ABOUT THE ROTATION
Even though this is considered the strength of the team, there are questions beyond Hernandez. Vargas is coming off his best season but also threw a career high in innings. Fister also reached his career high for innings pitched and was not the same after missing most of June with an injury. Speaking of injuries, Bedard has not thrown a pitch in a major league game since July 25, 2009 because of shoulder issues. And then there’s the impressive Pineda, whose next start in the majors will be his first. And, like last year, the starters likely won’t have a big margin of error with which to work because of a less-than-imposing offense.
ABOUT THE BULLPEN
Crossed fingers and closed eyes might become the ritual of Mariners fans late in games if the team struggles to replace its closer, Aardsma, who is beginning the season on the DL after offseason hip surgery. League, who appeared shaky at times last season, gets the first shot. And there’s a lot of unknowns beyond who will close: Can rookies Lueke and Wilhelmsen make the jump to the majors? Can new additions Ray and Laffey be effective?
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ABOUT THE CATCHERS
Olivo has hit at least 12 homers and driven in 41 in each of the last five seasons, which is why he was signed as a free agent. But he was available because he’s strikeout prone (striking out about 28 percent of the time during his career) and his on-base percentage is not high, either (.283 for his career). Moore has been moved into a backup role, and he must prove he’s a better hitter than he showed in 228 at-bats over the last two years (.197).
ABOUT THE INFIELD
Figgins and Wilson are the only two members of this group who were on the team last opening day – and they will be starting at different positions this year. Figgins moves back to third (replacing the departed Jose Lopez) and Wilson slides over to second to make way for new shortstop Ryan. There’s little power in any of these bats except for Smoak, and he is hardly proven after an up-and-mostly-down rookie season. If Wilson and Figgins can adjust to their new positions, the defense should be good with Ryan being rated a top defender and Smoak showing good hands at first base.
ABOUT THE OUTFIELD
Go ahead and count on Ichiro getting 200 hits because he’s done that every season since becoming a Mariner. Trying to figure out what the other players will do is a little trickier. Gutierrez is sidelined with a stomach ailment that zapped his energy last season, so he’s a question mark. His absence hurts not only the offense, but also the defense. This spring, Bradley showed flashes of being the hitter he was brought in to be, but ... it’s only April. New DH Cust can work a count and is a deep threat that rates as an improvement over last season’s offerings. And there’s Saunders, who is still trying to prove that he’s capable of handling major-league pitching.