Sports

A new era for Mariners?

"A New Day. A New Way."

That is the new motto for the Seattle Mariners as spring training unfolds in

Arizona, or didn't you realize that pitchers and catchers report this Friday and have their first workout Saturday, with position players reporting Tuesday for their first action on Wednesday?

For the Mariners it's a lot of new faces and a lot of old faces, but can the club become a factor in the American League West again after losing 100 games last season? Let's hope so.

New manager Don Wakamatsu, a former catcher, is 45 years old and last year was the bench coach for Oakland. This is his first major league manager job, but he's been with Texas and Anaheim and knows his way around a clubhouse.

"The players will be pushed in spring training," he said at the January media gathering in Seattle. "We will be stressing a patient approach to hitting and a more calm, disciplined approach to hitting," he said. The club will work a lot on two-strike hitting.

"We will play an aggressive style of baseball and we will play from the neck up," he added. That means an intelligent style as well.

New coaches are Rick Adair for pitchers, Alan Cockrell for hitters, Bruce Hines is the new third base coach, Lee Tinsley will coach first, Ty Van Burkleo is the bench coach and John Wetteland the new bullpen coach.

The new general manager and executive vice president is Jack Zduriencik. I'm impressed with this new guy who spent the past nine seasons with Milwaukee. He is a 25-year veteran of major league baseball and might be the best the Mariners have had.

Lou Gorman, Dan O'Brien, Hal Keller, Dick Balderson, Woody Woodward, Pat Gillick and Bill Bavasi preceded him and Bavasi might have been the least productive of that group.

I spoke with Zduriencik after the media gathering.

"We have to increase the talent level of this organization," he said. "We need offense, a backup infielder who can push the other infielders and we need a closing pitcher."

He has been credited with helping restock the Brewers minor league system with talent through the draft and the Mariners have some high draft picks this year, so look for good things.



Pitching

With the pitchers and catchers reporting first, trainer Rick Griffin said Erik Bedard is fully recovered from surgery, Carlos Silva has lost a lot of weight and Miguel Batista will be in better shape than last year.

Roy Corcoran returns, along with Ryan Feierabend, Felix Hernandez, Brandon Morrow, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Jarod Washburn, but add newcomers David Aardsman, Gaby Hernandez, Cesar Jimenez, Stephan Kahn, Jose Lugo, Randy Messenger, Justin Thomas, Jason Vargas, Marwin Vega and Tyler Walker.

Look for returnee Mark Lowe to be a factor in the bullpen - he might become the closer.

Wakamatsu promised to have his staff set and ready when the season opens, so there is no doubt to each hurler's role on the team.



Catching

The Mariners have a plethora of catchers. Kenji Johjima is first, then Jeff Clement and then Rob Johnson. Jamie Burke has been invited back, along with Luis Oliveros and Adam Moore.

Moore seems to be the catcher of the future. Look for Clement to get a chance at designated hitter and if that doesn't pan out, look for him to be involved in a trade for pitching and another hitter.

It's too soon to go over a position roster as the wheeling and dealing has not ended.

Zduriencik made a giant 12-player deal when he sent J.J. Putz to the Mets. Already he has dealt away one pitcher he got in that trade, Aaron Heilman to the Cubs, for a young lefty in Garrett Olson and a young infielder in Ronny Cedeno, who might be the one to challenge Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez.

Look for Adrian Beltre to be back at third. Surgery went well on his thumb.

And at first base? Might be Russell Banyan who was with Nashville and Milwaukee last year. The new GM likes this guy.

Outfield? Ichiro in right. Center is up for grabs, as is left. Wladimir Balentien will start in center or left and newcomer Endy Chavez might be in left.

You might need more than a scorecard to keep track of the Mariners by time opening day rolls around April 14 at Safeco. The Mariners have a road opening in Minnesota April 6 and will have three games in Oakland before coming home.

What about Ken Griffey Jr.? I said last year that they should go ahead and offer the free agent a contract. He might demand

$5 million for a year but might go for less as he has stashed money away. He has lost a lot of his range in the outfield, but I feel confident he could be the designated hitter the Mariners are searching for, at least, fans, for a year.

And I think even skeptical Mariner fans would come alive if Junior was coming up with the winning run on third base.



Columns by KONP 1450 AM sports announcer Scooter Chapman appear weekly in the Sequim Gazette. He can be reached via e-mail at scooter@olypen.com.







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