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Santana, Fraley make noise in roster battle

@gregjohnsmlb
March 5, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Domingo Santana has wasted no time making his presence felt in the Mariners lineup, as the new left fielder clubbed his third home run of the spring in Tuesday’s 7-7 tie with the Padres in Cactus League play. The 6-foot-5, 230-pouind Santana went 2-for-3 with two RBIs

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Domingo Santana has wasted no time making his presence felt in the Mariners lineup, as the new left fielder clubbed his third home run of the spring in Tuesday’s 7-7 tie with the Padres in Cactus League play.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pouind Santana went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and is hitting .467 (7-for-15) with seven RBIs in his first six spring games after being acquired from the Brewers for outfielder Ben Gamel.

Santana, 26, hit .278 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs in a breakout campaign in 2017 for Milwaukee, but slumped last year as his playing time slipped after the Brewers acquired Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain.

The youngster could figure prominently in the Mariners’ rebuilding efforts as a right-handed power bat, and he’s off to a strong start after finishing last year on a high note after being recalled from the Minors and playing a critical role off the bench in the Brewers’ playoff run.

“I just wanted everybody to see it wasn’t just one year or whatever, that I could be down and get back up and still compete at that high level, which was really awesome,” he said. “And now I’m here.”

The Mariners are happy to have him, as the youngster from the Dominican Republic has been everything they’d hoped for out of the chute.

“Domingo is swinging the bat really well,” said manager Scott Servais. “He has all spring; from the first game out there he’s been on top of it. He’s got a lot of power. When he hits the ball in the air, it just keeps going. He’s off to a good start.”

Fraley shining as well

Center fielder Jake Fraley, acquired from the Rays as part of the Mike Zunino trade, is adding his name to the list of young prospects making names for themselves this spring. Fraley went 2-for-2 with a home run, double and three RBIs while starting in center field after Mitch Haniger was scratched again with a stiff back.

Fraley is 7-for-16 with a pair of homers in his first nine games and making a case for a backup outfield spot with Mallex Smith not expected to be ready for the Tokyo games to open the season.

“Jake has had an unbelievable spring,” Servais said. “Like many of these guys who’ve come to the organization, they really want to give a strong impression and he’s handled everything we’ve thrown at him. He’s got power, has done a nice job defensively, runs the bases pretty well, he’s got some speed.”

Felix gets work in during 'B' game

Félix Hernández gave up four runs -- though only two were earned -- in four innings of work on Tuesday in a "B" game against KT Wiz, a team from the Korea Baseball Organization that is training in Arizona this spring, but said all was fine as he continues building up his arm strength for his 15th Major League season.

The 32-year-old gave up a two-run double in the third inning and a two-run homer in the fourth in the game on one of the back fields at the Peoria Sports Complex. He allowed three hits and two walks with six strikeouts.

Hernandez said his arm feels good and the rest of his goal remains building up his innings.

“I made good pitches, a few mistakes, and they made me pay,” he said. “I’m just trying to get my innings up. Next time I’ll be five, then six. That’s what I’m working on. I feel pretty good.”

Opening Day starter still up in air

Though Servais said he’d wait until later this week to let his pitchers know how they’ll line up to start the season, it’s pretty clear the Mariners are not setting Hernandez up to continue his streak of 10 consecutive Opening Day starts.

Servais indicated earlier this spring that whoever starts Opening Day would likely make a final Cactus League start in Arizona just before the departure for Tokyo. But Hernandez is lined up to only get one more start in Arizona -- likely Sunday or Monday -- before the club flies to Japan on Thursday, March 14.

Marco Gonzales is lined up to pitch Friday against the Cubs and then would be available to face the Giants on March 13 before heading to Japan the next day and appears the likeliest choice.

Yusei Kikuchi is pitching Thursday night vs. the Reds in Goodyear, which would also allow him one more start in Arizona midweek before the team heads to Japan, so he also remains in prime contention for one of the two games in Tokyo.

Top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield will start in an early afternoon intrasquad game Thursday at the Peoria Sports Complex to get his work in as well, but he’s expected to open the season at Triple-A Tacoma.

Up next

Wade LeBlanc gets the start Wednesday in the first of three consecutive night games for the Mariners. The 5:40 p.m. PT game will be televised, with closer candidate Hunter Strickland, newly acquired prospect Erik Swanson and Rule 5 Draft pick Brandon Brennan among the relievers scheduled to throw.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.