Matt Tuiasosopo might face his last chance with Mariners
With the Mariners again starting over and not seeming to lack for veteran options to fill the utility player role, many have surmised this might be Matt Tuiasosopo's last chance to make a mark.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — One of the biggest attributes Matt Tuiasosopo has provided the Mariners the last two years is versatility. He played at six different positions for Seattle in 2010.
But in what looms as a potential make-or-break season for the player who was the team's top pick in the 2004 draft (in the third round), the Mariners have asked Tuiasosopo to focus for the rest of the spring on left field and first base.
Tuiasosopo said he was informed of the new plan in a recent meeting with manager Eric Wedge.
"They just talked to me the other day and told me that they wanted me to concentrate on those two positions," he said.
Tuiasosopo said he will still take a few balls at third base, but that the goal now is to get "more confident and comfortable over there in covering those two positions."
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Tuiasosopo's days of being a jack-of-all-trades aren't necessarily over.
"That's a decision from now to the end of camp," he said. "We'll see where it takes us. He's a right-handed bat and that would be a nice thing to have in our lineup. And if he produces and becomes the player that we all thought he was going to be and becomes a pretty good offensive player for us, then versatility would help us in some areas that he can play, certainly would be a benefit to him and us."
But Zduriencik said having Tuiasosopo concentrate on first and left is "more of a need right now, it's more where we see him fitting in."
Tuiasosopo, younger brother of former UW football players Marques and Zach Tuiasosopo, has been a standout of the past two Mariners spring trainings but has struggled to translate that success to the regular season. He has a .176 average in 71 career games — .173 in 50 games and 127 at-bats last season.
With the team again starting over, under Wedge, and the Mariners not seeming to lack for veteran options to fill the utility player role, many observers have surmised this might be Tuiasosopo's last chance to make a mark.
He has one option left on his contract, meaning he can be sent down to Tacoma and brought back up to the big club. But if the option is used, then he has no more contract flexibility with the Mariners beyond 2011 (meaning he couldn't be sent down without being exposed to other teams).
When Tuiasosopo was drafted in 2004, the Mariners said they envisioned him as a future shortstop, or maybe at second or third base. And when he made the opening-day roster in 2009, it was in large part due to his versatility to play the middle and corner infield and outfield.
Tuiasosopo played nine games last year at first base, two at second, 12 at third, six at shortstop, 14 in left field and one at designated hitter.
He has prided himself on that ability to play everywhere but said cutting down his immediate responsibilities may help. "I get to focus a little more on two positions instead of four or five," he said.
Tuiasosopo, who turns 25 in May, came to camp with high hopes, feeling as healthy as he had in a while. He said he was bothered most of last season by a lingering elbow injury (he initially had surgery in 2009). He had further surgery last October, and it appears to have finally solved his elbow problems.
And he was ailing much of the last six weeks of 2010 with a shoulder injury due to a couple of diving catches.
"I couldn't raise my arm," he said. "It felt like something was just jabbing a knife in it."
He said he was on a rehabilitation program through January for the shoulder, but now feels good.
He hasn't had many opportunities to show that, with just seven at-bats in the first 10 games, going 2 for 7 with two RBI.
"I'm just trying to come in and show Wedge and the staff what I can do, what I can bring, just kind of like the last couple spring trainings," Tuiasosopo said. "It's a new spring, got a new staff, so I've just got to go out there and take care of my business and deal with what I can control. I know that's all a cliché, but that's all I can do, and if they go a different way, that's what it is. But I can't worry about that. I've just got to go out there and work hard because there are (29) other teams that are all at the games scouting me and watching me. So play hard and work hard every day because you never know in this game what happens."
• Jason Vargas, who could be the No. 2 starter, got his first start of the spring. He went three scoreless innings, allowing two hits and a walk as the Mariners beat the Giants 1-0. He threw 45 pitches, 28 for strikes. "You're looking to be around the strike zone and get ahead early and not be all over the place, so I was happy with it," he said. "I found the strike zone and they were swinging, so I got some balls put in play early."
• The Mariners got just three hits, but got the win by giving up just four. Seattle scored its lone run when Ryan Langerhans tripled in Justin Smoak, who had walked, in the fourth.
• The Mariners beat the Dodgers in a six-inning "B" game in Glendale 7-1. Milton Bradley and Alex Liddi hit home runs off Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda and Dustin Ackley hit another in the sixth off Joe Newby. Luke French started for Seattle and gave up one run on five hits in two innings. The game is not official and the stats don't count.
• Bradley made a rare appearance in center field in the "B" game, Wedge saying that "it's important to get him out there a couple of times just in case we need him out there."
• Wedge said there is still no ETA on a return for reliever David Aardsma.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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