Mariners finalize Opening Day roster
Seattle sticks with righty-laden 'pen, adds Tuiasosopo to mix
LAS VEGAS -- The Mariners will begin the season without their regular right fielder and with a bullpen filled with right-handers.While the absence of Ichiro Suzuki for at least the first eight games of the regular season due to a bleeding ulcer has been known for two days, the makeup of the bullpen was a mystery until after the final pitch of Spring Training.
Almost an hour after their 6-5 loss to the Rockies on Saturday afternoon, the Mariners announced their 25-man Opening Day roster, which includes right-handed relievers David Aardsma, Miguel Batista, Roy Corcoran, Chris Jakubauskas, Shawn Kelley, Mark Lowe and Brandon Morrow.Not a lefty in sight. But the way Jakubauskas pitched against left-handers during the seven-week camp, he figures to become manager Don Wakamatsu's first choice against left-handed hitters late in games. "We feel comfortable with him in that role," Wakamatsu said. After none of the closer candidates that started camp stepped up and grabbed the job, Wakamatsu said Morrow, who finished second on the club with 10 saves last season, would be the closer as of Opening Day against the Twins. Morrow pitched a scoreless inning Saturday, his best inning since returning to bullpen duty earlier in the week. He consistently hit 97 mph with his fastball, retiring three of the four batters he faced. The Mariners will begin the season with a 12-man pitching staff, two catchers, four outfielders and seven infielders. "I'm happy because I think there were guys who came in with a purpose and they accomplished what they wanted to," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "But making the team is step one. We want to win, and how we are going to be is up to these guys. It's up to veterans and up to the young guys to put it together." The biggest surprise was the inclusion of third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo. The former three-sport star at Woodinville (Wash.) High School and the organization's first Draft selection in 2004 basically replaces Ichiro, who was officially placed on the 15-day disabled list Saturday. "He obviously had a great spring, worked hard and really impressed us," Wakamatsu said. "It's nice to be able to reward a kid like that, and I think it's the best fit right now. We'll see how it goes on the road until Ichiro comes back." Ichiro is eligible to come off the DL on April 15. The past week has been a wild ride for the 22-year-old third baseman. Tuiasosopo went 2-for-2 in Saturday's spring finale, raising his spring average to .424, and he was called into the manager's office to receive the news that he was going with the team in Minneapolis. "I just sat there and had the biggest smile on my face," Tuiasosopo said. "I'm probably not going to be there that long, who knows? But it's pretty cool to make it out of camp. How much [I] play [doesn't matter], I'm just happy to be making the team. "If I get opportunity to get in there, hopefully I can make the most of it -- pinch-running, pinch-hitting. If I have to play anywhere, even outfield, or anywhere in the infield, I'm just happy to get an opportunity." The original game plan was to start the season with five outfielders, but Wakamatsu and Zduriencik decided that replacing Ichiro with Tuiasosopo makes the team stronger than if they replaced Ichiro with another outfielder. "We have some versatility in Ronny Cedeno," Wakamatsu said. "He can go out there, along with Wladimir [Balentien]." If not for the way Tuiasosopo performed, Ichiro's replacement could well have been Mike Wilson, who hit a club-record eight home runs and team-high 19 RBIs this spring -- and yet received a plane ticket back to Arizona. "There were a lot of [tough decisions], but probably Mike Wilson was the toughest," Wakamatsu said. "We like to reward guys that deserve it, and I wish there was one more spot [on the roster]. If there was, Mike Wilson he would be on it. We took him off the roster and brought him back. He made some adjustments and really played hard. That was probably the hardest call." The Mariners will carry two catchers -- Kenji Johjima and Rob Johnson. One was a given, and the other wasn't. Johnson was fourth on the depth chart when camp opened, but steadily moved up, passing Jeff Clement and then veteran Jamie Burke, who was re-assigned to the Minor League camp. "Jamie Burke has been with the organization and would be an asset for any club," Wakamatsu said. "We also thought Rob deserves an opportunity after coming in and having the spring he had. Coming in, we set some parameters what we were looking for in that spot, and he filled them all." Johnson was thrilled to get a spot on the Opening Day roster, but at the same time felt bad for Burke. "Jamie and I are really close friends," Johnson said. "We've had a lot of good talks the last couple of days. It's always difficult, but it's part of the game. He can still get back up here. There are so many things that can happen -- trades, stuff like that. We'll see what happens." As for things happening, relievers Jakubauskas and Kelley were on cloud nine when they left the clubhouse Saturday. Neither was given much of chance of being on the Opening Day roster entering camp. "We had great reports on Kelley and were told that Jakubauskas was a guy who would open our eyes, but not to that extent," Wakamatsu said. Jakubauskas pitched a scoreless inning Saturday and finished camp with a 1.99 ERA. Kelley began last season at Class A Wisconsin, and he finished it with Double-A West Tennessee. "We added the leadership we wanted, and it's a combination of young players and veteran players around them to set the example," Wakamatsu said. "I'm not saying it's set yet, we're still looking for some things, but for what we started with and what we're ending up with, I think we all feel pretty good about it."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.