Good spring training results made for a couple of surprises as the Mariners set their 25-man roster Wednesday for the resumption of the regular season Friday in Oakland.
Alex Liddi, the Italian-born infielder who was named the player of the spring with his .370 average, will be on the major league bench for the Mariners, as will infielder Munenori Kawasaki, the newcomer and non-roster invitee from Japan who hit a team-high .450 in spring.
The Mariners reached the roster limit of 25 Wednesday by sending down reliever Charlie Furbush and outfielder Carlos Peguero to Class AAA Tacoma. The moves followed a similar one Tuesday when reliever Shawn Kelley was sent down.
Three catchers are on the roster: starter Miguel Olivo, newcomer backup John Jaso and Jesus Montero, who will begin the season as the team’s primary designated hitter and catch occasional games as he develops his limited defensive skills.
Three catchers limit some bench options. Two presumed starters, left fielder Mike Carp and center fielder Franklin Gutierrez, will resume the season on the disabled list. Carp (sprained shoulder) is expected back for the Mariners home opener April 13, while Gutierrez (strained pectoral muscle) is ahead of schedule but may not return until the end of the month.
Presuming Chone Figgins starts in left field, the outfield backups are Michael Saunders and Casper Wells, who could be sent down with the return of Carp and Gutierrez. Liddi and Kawasaki will back up the infield, presuming the lineup from Game 2 in Tokyo remains intact: first baseman Justin Smoak, second baseman Dustin Ackley, shortstop Brendan Ryan and third baseman Kyle Seager.
The starting rotation was announced a week ago: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood. Vargas will start Friday, then will flip with Hernandez, who will start the home opener.
The bullpen will have two lefthanders, George Sherrill, troubled by a sore elbow this spring, and newcomer Lucas Luetge, a Rule 5 acquisition from Milwaukee. Besides All-Star closer Brandon League, relievers include holdovers Tom Wilhelmsen and Steve Delabar and newcomers Hisashi Iwakuma and rookie Erasmo Ramirez.
Even though Kawasaki, 30, was a well-regarded pro in Japan, his surprisingly quick fit with the Mariners opens up some possibilities. If Figgins continues his sub-.200 struggles, Kawasaki might be an offensive answer.
“Kawasaki can hit leadoff,” Wedge recently told reporters. “He’s the kind of player who can hit anywhere in the lineup. He’s shown us he’s a strong professional hitter.”
The key to offensive improvement is the four spots after leadoff: Ackley, Ichiro, Smoak and Montero. If the Mariners are to become anything other than the American League’s worst offensive team three years running, all will have to make big leaps from 2011.
For what it’s worth, the Mariners in spring scored 155 runs before Wednesday’s final exhibition game, one less than the Rangers and 21 less than the Angels.
“We’ve got a lot of things going in our offense that are real,” Wedge said.