PEORIA, Ariz. -- For guys like Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz, the first game of Cactus League play is a blip on the radar, a chance to get a couple of innings, an at-bat or two, and begin the monthlong buildup to the regular season.
But for those fighting for jobs, like Seattle first baseman Mike Ford, this is the real deal. And it starts Friday when the Mariners face the Padres in a 12:10 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium.
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"This is like the regular season is starting right now for the guys who are trying to crack the team," said Ford, a Rule 5 Draft pickup from the Yankees. "That's how I look at it, and that's how I'll take it."
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Left-hander Ariel Miranda will start Friday's opener for the Mariners, followed by fellow starting candidate Andrew Moore. Both are expected to pitch about two innings and could be competing for the fifth starting role if right-hander Erasmo Ramirez's strained lat lingers all spring.
Here are three other dark-horse candidates for a spot on Seattle's 25-man roster who'll be among those worth watching this spring:
Ford: The 25-year-old's chances took a dramatic rise when Ryon Healy required surgery to remove a bone spur from his right hand on Feb. 14.
As a Rule 5 selection, the Princeton University product needs to either make Seattle's roster for the entire season or be offered back to the Yankees. Healy's injury could buy the Mariners some time to see how Ford fares at the Major League level, which is a large unknown given he's played only 25 games at Triple-A.
The Mariners love Ford's strike-zone discipline, high on-base percentage and power potential, but he'll need to show all of that as well as the ability to handle first base defensively to beat out Daniel Vogelbach, who has a much longer track record at Triple-A.
Healy could make it all moot if he's able to come back in time, but that seems like a tough goal since his time frame is to be cleared right around Opening Day. Given Healy hasn't been able to hit much this offseason due to his hand issue, he'll need to regain his timing, and the Mariners won't want to rush him back and risk a setback.
Reliever Nick Rumbelow: The final bullpen spot or two figure to be hotly contested, and the 26-year-old right-hander acquired by trade from the Yankees has looked impressive early in a camp filled with versatile power arms.
Rumbelow isn't physically imposing -- listed at 6-foot, 190 pounds -- but he brings some heat and racked up 45 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings in 25 games last year on the Yankees' Triple-A and Double-A clubs after returning from Tommy John surgery.
He pitched 17 games for the Yankees in '15 before hurting the elbow and looks like a guy who can help a Major League bullpen again if given the chance.
"I really do feel great," Rumbelow said. "They say you rebound even better in the second year [after Tommy John]. I'm in optimal health and shape right now and just looking to go forward."
First baseman Matt Hague: The Mariners have two rookie prospects in Ford and Vogelbach who figure to have first crack at replacing Healy if needed. But the 32-year-old Hague is a non-roster invitee who has more experience than either and is coming off a strong season for the Twins' Triple-A Rochester club.
Hague is a local product who played for Kentwood High and the University of Washington and jumped at the opportunity with his hometown team after stints with the Pirates and Blue Jays. Hague lives in New Orleans now, but his parents and numerous relatives remain in the Covington area southeast of Seattle.
"It's one of those surreal moments, signing the contract," Hague said. "Once I found out the Mariners were interested, I was absolutely ready. And I know my family was."
Hague last played in the Majors in 2015, then spent a year in Japan before hitting .297/.373/.416 with 10 homers and 65 RBIs in 136 games for Rochester last year.
"I don't know what's going to happen, but you want to go out and impress them and show 'em what you've got," he said. "The cards will fall where they fall."