Blake Beavan making biggest impact so far in competitive battle for rotation spots
Beavan stated his case for a spot in the rotation again Saturday when he held the White Sox to three hits and one run in four innings before departing, having allowed just four runs in 15-1/3 innings this spring.
Seattle Times staff reporter
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis politely asked a reporter Saturday morning if he could get back to him in an hour or so.
First, he had an even more unpleasant task — telling six Mariner pitchers that they'd been reassigned to the minor leagues.
"These difficult decisions sometimes are gut-wrenching, but they are decisions that have to be made," Willis said. "So yeah, it's not a fun day."
The reassigning of the six — left-handers Sean Henn and Oliver Perez and right-handers Matt Fox, Aaron Heilman, Josh Kinney and Jeff Marquez — to the minor leagues, as well as the optioning of outfielder Trayvon Robinson to the minors, left the Mariners with 40 players in their major-league camp.
Though tough decisions, none of those cut Saturday figured to make the final roster.
It only gets harder from here, though, as the Mariners have to pare their roster to 30 for the trip to Japan, which begins Thursday, and to 25 by the time they play games against Oakland on March 28-29.
"We have to make some decisions earlier than normal because we are going to Japan, but that's all part of it," manager Eric Wedge said following the 5-0 defeat Saturday against the White Sox.
The area of most intrigue remains the pitching staff, especially the back end of the rotation where five pitchers — Kevin Millwood, Erasmo Ramirez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi — remain in the running for three spots after the top two of Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas.
Beavan stated his case for a spot in the rotation again Saturday when he held the White Sox to three hits and one run in four innings before departing, having allowed just four runs in 15-1/3 innings this spring. He might not pitch again until the team departs for Japan.
"I feel like I've done everything I can, everything I can control, to make the decision hard for those guys," said Beavan, one of three players the Mariners acquired from Texas in 2010 for Cliff Lee.
Millwood, a 37-year-old signed as a non-roster free agent; Ramirez, a 21-year old who has yet to pitch in the majors; and Noesi, 25, acquired from the Yankees as part of the Michael Pineda trade, also have had good springs. Iwakuma, meanwhile, has struggled at times. But as one of the team's more significant offseason free-agent signees, the native of Tokyo who was one of the top pitchers in Japan the past decade is sure to get every opportunity to make the team.
Willis says the overall performance of the starters this spring has made the decisions even more difficult.
"If the decisions are easy, that probably speaks to a lack of depth or lack of the quality we have in camp and obviously we have quality people," Willis said.
Beavan went 5-6 in 15 starts for the Mariners last year, then dedicated himself to getting in even better shape over the offseason.
"I think the confidence he built in himself, seeing he could compete at the highest level; he really did a lot of hard work over the winter and it's evident here — he really came in here ready to go and he's been nothing short of outstanding," Willis said.
Noesi worked mostly in the bullpen for the Yankees, but the Mariners hoped he could transition to starting and Willis said so far, so good.
"I tell you what, I watched a lot of video this winter when we acquired him in the trade, and I was very impressed seeing him in person — I see a lot more arm than I thought I was seeing on the video, a lot more life on the fastball," he said.
All the Mariners needed to see out of Millwood, who is 163-140 in 14 seasons, is that there was still some life left in his arm. He's shown enough to be right in the mix.
Then there's the precocious Ramirez, who could work out of the bullpen if he doesn't make the rotation.
As for Iwakuma, Willis said he's encouraged despite the pitcher allowing 14 hits and five earned runs in nine spring innings — including four runs on four hits in the first inning Friday against Oakland.
"I've seen his stuff progressively get better, I've seen his fastball get better, his command get better," Willis said. "As far as (the A's game), I just thought at the outset, the first few hitters he didn't mix his pitches very well — fastball, slider. Everything was close to the same speed, not enough change of speed."
• Of those cut Saturday, the mildest surprise might have been that Robinson — who was acquired in the Erik Bedard trade last year — was demoted as early as he was. Robinson played 44 games for the Mariners last season, hitting .210 with a .250 on-base percentage. "He's close, but he has certain areas of his game he needs to continue to improve on and work on," Wedge said. "And that's why you have those levels, to give them the opportunity to continue to go down there and work without trying to compete and be successful and do everything up here while you are trying to develop and get better."
• Free-agent reliever Hong-Chih Kuo continued a rough camp, allowing four runs on four hits in an inning Saturday. Said Wedge: "He shows signs, but he's been erratic with his fastball, his breaking ball has been in and out at times. He just hasn't been able to put it all together just yet."
• The Mariners are scheduled for a 1:05 p.m. game Sunday against Colorado in Peoria. Noesi is scheduled to start. However, the forecast calls for wind and rain and the Mariners are making plans in case of a rainout.
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