5-3 loss to Cincinnati when the Mariners released veteran Gaby Sanchez, who was in camp as a non-roster invite.
Sanchez, 32, signed a minor-league deal on Jan. 28 after spending last season in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He entered camp in competition with Jesus Montero and Dae-Ho Lee to be a right-handed complement to lefty Adam Lind.
The possibility that Sanchez could serve as organization depth at Triple-A Tacoma dimmed March 2 when Efren Navarro, a left-handed hitter who seems likely to split time with Stefen Romero on the Rainiers.
Sanchez played seven big-league seasons from 2008-14 for the Florida/Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted .254 with 61 homers and 266 RBIs in 700 career games.
SEVEN TO MINOR-LEAGUE CAMP
Cutdown weekend continued Sunday morning for the Mariners when they sent seven more players to minor-league camp, including outfielder Guillermo Heredia, the Cuban defector who signed earlier in the month.
Heredia, 25, was optioned to Double-A Jackson to hone skills after nearly two years of inactivity.
"You’ve got to see how the bat will play out," Servais said. "That will be the determining factor for him. There’s enough skills in the outfield and base-running.
"The culture change is going to be the biggest hurdle to overcome. I’ve been around Cuban players. They come over. It took Leonys Martin a while just to get comfortable with the language and the food."
The Mariners also reassigned six non-roster invites to minor-league camp: lefty reliever Paul Fry, catchers Marcus Littlewood and Steve Lerud, infielders Benji Gonzalez and Tyler Smith, and outfielder Dario Pizzano.
The moves came one day after the club reassigned three other players to minor-league camp: lefty Danny Hultzen, right-hander Brad Mills and outfielder Mike Baxter.
None of the moves are a surprise.
Players who are on the 40-man roster must be optioned when sent the minors. Those on minor-league contracts are simply reassigned.
Full-squad workouts for minor-league players start Monday. The 10 deletions leave 51 players on the big-league camp roster, including two players on the 60-day disabled list.
All clubs must be down to 25 active players when the season starts.
KING ON THE HILL
Felix Hernandez is slotted for three innings Monday when he makes his spring debut in a split-squad game against Colorado at Peoria Stadium.
The game starts at 1:10 p.m. will be shown on Root Sports.
Hernandez is in line for four starts before pitching the regular-season opener on April 4 at Texas. It will be his eighth straight start in a season opener and his ninth overall. He is 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his previous eight openers.
The Mariners also play Monday against Arizona at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. Right-hander Taijuan Walker is scheduled for four innings.
It was 32 years ago Monday — March 14, 1984 — that four pitchers combined to pitch the only spring no-hitter in Mariners’ history.
Mark Langston pitched the first four innings in a 14-0 victory over Oakland in Tempe. Bob Babcock and Lee Guetterman followed with two innings before Dave Beard closed out the gem.
Lefty Wade Miley will pitch four innings Tuesday on a back field against minor-league players rather than face the American League West-rival Los Angeles in Tempe. Miley faced the Angels on March 5 in Peoria…The Mariners entered Sunday leading all Cactus League teams with 18 stolen bases…A reminder: Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time, which means it is effectively now operating on Pacific time.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners