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Around the Horn: DH, bench

Griffey leads list of DH candidates

The Cactus League schedule starts on Wednesday and the Mariners have a few questions that need to be answered before Opening Day on April 5 in Oakland. Leading up to the first practice game, MLB.com will take a closer look at the 2010 team, position-by-position. Today: Designated hitter and bench.

Back in the day, the Mariners' manager would write "Edgar Martinez, DH" on virtually every lineup card during the season. But second-year skipper Don Wakamatsu uses the position a little differently.

He moves players in and out of the hitter-only spot.

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"We're looking at Griff [Ken Griffey Jr.] in the same role he was in last year, playing [DH] against right-handers and having several options against left-handers," Wakamatsu said. "That could be giving Milton [Bradley] a day off in the outfield or using one of the right-handed hitting bench players."

Exactly who that might be will be determined over the next month as the Mariners put all the pieces of the 25-man Opening Day roster in place before meeting the Athletics in the opener of a four-game series in Oakland.

Newcomers Ryan Garko and Eric Byrnes are candidates to handle some of the DH duties, along with venerable vet Mike Sweeney, who shared the position with Junior -- among others -- last season.

Wakamatsu used eight players in the DH spot in 2009. Griffey got the most at-bats, 338, while Sweeney had 216. The two stars produced a .240 batting average, 24 home runs, 77 RBIs and 71 walks.

Others making at least one appearance as the DH were Wladimir Balentien (1-for-3), Adrian Beltre (2-for-2), Endy Chavez (0-for-1), Michael Saunders (1-for-2), Chris Shelton (1-for-8) and Ichiro Suzuki (1-for-5).

Saunders and Ichiro are the only one in that group still with the team and Wakamatsu said it still is too early to tell exactly how the DH/bench situation will play out.

"Those things will be answered as we go through Spring Training," he said.

Among the potential designated hitters this season, besides Griffey, Bradley has the most experience. He is a .327 hitter in that role, going 118-for-361 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs in 109 games.

Garko enters the season with a .236 (26-for-110) batting average as a DH with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 35 games. Byrnes, who spent the first five-plus seasons of his MLB career with the Athletics, went 6-for-39 (.154) in the DH role with one home run and four RBIs in the DH role.

Griffey already has demonstrated that the left knee that caused him problems last season is much better. He doesn't have the score-from-first-base-on-a-double speed anymore, but the seven or so pounds he lost during the offseason -- and arthroscopic surgery on the knee in October -- should be a huge help in 2010.

That .219 (74-for-338) batting average he had during his back-home season a year ago was a bit deceiving. His on-base percentage of .326 was that high because of his patience at the plate. Junior had 54 walks.

His contributions off the field are immeasurable.

"He is like another coach and absolutely revered in the clubhouse," first-base coach and former teammate Lee Tinsley said.

If the Mariners carry 11 pitchers to start the regular season, the bench will have one extra position player. The game plan at the beginning of camp is to go with two catchers, probably Rob Johnson pending his full recovery from offseason surgeries on both hips and his left wrist, and veteran Josh Bard.

The 31-year-old switch-hitter, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, has 521 games in nearly seven years of MLB experience, which is 515 games more than Adam Moore, who seemingly would be better off playing every day in the Minors than every once in a while in the Majors.

At least one backup infielder will be on the roster and the leading candidates are Jack Hannahan, a corner infielder by trade but also capable of playing shortstop. Matt Tuiasosopo could get the job if he has another terrific camp.

Tommy Everidge and Brad Nelson, a pair of first basemen with limited Major League service, also are competing for playing time this spring and into the regular season.

The extra outfielders figure to come from a group that includes Ryan Langerhans, who delivered two walk-off, pinch-hit home runs last season, Michael Saunders and Corey Patterson, a non-roster invitee with some big league experience under his belt.

"There is a good chance the bench will have a lot of veterans," Wakamatsu said. "We have a lot of options, and that's a good thing to have."

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

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }