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Strickland happy to get 'fresh start' in Seattle

February 17, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Hunter Strickland figures to challenge for the Mariners' closer role in 2019, but the former Giants reliever was in the leadoff role on Sunday as the first Seattle pitcher to step up and throw living batting practice this spring.:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::The

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Hunter Strickland figures to challenge for the Mariners' closer role in 2019, but the former Giants reliever was in the leadoff role on Sunday as the first Seattle pitcher to step up and throw living batting practice this spring.
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
The Mariners are wasting no time pushing ahead in their pitching progressions as Strickland threw just one bullpen session earlier this week before being thrust into a situation against live hitters. But that's the nature of an abbreviated spring during which Seattle opens Cactus League play on Thursday and is just 25 days from boarding a charter to Tokyo for the Opening Series against the A's.
The 30-year-old Strickland was happy to get things going, having thrown eight or nine bullpen sessions on his own before getting to Spring Training.
"Going through the free-agent market, I didn't know where I was going to be, so I just wanted to be prepared," Strickland said. "And it kind of worked out in my favor, since we do have a shorter spring. We've got to be ready. We're all competing for jobs. We have to be ready to help our team win on Game 1."
Strickland signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract three weeks ago, with a chance to double that if he meets a series of games pitched and games finished incentives. After Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto dealt much of last year's bullpen -- including closer Edwin Díaz and set-up men Alex Colomé and Juan Nicasio -- Strickland brings the most closing experience of anyone in Seattle's camp, having saved 14 games last year for the Giants.
But he's taking nothing for granted.
"I think the opportunity is open for everybody," he said. "Obviously, they've made a lot of changes this year, which is a good thing. We've got a lot of talent, not only in the bullpen but the entire team. I think the competition is healthy for everybody."
As for his own health, Strickland gave a big thumbs-up. After a strong start, his season last year was derailed by a broken hand after slamming a clubhouse door following a blown save in mid-June. He finished the year with a 3.97 ERA.
Prospects wasting no time turning heads
Prior to that game, Strickland had posted a 2.01 ERA and opposing line of .200/.266/.304 in 33 appearances. Over the rest of the year, he had an 8.36 ERA and .339/.437/.678 line in 16 outings.
The Giants released Strickland rather than go through the arbitration process, and he's pleased to have landed in Seattle with a clean slate.
"I feel better than I ever have," he said. "I'm ready to go. Just physically, mentally, everything. I think everything has been a fresh start. It was a good offseason. I put in a lot of work, both physically and mentally, and I'm just preparing for the best."
Worth noting
Shed Long, acquired last month in a trade for outfielder Josh Stowers, was drafted as a high school catcher by the Reds in 2013 and converted to second base in 2015. The 5-foot-8 Long played strictly second and some third base in his Minor League career, but he will get some time in the corner-outfield spots this spring.
"We've talked about me playing everywhere," said the Mariners' No. 8 prospect, per MLB Pipeline. "Wherever I'm needed, I'll plug in. It doesn't matter."
Long brought an outfield glove to camp, and "it's almost broken in. It's getting there."
• Along with Strickland, other pitchers throwing live batting practice Sunday were Cory Gearrin, Roenis Elias, Gerson Bautista and Tommy Milone. Bautista, acquired from the Mets in the Robinson Canó/Diaz deal, has been among the early highlights in camp as the slender right-hander features an upper-90s fastball.
There'll be nine pitchers throwing live BP on Monday, including starters Marco Gonzales, Wade LeBlanc, Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson.
Félix Hernández threw his second bullpen session of the spring on Sunday and will proceed to a live BP outing on Wednesday. Yusei Kikuchi and Mike Leake are throwing their first live BP on Tuesday. But Servais said not to read anything into how pitchers are lining up at this point regarding how the rotation will play out.
"We do have a schedule mapped out, but it's all subject to change," Servais said. "We'll see how guys are feeling. Some guys may need more time off here early on. But once everybody gets their first outing under their belt, they'll have a better idea how this thing lines up as we go to Japan and then coming out of Japan. But everything is subject to change right now."
• The first infield group working together on Saturday had Ryon Healy and Daniel Vogelbach sharing time at first base, Dee Gordon at second, Tim Beckham and J.P. Crawford at shortstop and Kyle Seager and utility man Dylan Moore taking grounders at third.
On Sunday, Jay Bruce joined Healy and Vogelbach at first, Gordon was at second, Beckham and Crawford at short and Seager and utility man Kristopher Negrón were at third.

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