Veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit reported no problems Friday with his sore back after throwing his first bullpen workout of the spring as the Mariners worked through their second day of full-squad drills.
“It was just a little tightness,” he said. “But they’ve been working on me, and it’s fine now.”
How’d it happen?
Benoit smiled: “I’m getting old, man.”
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Now 38, Benoit is with his fifth club as he enters his 15th big-league season. But after logging 661 career games with Texas, Tampa Bay, Detroit and San Diego, here’s an oddity:
“This is the first time I got traded,” he said. “Before I always signed somewhere as a free agent.”
The Mariners acquired Benoit — part of the offseason bullpen makeover — in a Nov. 12 deal with San Diego for two minor-league players, pitcher Enyel De Los Santos and infielder Nelson Ward.
“Joaquin Benoit has been one of the best set-up guys in the league for most of this decade,” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “Benoit has been, at times, dominant (and) mostly as consistent as anybody in the league.
“Though he’s older, he hasn’t wavered. His fastball velocity hasn’t changed. His swing-and-miss rates on the changeup are as good as they’ve ever been. He enjoys pitching the eighth inning, but he’s also (been) a very usable and functional closer.”
Benoit is 24-16 with 42 saves and a 2.35 ERA in 388 games over the last six seasons since missing all of 2009 while recovering from surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He was 6-5 with a 2.34 ERA last year in 67 games at San Diego.
The Mariners project Benoit as their primary right-handed, set-up reliever for new closer Steve Cishek. But, yes, if Cishek falters, Benoit will be first in line among possible replacements. He had 24 saves in 2013 at Detroit.
“It’s three outs,” Benoit said. “That’s how you have to look at it. The ninth inning is different. There’s more pressure. But you have to do your job whether it’s the eighth, ninth or seventh inning. Do your job and get three outs.”
HERNANDEZ ON THE BUMP
Felix Hernandez is scheduled to throw his first bullpen workout Saturday as part of his delayed program.
He typically starts his bullpen workouts roughly a week after everyone else.
“We’ve had a program for the last four years,” Hernandez said. “Same routine. I’ll throw my first bullpen, and then we’ll go from there.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais doesn’t anticipate any problems in adapting to the new pace-of-play rule that limits mound visits by the manager or pitching coach to 30 seconds.
“The umpire,” he said, “will come out and remind you, ‘Let’s go. Break it up. Let’s move on.’ From what I understand, the clock will start as soon as the manager or pitching coach leaves the dugout.”
The new rule on slides at second base are a different matter.
The so-called Utley Rule requires that a player begin his slide before reaching the base, be able and attempt to reach the base with a hand or foot, attempt to remain on the base and not change his path to initiate contact.
Major League Baseball tightened the rule after Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered a broken leg in the postseason last year because of a nasty takeout slide by Chase Utley of the Dodgers.
“If you slide over the base,” Servais said, “you’re going to be called out, as will the batter. That’s a big difference. So is the ability to review the neighborhood play.”
Infielders were previously granted latitude in having their foot on the base when taking a throw for a force-out. Umpires generally allowed them to be in the “neighborhood” of the base, and their ruling was not subject to a replay review.
Those calls can now be challenged.
“You’ve got to reteach it with our players and let them know it’s going to be important,” Servais said. “Veteran players are used to doing it a certain way; so he’s going to have to hang in there a little bit longer.”
The Mariners are a 4/1 pick to win the American League West in updated odds by www.Bovada.lv, an online gaming service.
That’s only better than Oakland (12/1). Houston rates as an 8/5 favorite, followed by Texas at 21/10 and the Los Angeles Angels at 15/4.
South Korean first baseman Dae-Ho Lee cleared up some confusion. He says his first name has a hyphen and the “H” in Dae-Ho is capitalized. … Lefty reliever Paul Fry, a nonroster invite, returned to the mound for a bullpen workout after being slowed for a few days by a nonpitching ailment. It was his second bullpen of the spring, which puts him one behind nearly everyone else. … MLB Network ranked the “Top 100 Players Right Now” and had four Mariners in the upper half: 2B Robinson Cano (No. 15), DH Nelson Cruz (27), RHP Felix Hernandez (35) and 3B Kyle Seager (48).
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners