SEATTLE -- The bridge to Mariners closer J.J. Putz this season could have a military cadence to it. Manager Mike Hargrove said Monday that when the Mariners have late-inning leads, he would use the combination of left-handers Arthur Rhodes and George Sherrill, along with right-handers Brandon Morrow, Julio Mateo and Chris Reitsma, depending on the makeup of the opponent's lineup. So don't be surprised if Hargrove goes left-right-left-right in protecting a lead and handing the ball to the right-handed Putz for the final inning.
And on the days Putz isn't available, Hargrove said he probably would mix and match a combination of left-handers and right-handers. Putz and Rhodes, who returns to the Mariners after being away for three years, experienced elbow ailments during Spring Training but are healthy and ready to carry their share of the burden on a relatively young bullpen. Morrow is the baby of the bunch in both age (22) and experience (16 Minor League innings), while right-hander Sean White on Monday also spent his first day in a big-league ballpark. His four-year Minor League career took a detour last December when he was selected in the Rule 5 Draft by the Pirates and then purchased by the Mariners for $50,000. The road he took led him to Safeco Field and the role of long reliever. A homecoming: The last time Mariners bench coach John McLaren attended an Opening Day wearing a Mariners uniform was 2002, and it never crossed his mind that it would be his last one for several years. Opening Day that year was more special than most because it came on the heels of the franchise's American League record 116 regular-season wins. But Mac said Monday that he doesn't remember anything particular about that Opening Day. "Not a thing," he said. "What I do remember is us winning 93 games, not making it to the playoffs and it all ending right there." Then-manager Lou Piniella was "traded" to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays for outfielder Randy Winn and McLaren, a Mariners coach since 1993, went with Piniella to Tampa but always hoped to return. Perseverance pays off: If anyone on the club can relate to backup catcher Jamie Burke's 14-year pursuit of a Major League Opening Day, McLaren is the one. "He ranks right up there at the top when it comes to perseverance," McLaren said. "He's a survivor and deserves all the credit in the world to stick with it." McLaren, also a catcher, climbed as high as Triple-A with the Astros before deciding that he had a better chance of reaching the big leagues as a coach. "I knew I wasn't going to make it and I wasn't going to stick around and be a backup catcher in the Minor Leagues," he said. "I was 27 years old at the time and am glad I started coaching." He has been in the Majors as a coach for 21 seasons. "I made the right call," he said. Looking ahead: It's still too early to start saying goodbye to center fielder Ichiro Suzuki, but he reiterated to Japanese media on Sunday that "it could be my last season here, so I would like to do my best." The four-year, $44 million contract extension Ichiro signed prior to the 2004 season expires at the end of the World Series. He never has tested the free agent market, but told English-speaking reporters on the day he reported to camp in Peoria, Ariz., that he probably would leave unless the organization showed much improvement on the field this season. On Sunday, he said, "I will focus on myself. I don't care what other people say about me. I want to be myself, and I don't want to be 'nice guy.' But, of course I will be ready for help if someone asks for advice." This 'n that: There were 11 players on the Mariners Opening Day roster that didn't play for the team last season, three more than the previous season. ... When Raul Ibanez started in left field on Monday, it was the first time since 1995-96 that the same Mariner started in left field in back-to-back seasons. Darren Bragg was the last to do it. Ibanez joins Phil Bradley as the only left fielders in franchise history to start as many as three regular-season openers. Bradley owned the position in 1985 through '87. Ibanez also started in left in 2004. ... Felix Hernandez became the youngest Mariner to start an Opening Day -- 20 years, 359 days. The oldest is Gaylord Perry, who was 44 years, 202 days when he pitched the opener in 1985. Jamie Moyer ranks second, third and fourth on that list. On deck: The three-game series continues Tuesday night with left-hander Jarrod Washburn opposing the Athletics and right-hander Joe Blanton at 7:05 PT at Safeco Field.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.