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Mariners infielders in fight for backup job

Mariners infielders in fight for backup job

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In light of the pending suspension and/or injury to left-hander Cliff Lee, the Mariners are expected to begin the regular season with a 12-man pitching staff.

That probably means one of the utility players competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster could be left out in the cold, and it very well could be an infielder.

There are just six outfielders remaining in camp and five of them -- Milton Bradley, Eric Byrnes, Franklin Gutierrez, Ryan Langerhans and Ichiro Suzuki -- should land spots on the 25-man roster.

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Two catchers will be kept, and right now Rob Johnson and Adam Moore are the front-runners among a group that includes non-roster invitees Eliezer Alfonzo, Josh Bard and Guillermo Quiroz.

The designated-hitter position could be a repeat of last season, when Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney basically shared the duties, although first baseman Ryan Garko remains a strong candidate and, unlike Sweeney, is on the 40-man roster.

So that leaves the infield, which is settled as far as the starters are concerned but wide open when it comes to the backups, even though one of the leading backup candidates, Jack Hannahan, appears destined for the 15-day disabled list.

"It's been kind of a lingering thing, so we're going to check him out and see if there's not something more serious in there," Wakamatsu said. "He just didn't feel like he was 100 percent, and we felt he would be more advanced than that."

Bad news for one player could be good news for someone else.

Josh Wilson, Chris Woodward or Matt Tuiasosopo could come out of the pack and end up with a roster spot come Opening Day. Versatility is critical and all three can play multiple infield positions.

"It's unfortunate for Jack, but yeah, you know it could be a blessing for another guy kind of deal," Wilson said. "I will get a little more chance to play and that can only help me. For any guy who gets thrust into the situation of more playing time, it's up to that guy to capitalize on it."

Wilson has a made a decent living being the 26th or 27th guy on a Major League roster.

Someone else gets hurt, he gets called up.

"That basically is how my whole season went last year," he said. "I got called up to Arizona the first time because of Stephen Drew got hurt, and it was basically a carnival ride from there.

"He got healthy and I bounced to San Diego, then they got their guys, Luis Rodriguez and Everth Cabrera healthy, so I got bounced out of there and [ended up] in Seattle.

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"I think [Adrian] Beltre was out, so I replaced him. He came back so I got sent to Triple-A, then Jack [Wilson] got hurt and I came back up."

By the end of the season, Josh Wilson had played for five teams and three organizations.

"That's pretty much how it goes," he said. "I'll take being in the big leagues any way I can get it. You know, you don't want to see other guys get hurt, especially teammates, but such is life, especially in baseball. For years and years, players have been given opportunities because of other players' misfortunes. Certainly, we all know the Lou Gehrig story."

Tuiasosopo, the former Woodinville (Wash.) High star, continues to hammer the ball in Spring Training, batting .394 going into Tuesday's Cactus League game against the Angels at Peoria Stadium. He ranks second on the team with 13 hits. Sweeney leads with 14.

Tuiasosopo has played third, second and shortstop this spring and appears destined to become a Willie Bloomquist kind of utility player. But he missed most of last season because of a wrist injury and probably would benefit more in 2010 playing every day for Triple-A Tacoma than once or twice a week for the Mariners.

The 33-year-old Woodward has 640 big league games under his belt, but he's not on the 40-man roster.

Wilson has experienced both sides of the 40-man.

"I have been, for most of my Spring Trainings, that guy who has been on the 40-man and not make the team," he said. "I have seen a lot of guys come in as non-roster players and make the team; a guy like Jason Smith who, for four or five years in a row, with Colorado, Tampa, Detroit and Toronto, went into camps as a non-roster player, lit it up year after year and made the team.

"If it happens that way, I feel for the guy on the other end of it because I have been there. But, at same time, when I was that guy, I viewed it as another opportunity to go somewhere else, or an opportunity to prove to people who might doubt you that you're not the guy they think you are. Last year was the first year since '03 I went into camp as non-roster player."

He was one of the final cuts that spring, and he can only hope that the same thing doesn't happen again this spring.

"I know I probably will be here until the very end of camp," he said. "I think I will keep getting opportunities until the very last day because they are going to want to know what I am capable of doing. They want to see me keep doing it and the longer you stay in camp, the tensions and pressures will build a little bit as you get closer to the season. They want to see if you can handle it. That's how I feel about it. I am not going to ride the highs and lows."

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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