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Pitchers, catchers report; Mariners ready for '11

Pitchers, catchers report; Mariners ready for '11

Pitchers, catchers report; Mariners ready for '11
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Pitchers and catchers reported for physicals Sunday at Mariners camp in preparation for Monday's first official workout of Spring Training, but they were hardly the only ones eager to get a fresh start on a new season.

As manager Eric Wedge and his staff set up shop in their new surroundings at the Peoria Sports Complex, position players like Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Jack Wilson began trickling into the clubhouse as well to get a head start on their own work in preparation for the full squad's arrival on Friday.

"We're all excited to get going so we can start working toward getting ready for the season," said Smoak, the 24-year-old first baseman who figures to be a key to the club's offensive hopes. "There's probably not a team out there that wants to get started sooner than we do to get last year behind us. I think we're all excited and ready to go."

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This is Smoak's first Spring Training with the Mariners after being acquired from the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal last July. Having gotten married in November, he's rested, ready and eager to help start erasing the frustrations of last year's 101-loss season in Seattle.

He's not alone in that pursuit.

"I've been here a couple days, just getting some stuff in with the young guys like Ackley and Smoak," said Wilson, who said he's completely healthy after playing just 61 games last year. "It's good to be here meeting the new coaches and everything.

"Everybody is pretty excited to put 2010 behind us and move forward," Wilson said. "Obviously with guys being here already working out, guys are excited about the team and this year."

The only ones required to be in attendance Sunday were the 33 pitchers and five catchers invited to camp, along with Wedge and his staff. All were scheduled for physicals exams and testing before they can be cleared for Monday's first 9 a.m. workout.

Part of the process will be learning just who is who, given 19 of the pitchers have never competed for the Mariners at the big league level and 11 are completely new to the franchise this offseason.

The catchers are also in a state of transition, though expected starter Miguel Olivo does have prior history, having caught 104 games for Seattle from 2004-05. But of the five catchers who played for the Mariners last year, only Adam Moore and Josh Bard are back.

They'll be joined in camp by Olivo, youngster Steve Baron and former Indians prospect Chris Gimenez, like Bard, a non-roster invitee after agreeing to a Minor League deal.

Such change is welcome for a franchise looking to turn around its fortunes and start anew, with Wedge leading a staff that includes new bench coach Robby Thompson, hitting coach Chris Chambliss and a sort-of returner in pitching coach Carl Willis, who worked with the Mariners the final two months last season.

Willis goes way back with Wedge, from their days together in Cleveland, so he'll be a familiar presence for the new skipper at least.

Willis also worked with Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister during his brief time in Seattle last summer, as well as late-season starters David Pauley and Luke French and the returning bullpen corps.

But it'll be some of the large number of newcomers who could well influence how things turn out this coming season for the Mariners.

All eyes will be on rookie Michael Pineda, for instance, as the hulking 22-year-old goes about trying to earn a rotation spot in camp. Then there's veteran Erik Bedard, who missed all of last season while recovering from further arm surgery. He, too, will be looking to grab a starting job with a healthy spring after agreeing to a non-guaranteed contract.

Toss in veteran Nate Robertson, knuckleballer Charlie Haeger and young Blake Beavan and Chaz Roe, a pair of former first-round Draft picks acquired in the Lee and Jose Lopez deals, and you've got a lot of starters looking to make their mark.

"I'd love to say we have Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "That's not the case. We've got a Cy Young Award winner at the top of the rotation. We've got a guy bouncing back from injury [Bedard] who is a talented pitcher and we'd like for him to achieve. We have a couple young guys in Fister and Vargas who've competed very well at this level. They're young and gained experience.

"We've got Michael Pineda and some of these other guys we're talking about, whether it's Luke French or Pauley," Zduriencik said. "Who knows what will happen with [Garrett] Olson or Robertson or somebody else. It'd be great if we had a surprise or two, someone who stepped up and became a nice story for us.

"I'd love to have more depth, but we're building that and starting pitching is very difficult to come by," he said. "There are rotations better than ours on paper and we obviously have some challenges. But there are guys with experience and we hope someone will rise up to the occasion."

The Mariners will be looking for some youngsters to step up in the bullpen as well, where closer David Aardsma won't be able to begin throwing until midway through Spring Training following offseason hip surgery and right-handed setup man Shawn Kelley is shooting for a June return from partial Tommy John surgery.

Returner Brandon League and rookies Dan Cortes and Josh Lueke give the Mariners some hard-throwing options and former Orioles closer Chris Ray and ex-Red Sox setup man Manny Delcarmen will be given every opportunity to make their marks after signing Minor League deals.

Rule 5 Draft pick Jose Flores, a 21-year-old who never has pitched above Class A ball, will also get a good look, as will prospects rising through the Mariners' system like Yoervis Medina and Tom Wilhelmsen.

Olson is the only returning lefty in the bullpen, but he'll get pushed this spring by young Mauricio Robles and Edward Paredes, along with Cesar Jimenez and some veteran non-roster additions like Fabio Castro, Royce Ring and Chris Seddon.

Also in camp will be right-handed relievers Denny Bautista, Justin Miller, Yusmeiro Petit, Chris Smith and Jamey Wright, all on Minor League contracts as non-roster invitees.

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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