Elias' confidence grows with first spring start

Cuban defector hopes to jump from Double-A to the Majors

Elias' confidence grows with first spring start

TEMPE, Ariz. -- For Roenis Elias, the pressure of facing Mike Trout and Albert Pujols doesn't seem all that daunting, given this is a young man who hasn't seen his mom and dad since fleeing Cuba in a boat four years ago with nothing but a backpack and a dream.

Elias, 25, was outstanding in his first Cactus League start for the Mariners on Sunday, holding the Angels to two hits and one run over five innings of work in Seattle's 5-3 victory at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

The 6-foot-1 left-hander walked two, struck out two and threw an efficient 63 pitches while lowering his spring ERA to 1.46 in four outings.

After pitching in Double-A Jackson last year, landing a spot on the Opening Day roster would seem a huge jump for a pitcher with just 56 games of Minor League experience. But Elias seems unfazed by the odds and appears to be suddenly forcing his name into the mix for a Mariners team with some rotation openings in the wake of injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker.

Nervous?

"No, no. Not at all," Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "From the time I left my home, it doesn't matter if it's Pujols, I'm going to be Elias and I'm going to do what I've always done."

What he did Sunday was keep the ball down, throw strikes and control the game for five frames with the help of a couple nice defensive plays from outfielders Abraham Almonte and Michael Saunders.

Elias still remains a longshot to win a rotation job, given the difficulty of jumping from Double-A ball, but he's certainly opening eyes and giving himself a chance.

And that's all he's looked for since boarding a boat with 25 others in 2010 and heading for Mexico, where he spent a year playing pro ball before being signed by a Mariners scout.

"The first goal I had once I left Cuba was to get to the big leagues," he said. "This means a lot. I've worked hard for years to get to this place and get this opportunity. And we'll see what happens."

Manager Lloyd McClendon has repeatedly called Elias an "interesting" pitcher and said nothing changed after his Sunday start. The skipper took a low-key approach when asked about the youngster's chances of cracking the rotation.

"Everybody that is in camp can win a job. That's why they're here," McClendon said. "He's still here."

The Mariners have hammered home the notion of finishing his pitches better and reducing the number of walks he rang up in Double-A ball, where he was a Southern League All-Star with a 3.18 ERA in 22 starts last year.

Elias heard the message and said his focus was all about not walking batters Sunday.

"He threw strikes," McClendon said. "I thought he showed a lot of poise, was down the zone, in and out, made quality pitches, held the runners pretty good. He was pretty good. It was a pretty good outing for him."

Elias is a confident youngster and Sunday's effort only bolstered his belief that he can compete for a starting spot.

"Why not?" he said.

Told that it was rare for pitchers to jump from the Double-A ranks, he didn't hesitate.

"Well," said Elias, "I may be one of them."

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.