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For McClendon, Mariners' championship run starts now

Manager emphasizes importance of preparation for grind over expectations

PEORIA, Ariz. -- As Lloyd McClendon greeted 61 players to the Mariners' first full-squad workout of Spring Training on Wednesday, the second-year manager had a clear message for his troops.

Forget what you've been reading and hearing. It's time to start preparing and playing.

"I don't usually share my messages," McClendon said when meeting with reporters prior to the first workout. "But I will share this. Expectations are very high, and that's OK. I understand it. But we can't get caught up in expectations. We've got to get prepared and get ready for the grind of a 162-game schedule, and it starts today. If you want to be a champion, it doesn't start in April -- it starts in February. And I think they'll be up to the task."

The addition of 2014 Major League home run leader Nelson Cruz to a team that went 87-75 last year despite considerable offensive shortcomings has pushed Seattle into prominence among many prognosticators. McClendon agrees this is a better club on paper after a productive offseason by general manager Jack Zduriencik.

"Good players win championships, and Jack has gone out and provided us more talent to give us a better opportunity to get that done," said McClendon. "Having said that, it just doesn't happen. I caution a lot of people that we're not starting at 87 wins, we're starting at zero. You've got to prepare and work."

If the Mariners are going to make a run in the American League West, they'll need their pitching to replicate last year's success, while adding offensive punch from Cruz and fellow veteran newcomers Seth Smith, Justin Ruggiano and Rickie Weeks.

That group took the field for the first time Wednesday, joining a nucleus of returning players built around Cano and third baseman Kyle Seager.

"It's always nice when you get all your players into camp," McClendon said. "That's probably the official start of Spring Training. The pitchers and catchers is a grind because you're going through the same thing every day and it's a little monotonous. It's always exciting when you see your position players again."

In other news Wednesday:

Tom Wilhelmsen said all went well as he threw off the mound for the first time this spring after being held back following his arbitration hearing in Florida last weekend, and Danny Hultzen -- who was given an extra day between his throwing sessions as he returns from shoulder surgery -- threw his second bullpen session.

Every pitcher is scheduled to throw at least two bullpen sessions and two live batting-practice sessions before Cactus League play begins March 4. Felix Hernandez won't start his throwing for a few more days as he follows his usual slower spring routine. James Paxton (bruised forearm) is the only other pitcher yet to toss off a mound.

• McClendon said Weeks will spend most of his outfield time in left field, working alongside Dustin Ackley. He said that wasn't a message to Ackley, but merely a move to improve the team by adding another veteran right-handed hitter.

"We're trying to get better, and Rickie Weeks is a good player that can help us win ballgames," McClendon said. "I think the combination of both those guys out there should produce a very productive left field. When you have a combination of 20-25 home runs and 100-plus RBIs, now you've got something."

• Ruggiano will see some time in center as well as right field, with McClendon saying it will be important to give center fielder Austin Jackson some rest at times to keep him sharp. James Jones provides further depth as he's capable of playing all three outfield positions.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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