PEORIA, Ariz. — The Seattle Mariners’ early arrival at their spring training facility in Peoria is easily explained as a byproduct of their unusual start to the season. The team goes to Tokyo for two regular season games with the Oakland Athletics on March 28 and 29.
But the Mariners aren’t looking at the early jump on spring training as just a result of their atypical Opening Day. After all, the A’s didn’t choose to arrive earlier than their Cactus League counterparts. The Mariners instead see the early start as an advantage to better evaluating the prospects of the 2012 season.
“Quite frankly, I feel like it’s necessary,” second-year manager Eric Wedge said Tuesday. “I feel like it’s necessary for our starting pitchers, I feel like it’s necessary for our position players, in particular our young position players and for some of the veteran’s that are looking to get back on track.”
Pitchers and catchers had their first workout Sunday, and position players report Friday. Some position players have already arrived at Peoria Sports Complex, such as left fielder Mike Carp and first baseman Justin Smoak.
Wedge said he senses the players understand where the team is and what it needs to do this spring. The players share Wedge’s feeling that the early start is a positive and a way to prepare for better results following two straight last-place finishes in the AL West.
“Everybody’s just motivated,” Carp said. “We’ve got something started here. We’re definitely in a rebuilding phase with a lot of young talent and a lot of young guys competing for jobs. Everybody wants to come in and get a leg up.
“I think everybody’s kind of been in sync with each other that ‘Hey, I’ve got to get out there, got to get a jump on everybody.’”
Seattle’s camp features an abundance of young talents, like catcher Jesus Montero who was acquired from the Yankees in the offseason, and pitcher Danny Hultzen, the team’s top draft pick in 2011. There are also some of more seasoned youngsters, relatively speaking, like third baseman Kyle Seager and second baseman Dustin Ackley, who got their first taste of the big leagues last summer.
“We’re real young, so it gets us out here and gets us a little more experience together,” Carp said. “It lets a lot of these young guys know how they run the ship around here.”
The Mariners have much to figure out before the first pitch of the 2012 season, particularly on the pitching front. As many as three rotation jobs are up for grabs and there’s a crowded field competing for bullpen jobs. The extra time in camp gives Wedge and his staff enough time to answer those and other questions.
After the two games in Japan, the Mariners return to Arizona for five additional Cactus League games. The schedule is unique and will require players manage the mindset shifts between spring training and the regular season.
“It’s definitely going to be weird traveling that far, spending nine days out there and then having to come back here,” Carp said. “But it’s definitely an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so you definitely dont take it as anything bad. Youve just got to deal with it and adjust.”
Kevin Millwood is an anomaly in camp. The 37-year-old has pitched in part of 15 major league seasons already, and his presence in Mariners camp this year is much more than a veteran courtesy.
“I’ve got a lot of experience with Kevin,” Wedge said. “I’ve got a great deal of trust in him as a person and as a pitcher. I know what he’s capable of doing. He’s going to come in and compete. We brought him in here because we feel like if he’s the Kevin Millwood that we know him to be then he can be of great help to us.”
Millwood, who pitched for Wedge in 2005 with the Indians, received a non-roster invitation to Mariners camp. He started nine games with Colorado last year, going 4-3 with a 3.98 ERA and finishing strong with three wins in his last five starts.
Given that strong finish and the inexperience in the Mariners’ rotation, Millwood’s chances look good to catch on for a 16th season with what would be his seventh team.
“I still feel like I can compete at this level and win ballgames,” Millwood said. “You’ve definitely got to go out and give your team a chance to win. I feel like I can do that. I don’t think I’d be here if they didn’t think I could do that.”
Millwood said he’s taking things slow at the outset and just getting his mechanics squared away, but he won’t fret much this spring about his roster status or proving himself to Wedge, especially early in camp.
“Don’t take it the wrong way, I really want to make the team and I’m going to work hard and do everything I can to do that,” Millwood said. “But at the same time, I’m not going to stress over everything all day long. I’ve been here before, and I know what it takes to get ready. Hopefully that will be enough to reach my goals.”
The Mariners added a March 16 game to their Cactus League schedule — the first in a slate of three games to be played in Tucson this spring. The split-squad game will be played at Kino Stadium on March 16 against the Milwaukee Brewers at 1:05 p.m. The other half of the team will play the A’s in Phoenix at 7:05 p.m.