Mariners notebook: Jerry Dipoto exploring backup options in center

Mar 1, 2016, 2:25 PM | Updated: 5:48 pm
Jerry Dipoto said Franklin Gutierrez may be a backup option in center field, but his diminished speed and health issues could make that a challenge. (AP)
(AP)

PEORIA, Ariz. – Just some quick notes with my radio duties picking up as we get closer to spring-training games:

First, if you missed last night’s “Cactus League Report” from the Salty Senorita in Peoria, fear not, we have a podcast.

Hour 1 featured two segments with Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, who gave us some behind-the-scenes looks at the early meetings I have been writing about, the team building and teaching that has been going on, and what he has seen from the players and coaches so far.

A couple of interesting notes came out of our conversation with Dipoto, including perhaps a better indication of what we could see in the outfield. Leonys Martin, who has struggled against lefties, will get some days off. Just how much time off will he get and who will play center when he’s out?

“Our intention is he is our center fielder,” Dipoto said. “Very likely to get more than a platoon’s share. He will face some lefties but not all. He doesn’t handle left-handers terrifically well, but we don’t feel like he’s been given an opportunity to face a ton of them either. He plays a Gold-Glove-quality center field. He will be out there much of the time.”

And when he’s not?

“We plan on Nori Aoki playing left field, not exclusively but most of the time,” Dipoto said. “What we are going to ask him to do throughout the spring and maybe what we will talk to Franklin Gutierrez about is stepping in to center field and if they can give us just that one day when Leonys can get off his feet for one day against a lefty or two days where you are facing a Dallas Keuchel or Cole Hamels. That would be a real benefit to us.

“Franklin Gutierrez is a former Gold Glover, so is Nori Aoki in a different country at a different time. We are going to find out if they can contribute. If not, we do feel like we have guys internally who have the athleticism, guys like (Shawn) O’Malley and (Luis) Sardinas, who we can send to the outfield and pick up the outfield that day.”

A lot of interesting tidbits in those comments. Dipoto doesn’t say that they will ask Gutierrez to go to center, but they could. That was something the organization stayed away from last year. If it is just one game here and there, could he handle it?

Two things to remember. More running in center may be a challenge for Gutierrez with his health problems. Also, he no longer has the speed he had when he was a Gold Glove winner. Of course, the biggest question at this point would be if he’s still comfortable playing the position.

If not Aoki or Gutirriez in center field then Sardinas or O’Malley, which would be even more interesting in that it would impact the utility-infield competition. I think it is a longshot that Aoki, who was primarily a center fielder before coming to the Major Leagues, would be a more of a liability out there than two guys who have little to no experience in center. Still, Dipoto made the comment so there is the possibility of it at least being explored.

M’s sign OF Heredia

The signing of Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia is now official. He has been in camp but not participating the last few days as he waited for results from his physical. To make room for Heredia on the 40-man roster, catcher Jesus Sucre was placed on the 60-day disabled list.

First spring-training lineup

The Mariners will take on the Padres Wednesday in their Cactus League opener. The lineup posted in the clubhouse is close to what we could see opening day.

Nori Aoki, LF
Kyle Seager, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Franklin Gutierrez, DH
Adam Lind, 1B
Seth Smith, RF
Chris Iannetta, C
Ketel Marte, SS
Leonys Martin, CF

James Paxton, SP

The starters are expected to get two at-bats and Paxton should pitch two innings, getting 30-35 pitches in.

First pitch is at 12:10 Seattle time and the game can be heard on 710 ESPN Seattle. The full spring broadcast schedule can be found here.

Cruz has sore knee

Nelson Cruz is not in the lineup as he has had a sore knee since the start of camp. The Mariners have been careful with him, using pinch runners in the situational games and keeping him out of the outfield. Manager Scott Servais says the soreness is not a concern and that he has been told it is a result of Cruz going from running on harder surfaces in the Dominican Republic to the soft grass in Peoria.

Cruz said he expects to be in the lineup Thursday.

“It feels good right now,” he said. “It has felt good the last four days. I felt it the first day I came to camp and they told me to slow down. The last four days it feels fine. They haven’t let me do anything. Today I will run, tomorrow, I don’t get to play tomorrow. I get to play the next day.”

Note

There should be a new face in Peoria Wednesday as the Mariners are expected to sign left-handed outfielder/first baseman Efren Navarro to a minor-league contract. Navarro, who had been with the Angels since being drafted in 2007, was acquired by the Orioles in January but was removed from the 40-man roster to make room for newly-signed Yovani Gallardo. He cleared waivers and elected free agency on Sunday. He has hit .243/.303/.324/.627 in 256 career at-bats, mostly against right-handers.

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