Notes: Smooth sailing for Johjima

Notes: Smooth sailing for Johjima

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Kenji Johjima stood out during the Mariners' first workout of Spring Training, and the bright red catcher's mitt he wore was only one of the reasons.

Just like five years ago, when right fielder Ichiro Suzuki became the first big-name position player from Japan to test his talent in the Major Leagues, Johjima is the trailblazer for Japanese-born catchers and had a crowd of media-types following him around the Peoria Sports Complex during Thursday's workout.

Though the number of Japanese media was about one-fourth the size of Ichiro's first camp day, every move Johjima made on Thursday was heavily photographed. He was the Pied Piper as he moved from station-to-station on the practice fields.

Click. Click. Click.

Afterward, he called the first day of camp "very exciting" but basically similar to every first day of camp he attended while playing for the Pacific League Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

"At this point, what I did over there and what I did here are pretty much the same," he said through his interpreter, pointing out, however, that, "[Mariners pitchers] threw [fewer] pitches."

He joked with his new teammates prior to the start of drills, and then clicked into his "work" mode when it was time to get serious.

"I liked the way he received the ball and I liked his energy level," manager Mike Hargrove said. "I was curious to see how he swung the bat, and he swung it well. Everything I saw from Johjima was good. It was a good first day for him."

Before his daily session with the Japanese media, Johjima spent about 10 minutes with the English-speaking media. He seemed to understand the questions, but answered most of them in Japanese through his interpreter.

Kenji smiled a lot, but cringed just a little when asked (again) about a perceived language barrier.

"I have been asked this question quite a few times," he said. "Baseball is baseball."

He has been working with a language tutor for nearly three months now and knows a lot more English than his English-speaking questioners know Japanese.

Part of his daily routine is being interviewed by the Japanese media.

"He is a very engaging guy and [dealing with so much attention] takes a lot of patience," Hargrove said.

Outside shot at WBC: Left-hander Travis Blackley, who missed all of last season because of labrum surgery but has been throwing bullpen sessions for more than two weeks, has a slim chance of being selected to Australia's World Baseball Classic team.

"I would love to be on that team, but at the same time, it's more important just to be able to pitch this year," he said. "I talked to [Australian team manager] Jon Deeble a couple of weeks ago and he told me they would hold a spot open for me until they had to set the roster.

"But they will have another guy ready, just in case I can't make it."

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Blackley said there was a "remote" chance of him having enough time to get ready for the WBC, a 16-team tournament that will be played from March 3-20 in Puerto Rico, Japan and the United States.

"The Mariners asked me if I wanted to be part of the WBC," Blackley said. "I made it clear that I wasn't going to do it if I wasn't ready. We basically came to an agreement that if the doctors cleared me, I would be able to play."

The 23-year-old underwent surgery last Feb. 8 and was projected to be sidelined for at least 14 months. But he has recovered much faster than expected.

"Some people are very surprised that [recovery] is this far along," he said. "Right now, I think I'm ready to throw about three innings in Triple-A."

He has thrown four bullpen sessions so far, working his way up to 50 pitches. So far, so good.

"My shoulder feels great," he said.

Meanwhile, right-hander Joel Pineiro said that although Puerto Rico's 30-man WBC roster hasn't been formally announced, he has been assured that he'll be on it and -- health willing -- would start the March 8 game against the Netherlands in San Juan.

"I am looking forward to the WBC very much," he said. "Very much. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something like this, and I'm going to enjoy it to the fullest."

The first and second rounds are scheduled to be played in San Juan.

"Playing in Puerto Rico is the main thing," he said. "The last time I pitched a game there was in 2000 when we were qualifying for the Caribbean Series. That was the last year Puerto Rico won it."

First-day impressions: Hargrove said he was impressed with the way the "young arms" threw on Thursday.

"[Marcus] Carvajal was impressive, so was [Emiliano] Fruto and I liked the way [Gil] Meche and Pineiro threw. But the young guys caught my eye."

And so did young catcher Jeff Clement, the organization's first-round draft choice (third overall) last June. He put on powerful batting practice show, hitting close to 10 balls over the fence.

"Give me an easy chair and a glass of tea and I can watch him swing the bat all day long," Hargrove said.

One no-show: There were supposed to be 31 pitchers and six catchers participating in Thursday's drills, but right-handed reliever Rafael Soriano never attended the session. Club officials said there was a slight delay in Soriano receiving a working visa in his native Dominican Republic, but he is expected to arrive in time for Friday's workout.

Jim Street is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.