The reality this spring for Stefen Romero is the rules and consequences governing personnel decisions are dauntingly bleak regarding his bid to win a spot on the Mariners’ 25-man roster.
It isn’t likely to matter, ultimately, that Romero, at 27, is putting together a strong spring and drawing consistent raves from the Mariners’ mostly-new administration. An example:
“He’s not up there just dead-head hacking,” manager Scott Servais said. “He usually has a plan. He’s done a good job of getting guys in from third. His two-strike approach has been very good. It’s a consistent competitive at-bat.”
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The hurdle for Romero is this: He still has an option remaining, which means he can be sent to the minors — Triple-A Tacoma, most likely — without the need to clear waivers and possibly be claimed by another club.
That option is a key factor because the Mariners don’t have similar flexibility with Romero’s two primary competitors for duty as a right-handed-hitting platoon partner for Adam Lind at first base.
Jesus Montero is out of options, and Dae-Ho Lee has an out-clause in his contract that permits him to become a free agent later this month if not given a spot on the club.
Keep either Montero or Lee, and the Mariners figure to lose one player. Keep Romero, and they likely lose two players. The desire to maximize personnel inventory, a priority for all clubs, considerably dims Romero’s chances.
Romero knows this, of course, but he’s doing his best to banish it and all other negative thoughts as he enters his sixth pro season. He points to 2014, when he flopped in the big leagues after unexpectedly winning a job in spring training.
The difference, he contends, between his consistent success at Triple-A and his big-league struggles amount to “just mind-set,” and he’s working not to repeat the same mistake.
“In ’14,” he said, “mentally, I was down on myself a little bit. I’ve been working a lot with (Michael) Gerson, our mental-skills guy. He’s given me a lot of things I can work on, and I’m implementing them here in spring.
“Whatever I don’t like, I can throw out. Whatever I like, I can keep. Things like ways to get over nervousness or anxiety through breathing techniques. I’ve been using that a lot. I feel like it’s working.”
Romero is also working to become a more selective hitter.
“You have to stick to your approach,” he said. “My approach this year is (to be patient). Of all my at-bats, I’ve only swung at the first pitch one time. I’m trying to see a lot more pitches. Make sure I’m feeling my timing.
“In spring training, you want to get your timing down early. Just pick one pitch, whether it’s a breaking ball or a fastball, just pick it out and look for that.”
Romero’s other challenge this spring is to learn to play first base, which marks his latest move in a career filled by position changes. He was a third baseman at Oregon State when selected by the Mariners in the 12th round of the 2010 draft.
He shifted to second base in 2011 at Low-A Clinton and to the outfield in 2013 at Tacoma. Romero entered this spring having played just five pro games at first base.
“The adjustment,” he said, “is just getting repetitions, especially in game situations. I mean, you can take ground balls all day, but it’s not the same. I have to freshen up on the alignments, cut-offs and relays. Being in the right position.”
That learning curve also argues against Romero breaking camp with the big-league club. Servais continues to stress the need for Lind’s partner to be a reliable defensive player.
Accordingly, if Romero, as expected, does wind up at Tacoma, he figures to see regular time at first base in an effort to hone his defensive skills.
“I think his future is the right-handed bat and how that fits on a club,” Servais said. “Whether that’s in left field or right field or first base, having more options only helps him.”
That flexibility could help Romero’s chances later this year. And at worst? Next year, he’ll be the guy with no options left.
Outfielder Seth Smith is likely to miss a few days because of tightness in his left groin, which surfaced in Monday’s loss to Arizona in Scottsdale.
“I felt it fielding a ball in the outfield,” he said. “It kind of tightened up a little bit, and it just got tighter as the game went along. It happens every once in a while, and it takes a couple of days to recover.”
Smith further dismissed concerns by pointing out the tightness occurred before he legged out a triple and ran a considerable distance to make a catch in the outfield.
“It’s just tight,” he said. “No big deal.”
While the Mariners shifted Wade Miley to a minor-league game Tuesday to avoid a match-up against the Los Angeles Angels, they won’t make similar moves later this week with James Paxton and Nathan Karns.
Paxton is slotted for five innings Thursday against Oakland in Mesa, and Karns will pitch five innings Friday against Texas at Peoria Stadium.
“Karns and Pax are in competition (for the fifth spot),” Servais explained. “I’d rather see those guys competing in ‘A’ games than in ‘B’ games.
“We know how Wade Miley is wired, and he’s going to be on our club. So less concerned there.”
Closer Steve Cishek reported no day-after issues with his biceps following Monday’s 25-pitch bullpen workout. He is scheduled to pitch one inning Thursday against the Athletics in Mesa. His last outing was March 6. ... Club officials will determine the next step for lefty reliever Charlie Furbush after they gauge his recovery Wednesday from Tuesday’s round of playing catch. Furbush is recovering slower than expected from biceps tendinitis and a small tear in his rotator cuff. ... Reliever Tony Zych characterized his condition as “probably good enough” in his recovery from a weekend bout of food poisoning. He should return to action by the end of the week. ... Catcher Steve Clevenger missed another day of action because of flu-like symptoms.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners