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Cora among finalists for new Mariners skipper

SEATTLE -- General manager Jack Zduriencik returned to Seattle on Saturday to begin the second round of interviews for a new manager, with former Mariners second baseman Joey Cora among a handful of finalists, according to a baseball source .

Cora, 48, is the latest to be confirmed as a potential replacement for Eric Wedge, who stepped down at the end of the 2013 season.

Zduriencik spoke with at least a dozen candidates over the past two weeks in Phoenix and now is zeroing in on a small group of leading contenders. There are eight known to have interviewed in the initial phase -- Cora, A's bench coach Chip Hale, Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Giants bench coach Ron Wotus, Dodgers third-base coach Tim Wallach, Tigers hitting coach and former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon, former Mariners catcher and current broadcaster Dave Valle, and former catcher Brad Ausmus.

Ausmus, who has been a special assistant in the Padres front office since retiring after an 18-year Major League career in 2010, was said by a baseball source to have interviewed with the Mariners as well as the Tigers and Cubs, the other two clubs still in the hiring process. Ausmus, 44, has never coached or managed in the Majors, but did manage Israel in last year's World Baseball Classic.

Cora, who played for Seattle from 1995-98 as part of a 11-year Major League career, worked as Ozzie Guillen's third-base coach and bench coach with the White Sox and Marlins from 2004-12. He also spent three years managing in the Minor League systems of the Expos and Mets from 2001-03, managed a team in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2005 and '06 and was the general manager of a Puerto Rican Winter league team from 1999-01.

Cora was out of coaching this past season after Guillen and his staff were dismissed by the Marlins, but he has been working as an analyst for the MLB Network. The 5-foot-7, 150-pound Puerto Rican native had a career batting average of .277 while playing for the Padres, White Sox, Mariners and Indians from 1987-98.

Cora was part of the Mariners' breakthrough season in 1995, when he hit .297 with 18 stolen bases in 120 games in his first year, then earned his only All-Star berth in 1997, when he batted .300 with 11 home runs, 54 RBIs and 104 runs scored in 149 games.

Cora was a two-time All-American and two-time Academic All-American in three seasons at Vanderbilt before being selected by the Padres in the first round (23rd overall) of the First-Year Player Draft in 1985.

The Mariners, Cubs and Tigers are all expected to finish their hiring processes in the next week or so and then can begin filling out coaching staffs. All of the Mariners coaches remain under contract through next season, but bench coach Robby Thompson was told last week that he wouldn't be returning and former third-base coach Jeff Datz was offered a job in scouting.

Pitching coach Carl Willis was given permission to interview for the same position with the Orioles, but that job instead went to Braves Minor League pitching instructor Dave Wallace.

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