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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 15, 2008 8:39 AM

The slimmer Felix

Posted by Geoff Baker

Bedard 035.jpg

No, that's not Felix Hernandez drooling over the latest empanada recipe from Carlos Silva. But Hernandez, as we mentioned a couple of days ago, has dropped even more weight from what he did last spring. Here he is, standing with Silva just a few moments ago, as the players prepare to hit the field in Peoria for their morning workouts.

I asked manager John McLaren this morning about Wladimir Balentien and what his chances are of being brought north, even if it's only to play a couple of days per week. Remember, McLaren said yesterday that there was no way Jeff Clement would be allowed to do that -- that he had to make the team as a regular, or else get full playing time in Class AAA.

That won't be the case with Balentien.

"Somebody like Balentien can get in more games and more at-bats than Jeff Clement,'' McLaren said, adding that it will likely come down to Balentien, Mike Morse or Jeremy Reed for the job of spelling regular right fielder Brad Wilkerson.

"Some of our best people that have seen him on a regular basis think he's got better bat potential than Adam Jones,'' McLaren said of Balentien. "And that says a lot because we know what Adam's abilities are like.''

Hear the entire exchange with McLaren right here.

In Clement's case, making the team as a second or third catcher wasn't going to see him on the field more than once a week or so. With Wilkerson having not reached 400 at-bats for several seasons, the chance of Balentien or someone else getting into multiple weekly games is far greater.

Mariners GM Bill Bavasi said befoire the Wilkerson signing that going with Balentien as his full-time right fielder was not the team's first choice. But in this case, he'd be eased in to the majors -- quite a different story. Balentien doesn't present the same flexibility options-wise as Reed (who can also play center) or Morse (a versatile infielder and outfielder), but his power is attractive here on a team that will need some extra-base hits to replace the departed Jose Guillen.

In Class AAA Tacoma last season, Balentien had 24 homers, 24 doubles, five triples, a .509 slugging percentage and an .871 on-base-plus slugging percentage. He didn't master the AAA level quite the way Adam Jones did, but it's doubtful he'd need a full season to do that this year.

The team's first intrasquad game won't be until Feb. 26. It will also be the last intrasquad game, since McLaren is not a fan of them and figures they take away a full day from drills the players could otherwise be working on ahead of the Cactus League schedule. He wants the full team, which won't report until Feb. 19, to run through a series of bunting, fielding and sliding drills beforehand.

A quick update on minor league coach Scott Budner, taken away from the field in an ambulance yesterday after being felled by back pain. He had an MRI and was released from Arrowhead Hospital, but is due to undergo more tests and likely won't be back on the field for at least a few days.

I'm headed back out to the field right now. I'll leave you with another shot of the slimmed-down Hernandez.

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