Wednesday March 26 - Day Three
Today, as promised, a discussion of the Mariners apparent change in philosophy in regards to signing minor league free agents.
But first, a brief note on today's Triple-A action: the Rainiers lost to Omaha (the Royals Triple-A affiliate), 5-3. Robert Rohrbaugh started and pitched four scoreless innings, but he allowed five runs to score in the fifth. Manager Daren Brown said he simply got tired, which is not unusual for a starting pitcher in the fifth inning at this time of spring. Pitchers are still building up the arm strength needed to work deeper into games - something you will see when the Rainiers season starts next Thursday. Don't expect any Tacoma starter to last more than six innings during the first couple of weeks of the season.
Brown, pitching coach Dwight Bernard, and hitting coach Alonzo Powell will be coaching the Mariners major league split-squad exhibition game on Thursday at Peoria Stadium (the other split squad is playing a night game in Scottsdale). Felix Hernandez will be the starting pitcher, and a few other major leaguers will be in the line-up - plus a number of potential Tacoma Rainiers.
The Rainiers roster is still very much in a state of flux. That was a subject of discussion with Brown at dinner last night: there are still too many Triple-A quality players to fit a 24-man roster. We may not have the final Tacoma roster until Monday March 31st - the date of the Mariners season opener.
One reason that the roster is so unsettled is that the Mariners broke recent tradition by signing a large number of experienced minor league free agents. This can be a very good thing for a Triple-A team, and the Mariners used to do it quite a bit in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I'm talking about experienced minor league players who helped the Rainiers put a winning team on the field - players like Brian Lesher, Bucky Jacobsen, Chad Akers, and Mickey Lopez. The last few years the Mariners did not sign these types of players, instead pushing very young players up to the Triple-A ranks to fill the roster. It was a "sink or swim" philosophy, with a mixed bag of individual results - but not-so-great team results (for example, the Rainiers being out of the race by May last year).
New Minor League Director Greg Hunter has signed some veteran players who can help a young Triple-A team win. Whether there are spots for all of these guys remains to be seen, but here are some players still in camp:
• Mike Kinkade, a WSU alum who can catch, play 3B and 1B, and flat-out hit - to the tune of a .327 career minor league average.
• Kevin Witt, a 32-year-old DH/1B who hit 36 home runs for Memphis two years ago, and spent last year playing in the Japanese major leagues.
• Shawn Garrett, and outfielder who hit .295 for Sacramento in 2005 and has opened eyes with a big spring.
• Roy Corcoran, a reliever who posted a 3.54 ERA for Albuquerque last year. He's still in big league camp.
• Philip Barzilla, a veteran lefty reliever who was with Round Rock last year.
Just to show the difference in approach, last year's list would have included one player: Justin Lehr, who turned out to be Tacoma's best pitcher for the first half of the season, and he started for the PCL in the All-Star game.
Now I don't know how many of these guys are going to make the team - roster spots are certainly at a premium right now. But the addition of these players gives the appearance that the Mariners are putting an emphasis on winning in Triple-A once again.
OK that's enough baseball for today. To answer everybody's wise-guy questions: no In-N-Out today (leaving Dave's record safe unless I enjoy three square meals there on Thursday), and off-track betting was bad (when you think you are betting horses and they are actually dogs, you are in trouble).
I'll report tomorrow from the split-squad major league game. Hopefully Brownie will get ejected, giving me something fun to write about.
Mike Curto is the radio broadcaster for the Tacoma Rainiers. Catch Rainiers baseball on FoxSports 850 AM, also streaming live via this website.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.