Shortened spring forces Mariners to adjust
PEORIA, Ariz. (AP)
This hasn't been a typical spring for the Seattle Mariners, who got off to an early start and have worked through a condensed schedule as they prepare to open the regular season in Japan.
They crammed four intrasquad games into five days this week to try to give players as much game action as possible with fewer spring training games on the schedule. On Thursday, they finally got a day off.
''There's some challenges, but nothing we won't be able to handle,'' manager Eric Wedge said. ''The intrasquad games are an important part of this, because we needed to do that. Once we get into (spring training) games, then we get into our routine a little bit. . Nothing's going to surprise us. We know when we're leaving for Japan, we know what we're going to be doing over there, we know what we're going to be doing when we get back. So we're prepared for it.''
The Mariners will be in Japan from March 22 to March 30, the latter part of the spring training game schedule. Their trip will feature a pair of exhibition games against Japanese teams and two regular season games in Tokyo against the Oakland Athletics, including the March 28 season opener.
As a result, the Mariners opened camp earlier than every other major-league team. The first workout for pitchers and catchers was Feb. 12. The Mariners and A's will also be the first teams to play a spring game when they face each other on Friday.
The intrasquad games allowed the Mariners to get an early look at what figures to be the top of their order in Japan and heading into April - Chone Figgins in the leadoff spot, Dustin Ackley batting second and Ichiro Suzuki batting third, out of his customary leadoff role.
Ackley, 24, became the team's everyday second baseman after a call-up last June and wound up hitting .273 over 90 games. He was used primarily as the No. 3 man in the order last season.
''The biggest thing I want to accomplish is just getting physically stronger,'' Ackley said. ''I feel like last year I didn't finish the year quite as strong as I'd like just because physically, I felt like I broke down.''
Ackley, knowing the Mariners are big in Japan, is excited to go there, but perhaps not as much as newly acquired pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who will be returning to his homeland.
''I try to prepare best to pitch in front of the fans,'' Iwakuma said through a translator. ''That's what I'm trying to do right now, to show my ability to pitch like I used to in Japan.''
Notes: The Mariners open Cactus League play against the Athletics, the other major-league team going to Japan, in Phoenix on Friday, with RHP Blake Beavan the scheduled starter for Seattle. Beavan was 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 games last season. ... Hector Noesi, Jason Vargas and Iwakuma are the next three scheduled starters for the Mariners.