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Mariners set travel roster for Japan

@gregjohnsmlb
March 13, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With their flight to Tokyo looming on Thursday and Opening Day just a week away, the Mariners pared their roster down Wednesday to the 30 players who’ll make the trip to Japan. Infielder Kristopher Negron cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma, which leaves rookie Dylan

PEORIA, Ariz. -- With their flight to Tokyo looming on Thursday and Opening Day just a week away, the Mariners pared their roster down Wednesday to the 30 players who’ll make the trip to Japan.

Infielder Kristopher Negron cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma, which leaves rookie Dylan Moore as the winner of the utility battle. J.P Crawford was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma, clearing the way for Tim Beckham to open the season as the starting shortstop as expected.

Also reassigned to Minor League camp were right-hander David McKay, outfielder Jake Fraley and catcher Austin Nola.

There are still 35 players in camp, but five of those are injured and not traveling to Tokyo. Third baseman Kyle Seager and right-handed relievers Gerson Bautista, Anthony Swarzak and Sam Tuivailala are all expected to be placed on the 10-day injured list to open the season and outfielder Mallex Smith will also remain in Arizona to continue playing games after missing much of spring with a strained elbow, though he could be ready to play when the club returns to Seattle.

That leaves 30 remaining players who'll board the charter flight to Japan:

Catchers: Omar Narvaez, David Freitas and Jose Lobaton.

Infielders: Edwin Encarnacion, Dee Gordon, Tim Beckham, Ryon Healy, Daniel Vogelbach and Dylan Moore.

Outfielders: Jay Bruce, Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana, Ichiro Suzuki and Braden Bishop.

Starting pitchers: Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Mike Leake, Wade LeBlanc and Felix Hernandez.

Right-handed relievers: Dan Altavilla, Shawn Armstrong, Chasen Bradford, Brandon Brennan, Matt Festa, Cory Gearrin, Nick Rumbelow and Hunter Strickland.

Left-handed relievers: Roenis Elias, Tommy Milone and Zac Rosscup.

From that group, the Mariners will need to declare a final 28-man roster for the Opening Series as three extra roster spots are allotted for the international games, though only 25 can be designated as active on game days for the two-game series.

Negron’s departure means Moore locked up the utility infield spot. Moore, 26, has never appeared in the Majors and split last year between Triple-A Colorado Springs and Double-A Biloxi with the Brewers, hitting a combined .299 with 31 doubles, nine triples and 14 home runs in 121 games.

“It’s a huge deal for me,” Moore said of making his first Major League roster. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet because I haven’t really reacted. I’m still trying to get all the packing done. But opening the [equipment] bag and seeing the jersey was a pretty cool experience.”

With Seager sidelined for at least the next six weeks following Tuesday’s surgery on his left hand, manager Scott Servais said Moore will get some time at third base as well as playing any of the infield positions and left field as needed.

“He’s going to play,” Servais said. “Sometimes we say, ‘Oh, he’s a utility guy.’ But we are going to give regulars days off as we get going because I want to make sure we continue to develop Dylan Moore because he’s a relatively young player. We’ll be very cognizant of giving guys days off and making sure he gets at-bats.”

Strickland ready to roll

One of the big questions facing the Mariners this past week has been the health of Strickland, but the closer threw well in a Wednesday intrasquad game and Servais said he was good to go to Japan.

The former Giant hasn’t thrown in a Cactus League game since March 3 due to a sore back, but will have a chance now to pitch in one of the exhibition games against the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo as a final tuneup before the Opening Series.

“I was really happy with the way he threw the ball,” Servais said. “It was coming out hot. He was landing the breaking ball. He looks completely healthy.”

Ex-Husky Bishop lands a spot

Bishop, the club’s No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has never played above Double-A ball, but the former University of Washington standout landed one of the 30 spots on the plane to Japan with a strong camp.

With Smith sidelined by his elbow issue, Haniger will start in center field and Bishop can back him up as well as play the corner spots if needed.

“I gave him a heads up quite a few days ago that this could happen, and I told him if he told anybody I wasn’t taking him to Japan,” Servais said with a laugh. “I’m really excited for him. He continues to progress. He’s had a great camp. How much he plays over there I’m not sure. He understands that. He’s just excited to get on the plane with us.”

Backup catcher still a battle

Servais said the competition for the backup catcher spot between Freitas and Lobaton hasn’t been determined. The team is taking three backstops to Tokyo, but only two will make the final roster.

“We don’t need to make that decision until March 19, the day before the first game,” Servais said. “Both those guys have had good springs. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Up next

The Mariners fly to Japan on Thursday and their next games will be a pair of exhibitions in the Tokyo Dome against the Yomiuri Giants on Sunday and Monday. Mike Leake will start on Sunday and Felix Hernandez on Monday. Neither game will be broadcast on radio or television back to the U.S.

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