PEORIA, Ariz. - Miguel Olivo's march toward a healthy start to the 2011 season took a few steps forward Wednesday.
The veteran, who left a March 5 game with a strained left groin muscle, caught three innings in a minor league game for Seattle’s Class Triple-A team.
“I’m not 100 percent, but I was ready for this, Olivo said. “They didn’t want me to have a setback, so I listen and do exactly what they want.
“I’m going to DH (today), then maybe catch five innings the next day,” Olivo said. “After that, everything should be good.”
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The importance of having Olivo healthy for opening day goes beyond Seattle’s desire to have him in the lineup. On a team that must already find spots for four non-roster players – Adam Kennedy, Ryan Langerhans, Jamey Wright and Chris Ray – the Mariners did not want to have to add a non-roster catcher.
And Adam Moore is the only other catcher on the Mariners’ 40-man roster.
“You do what you have to do with the roster, but you don’t like to take players off the 40-man,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Those are not easy decisions to make.”
Olivo looked good behind the plate, catching three innings and handling 60 pitches from Jason Vargas, including four in the dirt that Olivo blocked. He also threw out a would-be base stealer, Nick Franklin.
“Miguel looked good back there,” Vargas said. “I hope he catches me in my next start. He blocked a few breaking balls in the dirt and made that strong throw to second base. He looked ready to me.”
“I asked Jason to throw his breaking ball down, and he did and I blocked it,” Olivo said “I’d done it in the (bullpen sessions), but I wanted to do it at game speed today.”
Someone asked if he could have played more than three innings Wednesday, and Olivo laughed.
“You trying to get me in trouble? I listen to (trainer) Rick Griffin and the coaches. They know what they’re doing,” he said. “I’ll say this, though – I wouldn’t have played today if I didn’t think I was ready. I don’t want to look like a jackass out there.
“I had no pain, no soreness. I’m ready.”
Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge were both on hand for the 11 a.m. game Olivo caught, though both were headed for a 6:40 p.m. Cactus League game. Zduriencik was delighted with what he saw from Olivo.
“We signed him for his experience, his leadership and his energy and we saw some of that early this spring before he got hurt,” Zduriencik said. “There are always setbacks, and you deal with them, but he’s healing well, he’s coming along well and we have a plan to get him ready for the regular season.”
Olivo was signed for more than his energy, after the ineptitude the Mariners saw at the catching position last season, when injuries and inexperience led to a lack of production at or behind the plate.
Zduriencik signed free agent Olivo to a two-year contract with a third-year option, and promised him the starting job over Adam Moore.
Moore responded by batting .381 with a .517 on-base percentage this spring, while Olivo had only 10 at-bats, and one hit, when he was injured.
Ironically, it was after that hit when, in scoring on a sacrifice fly, Olivo was hurt.