PEORIA, Ariz. -- Recently signed Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia was among seven Mariners sent down to Minor League camp on Sunday and veteran first baseman Gaby Sanchez was released as the club reduced its Spring Training roster.Since he is on the 40-man roster, Heredia was optioned to Double-A Jackson. Six
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Recently signed Cuban outfielder Guillermo Heredia was among seven Mariners sent down to Minor League camp on Sunday and veteran first baseman Gaby Sanchez was released as the club reduced its Spring Training roster.
Since he is on the 40-man roster, Heredia was optioned to Double-A Jackson. Six other non-roster invitees were reassigned to Minor League camp -- left-handed reliever Paul Fry, catchers Marcus Littlewood and Steve Lerud, infielders Benji Gonzalez and Tyler Smith and outfielder Dario Pizzano.
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Sanchez, 32, was given a non-roster invitation after playing in Japan last season, but the seven-year Major League veteran was behind Jesus Montero and Dae-Ho Lee in the battle for Seattle's backup first-base spot. He hit .250 (4-for-16) in nine Cactus League games.
Heredia, 25, hasn't played in the past two years after his defection to Mexico, but is regarded as a speedy center fielder with a good glove. After spraining an ankle in his first week in camp, Heredia made his Cactus League debut on Friday with one inning on defense and then had two at-bats late in Saturday's 8-4 loss to the Dodgers, going 0-for-1 with a sacrifice bunt.
"You have to see how the bat is going to play out," said manager Scott Servais. "That will be the determining factor for him. There's enough skills in the outfield and baserunning. One of the things we did talk about him, the culture change is going to be the biggest hurdle to overcome.
"I've been around Cuban players that come over. It took Leonys Martin a while just to get comfortable with the language and food and communicating, everything that goes into it. He's a really smart kid, he's already starting to pick up the language a little bit and his answers to questions are very good. I'm excited to see how it plays out for him. It's a challenge. It's a challenge for all the kids, so we'll see."
Lerud, 31, is the only one in the group with Major League experience. He played nine games with the Phillies in 2012-13 and spent last year with the Nationals' Triple-A Syracuse club before signing with Seattle as a Minor League free agent.
Fry, Littlewood, Gonzalez, Smith and Pizzano are all Mariners' Minor Leaguers who were invited to camp this spring. Fry's departure leaves Seattle with just three left-handed relievers in camp in Charlie Furbush, Vidal Nuno and David Rollins, though starter Mike Montgomery could be used in that role as well.
Servais noted that Fry got sick and lost considerable weight just before camp, so "we probably didn't see the best of Paul Fry," but he remains a lefty specialist the Mariners are high on after a strong year at Jackson and Class A Advanced Bakersfield last season.
Servais liked what he saw from Pizzano, a 24-year-old who put up a .308/.366/.457 line for Jackson last year. It was that high on-base percentage that got the Boston native an invite to camp.
"He carried himself very well," Servais said. "The thing with him, we wanted to send a message throughout our organization how we were going to value controlling the strike zone. There are certainly other players in the Minor League camp and we're starting to see some of them show up now that maybe were worthy of joining us in big league camp. But we're trying to send a message on what we're going to value, and they're getting it on the Minor League side."
There are eight outfielders remaining in big league camp -- Norichika Aoki, Martin, Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, Nelson Cruz, Stefen Romero, Boog Powell and non-roster invitee Daniel Robertson.
The club is now down to five catchers, with Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Mike Zunino, Steve Baron and newly acquired Rob Brantly.
The Mariners now have 39 roster players and nine non-roster invitees in Major League camp. They'll need to get down to 25 before Opening Day on April 4 in Texas.
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.