Mariners notebook: Fifth spot in rotation still up for grabs

Mar 26, 2016, 1:32 PM | Updated: 2:26 pm
Nathan Karns is battling with James Paxton for the final spot in the Mariners’ rotation. (AP)...
Nathan Karns is battling with James Paxton for the final spot in the Mariners' rotation. (AP)
(AP)

It’s a busy day in Peoria, with the Mariners taking on the Dodgers in the main stadium and Hisashi Iwakuma pitching on a back field in a minor-league game. Kuma’s last two outings of the spring will be against minor leaguers, but that isn’t a concern as he knows what he needs to get ready, and he, of course, has a spot cemented in the rotation. As for the two who are fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation – Nathan Karns and James Paxton, according to Scott Servais – the assignment is still up for grabs.

“It’s very close,” Servais said. “Neck and neck. They both have struggled at times, they both have looked okay for an inning or two here and there. It’s very close.”

Servais’ tone was a little grim when talking about his fifth starter candidates. It may have been because he is suffering from what has now been officially termed “the crud” – not to be confused with the flu that is going around – but there was a hint of something else in his voice as well. No doubt he’d hoped someone’s performance would make this decision easier. While both Karns and Paxton have shown good stuff, neither have been consistent in their outings.

I mentioned the competition at first base yesterday and we should have news on that today or tomorrow, with Dae-Ho Lee’s opt-out date Sunday. Luis Sardinas seems to have all but won the battle for the utility spot. In addition to playing some centerfield for the first time this spring, he is now also working at first base. As for the backup catcher spot, Servais likes what he has seen from both Steve Clevenger and late addition Rob Brantly.

“I have been very pleased with the progress that Clevenger has made defensively,” Servais said. “For me, just the receiving and physical stuff, the blocking, throwing have been fine. That’s what stood out for me because he has done a bit better there than I anticipated he would in this camp. He is in a good spot.”

Brantly has made some defensive adjustments as well and the bat has certainly been noticed.

“Brantly brings some different things offensively as well,” said Servais. “I think we are in a good spot there. Catching is hard to find and there are a lot of clubs looking for it.”

Both catchers are out of options and there is a good possibility that either would be claimed off waivers, with the Astros being one of the teams looking for a backup since Max Stassi is out for at least six weeks due to hamate bone surgery. Clevenger is in the lineup today.

Lineup!

Ketel Marte, SS
Kyle Seager, 3B
Stefen Romero, 1B
Nelson Cruz, RF
Seth Smith, LF
Dae-ho Lee, DH
Steve Clevenger, C
Chris Taylor, 2B
Leonys Martin, CF

Wade Miley, P

Last night the majority of the starters played the full 10 innings. While I was looking at the lineup posted in the clubhouse I heard a big voice over me excitedly exclaim, “Right field! Believe it.” That, of course, was Nelson Cruz, who still very much likes playing in the field. Marte returns to the field after missing two days due to the flu.

Notes

&#8226 Tony Zych is scheduled to pitch today, which would give him his first back-to-back appearances of the spring. While there are plenty of questions remaining about the bullpen, Zych is hardly one of them, according to Servais.

“I think he is throwing the ball very well,” he said. “I’m very happy with where he’s at. He got roughed around in that one outing over at San Francisco this spring, but he has bounced back. He has a short memory, which is really good for a reliever.”

&#8226 In addition to Iwakuma, we could see Franklin Gutierrez in a minor-league game today as he looks to get more at-bats after missing nearly a week with the flu.

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