LOS ANGELES - It was the kind of question all managers hate, even those with a team that lost fewer than 101 games in its last season.
Eric Wedge was chatting amiably with the media Wednesday when someone asked how many games the Seattle Mariners were going to win in 2011.
“We’ll be a better team,” he said. “There’s still a lot of work here, we’ll continue to edge forward. These guys understand the approach we want, and as long as they do, we’ll keep improving.”
Predictions are of no value to Wedge. Promises are. When he was hired last winter to help turn this franchise around, the promise he made was simple. Whatever players he has will be told precisely what he expected of them.
And if they couldn’t or wouldn’t share his approach, they’d be gone.
Of the 25 players on the 2011 opening day roster, 12 were not with the team on opening day 2010.
The Mariners expect to be different – and they’ll start by looking different. A new starting catcher, a new designated hitter, one rookie in the starting rotation, two more in the bullpen.
“Everybody on this roster earned their spot,” Wedge said.
How tight-lipped can the new skipper be? He declined to say who his closer was – he mentioned Brandon League, Chris Ray and Jamey Wright – or who would start in center field in place of the ailing Franklin Gutierrez.
“I haven’t told them, and I’m not going to tell you until I have,” Wedge said. “We’ll deal with it all tomorrow and let you know.”
NEW GUYS RELIEVED
A few of the “new” Mariners were awfully happy to embrace the title Wednesday, given they’d come to spring training with no promise of sticking.
Chris Ray, who once saved 33 games for Baltimore – and won a World Series ring with San Francisco last year – thought if he were healthy, he’d win a job in the bullpen.
“They brought me here for a reason, and I knew if I were healthy I could help,” the right-hander said. “The last two or three games, I really felt better and better out there. I’ve always been one of the guys who had an option left, so you don’t know you’ve made the team until someone tells you.”
Another veteran, infielder Adam Kennedy, showed his versatility by playing first, second and third base and left field. At 35, he’s reached the stage of his career where a bad camp might be his last.
“I just tried to do what I can do,” Kennedy said. “I wanted to be part of it here, and they gave me that chance. I wasn’t sure I was on the team until today. You just never know.”
Rookie Josh Lueke came in hoping for a shot, but was realistic about his chances.
“I’ve only pitched 20 innings in AAA in my career,” Lueke said. “I came in here and was next to an eight-year veteran on one side, a guy with a couple of seasons on the other.
“I’d been pitching really well and then the other day I walked somebody and Ian Stewart hit a fastball at his ankles for a double, and I was like, ‘Oh, man ...’”
When the call to the manager’s office came, he was wary.
“My heart dropped,” Lueke said. “When I went to his office, though, (Wedge) had a big smile on his face, so then I figured it had to be good news.”
The Mariners sent Felix Hernandez directly to Oakland from Phoenix, figuring a good night of rest would do him more good than a flight, a ball game, then another flight.
Mariners work out today at the Oakland Coliseum, then play their opening night game against the Athletics on Friday. That will be a 7:07 p.m. game and televised on ROOT (formerly FSN). Probable starting pitchers: Felix Hernandez vs. Trevor Cahill.