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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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February 14, 2008 8:46 AM

The Mariners are coming!

Posted by Geoff Baker

Bedard 026.jpg

As you can see, the Mariners have taken the field for the first time this spring. The pitchers and catchers, anyway. But it's interesting, because to hear manager John McLaren talk, the pitching staff will be where the most competition is found in camp. At least in the bullpen.

"There is some competition,'' McLaren said in some audio you can listen to right here. "We've got our starting five, so we're competing for the bullpen mainly.''

Seattle will likely go with a seven-man bullpen yet again. McLaren wouldn't commit one way or the other. He said the option of going with six relievers will be explored, given the added solidity in the rotation. But McLaren also mentioned the fact the M's will have fewer off days in April compared to last year.

"We certainly don't want to be using guys too much, too soon,'' he said.

That means more pitchers will likely be needed. Hence, as of today, look for a seven-man pen yet again.

Bedard 017.jpg

The big competition will be for the situational lefty spot vacated by the trade of George Sherrill to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal. Eric O'Flaherty appears to be the prime candidate, having pitched in numerous high leverage situations last year. Cesar Jimenez, sidelined by elbow surgery last year, will also get a long look, given the numbers he put up against lefties in winter ball.

"We've got some candidates -- O'Flaherty, Jimenez had a really good winter ball down in Venezuela,'' McLaren said. "We like surprises.''

McLaren mentioned how Brandon Morrow came out of nowhere to land a spot on the team a year ago.

While the team did carry three lefties down the stretch last season, in Sherrill, O'Flaherty and Ryan Rowland-Smith (not to mention John Parrish later on), McLaren will likely go with only two this time, saying the 25-man roster will limit his ability to pile the lefties on.

"I don't know if we're going to be able to have that kind of luxury,'' McLaren said.

As for Jeff Clement, if he's to make the team, it will be as an everyday catcher or DH. McLaren won't consider him as a first base option, or as a backup catcher. The manager also intimated that he's satisfied with the catching and DH situations as they stand. Hear him talk about it in this audio clip, after he credits backup catcher Jamie Burke for the work he did last year. So, either Clement lights up the scoreboards down here, or he starts the year in Class AAA. That's my take off what was said this morning.

As for the minor-league acquisition of Greg Norton yesterday, he'll be given a look to make the team. But he's up against it. No definitive word yet on whether he's just a one-and-done tryout or would be considered for minor league depth. We had a minor scare this morning when an ambulance showed up and carted away minor league coach Scott Budner. Turns out, it was only for lower back pain that was preventing him from walking. He's been taken to Arrowhead Hospital for tests, but is not said to be in any serious danger.

That's it for now. I'm headed back out to the field. Down below, you can see first base coach Eddie Rodriguez, the guy in charge of running spring training on McLaren's behalf. Rodriguez is on the left.

Bedard 021.jpg

ADDITIONAL NOTE 12:08 p.m.: For wrmike in the comments thread, the "tall guy" wearing No. 79 in the first page's photo is the team's No. 1 draft pick from last year, pitcher Phillipe Aumont.

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