Bad news came in fours during the Mariners’ first week of spring training.
The club said Wednesday that No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma will likely miss the start of the regular season because of a strained tendon on the middle finger of his throwing hand. Taijuan Walker, the organization’s highest-rated pitching prospect and an expected starter, said Thursday he had a sore throwing shoulder, though he shouldn’t miss more than a few throwing sessions.
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez told the team Thursday he won’t play this season because of continuing gastrointestinal problems. The club is not obligated to pay the $1 million contract he accepted in December.
There was also this.
“I gained a lot of weight in my country,” first baseman Jesus Montero said Wednesday after spending his off-season in Venezuela. “So now, I’m on a program to lose weight. I’m working really hard to get my weight back (to normal). I wasn’t doing nothing (between winter ball and spring training). Just eating.”
Montero, 24, also issued an apology to teammates, the organization and fans for using performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Miami that was the center of a PED scandal involving 13 other major league players. MLB suspended Montero 50 games Aug. 5.
Montero, the former No. 1 prospect in the organization, was among the biggest early disappointments of the 2013 campaign. In 29 games before demotion to AAA Tacoma May 23, he hit .208/.264/.327 while failing as a major league catcher. He caught stealing only one of 24 runners in 25 starts behind the plate.
“I made a big, bad mistake last year,” said Montero. “But I’m here right now, in this new year, to be better and help my teammates win.”
In the offseason, Montero played 22 games in the Venezuelan Winter League to test a left knee he had surgically repaired in June. It felt fine, he said, before adding that he’s determined to prove he belongs in the big leagues.
“I want to be on the team again,” he said. “I want to be (in the) big leagues. I have to prove myself to my family and the team.”
It’s assumed that Montero will start the season in Tacoma while he continues to learn to play first base, a position crowded at the big league level after the Mariners signed Corey Hart and Logan Morrison in December.
Meanwhile, Mike Zunino, the team’s 2012 first-round pick (No. 3 overall), is considered the catcher of the future despite a 2013 rookie season in which he hit .214 with five home runs and 14 RBIs while posting a -0.1 DWAR in 52 games. In January, the club signed veteran catcher John Buck to a one-year, $1 million contract.
Buck, 33, batted .215 but added 15 home runs and 60 RBIs last season with the Mets before being traded to the Pirates late in the year. With Pittsburgh, he went seven of 24 (.292 avg.) in nine games.
Still no Cruz
After it looked certain the Mariners were going to add another right-handed power hitter, SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish reported Thursday that Seattle’s negotiations with free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz stalled. Citing “multiple league sources,” author Chris Cotillo said the sides were struggling to agree on Cruz’s value and that the Mariners might turn their attention elsewhere.
Meanwhile, FOXsports.com senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal said Friday that Seattle is still monitoring the free agent pitcher market. Per Rosenthal, the Mariners recently contacted free agent throwers Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) February 14, 2014
Kendrys Morales hasn’t found a home
Remember Kendrys Morales? In 2013, he was the Mariners’ best hitter.
With little protection around him in the lineup, in 156 games he batted .277/.336/.449 while knocking in 23 home runs, 80 RBIs and posting a respectable .785 OPS on a team that for long spurts looked allergic to scoring runs.
In November, the Mariners extended Morales, 30, a one-year, $14.1-million qualifying offer. He passed, instead opting to test the free agent market.
Last week, Boston Globe national baseball writer Nic Cafardo reported that Morales and the Pirates had mutual interest, but that Pittsburgh would only sign him for the “right contract,” a signal that Morales, who is represented by super agent Scott Boras, still had too high an asking price.