Mariners to take it slow as spring games begin

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ready or not, here comes Cactus League baseball.

With Spring Training's schedule being accelerated to help some players get ready for World Baseball Classic action in early March, the Mariners open Friday with their annual charity game against the Padres at 12:05 p.m. PT at Peoria Stadium.

A year ago, even with the Mariners needing to get going in time to open the regular season in Japan a week before everyone else on March 28, they didn't begin games until March 2.

That led to several intrasquad games prior to the normal Spring Training action, as well as several weeks of full-squad practice. But this year's position players have been in camp only six days -- with one of those hampered by rain -- before the games begin.

"It's pretty crazy," said second baseman Dustin Ackley. "It feels like we've barely had any live batting practice yet. Normally we'd have another week or so before we start. But I think you just have to dive right in. It's one of those things where you're going to have to hit off a pitcher in a live game at some point, so why not tomorrow?"

Manager Eric Wedge said he'll take things slowly at the start. Pitchers will go just one inning each, with position players slated for one or two at-bats and a couple innings.

His goals for now are pretty simple.

"Just stay healthy early on and not try to do too much, especially with the young kids," Wedge said. "I'm happy we've got more games than normal this year, with the quality of players we have in camp and all the young starting pitching, as well as people competing for those couple spots in our rotation here, we can utilize these extra games and do everything we need to do."

From a pitcher's standpoint, things are a little easier, as the hurlers have been in camp four days longer and everyone who pitches this weekend will have thrown two bullpen session and two live batting practices.

"Everybody thinks the first 10 days have gone by pretty quick," said lefty reliever Charlie Furbush. "But it'll be good to get in there and get the competition going and get that game-ready mentality. It puts you pretty much in the place you need to be at this point.

"Live BP is one thing, but once you get in the game with the crowd and the umpire and the hitter and everyone involved, it's much more exciting and your adrenaline gets pumping a little bit."