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Mariners return Rule 5 pick Ford to Yankees

Ichiro's status for Opening Day is questionable
MLB.com

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Ford was returned to the Yankees by the Mariners on Saturday after clearing waivers, leaving Seattle with Ryon Healy and Daniel Vogelbach as the only first basemen remaining in Major League camp.

The Mariners also optioned right-handed reliever Chasen Bradford to Triple-A Tacoma, which leaves 34 players remaining in Major League camp. The final 25-man roster needs to be completed before Thursday's Opening Day game in Seattle, but most of the moves are expected to be announced by Sunday.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Rule 5 Draft pick Mike Ford was returned to the Yankees by the Mariners on Saturday after clearing waivers, leaving Seattle with Ryon Healy and Daniel Vogelbach as the only first basemen remaining in Major League camp.

The Mariners also optioned right-handed reliever Chasen Bradford to Triple-A Tacoma, which leaves 34 players remaining in Major League camp. The final 25-man roster needs to be completed before Thursday's Opening Day game in Seattle, but most of the moves are expected to be announced by Sunday.

Ford hit .259 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in 54 Cactus League at-bats, but there clearly wasn't a spot for the 25-year-old from Princeton once Healy returned from hand surgery and Vogelbach emerged as the hottest Mariners hitter in camp this spring.

Bradford posted a 6.75 ERA over 10 2/3 innings in nine Cactus League appearances. He'd been claimed off waivers from the Mets in January.

Bradford's departure leaves the Mariners with eight healthy relievers still in camp, though they're expected to add veteran lefty Wade LeBlanc as soon as his deal is finalized.

The plan is to open the season with eight relievers. The current eight in camp are right-handers Edwin Diaz, Juan Nicasio, Nick Vincent, Dan Altavilla, Ryan Cook and Casey Lawrence, along with lefties Marc Rzepczynski and James Pazos. Cook and Lawrence are both non-roster invites and would need to be added to the 40-man roster if they make the Major League club.

Ichiro's status uncertain heading toward opener
Ichiro Suzuki passed all the concussion tests after being hit in the head by a pitch in a Minor League game on Friday, but was held out of Saturday's lineup as he returns from a sore calf. But manager Scott Servais remains hopeful the 44-year-old can play in the final two Cactus League games and be ready by Thursday's Opening Day.

Video: Ichiro discusses his desire to play until age of 50

Guillermo Heredia would likely start if Ichiro can't go and Kirk Nieuwenhuis remains in camp as an option to make the club if Ichiro needs to open the season on the disabled list. Servais mentioned utility man Andrew Romine can play the outfield as well if needed.

"But I'm still very hopeful that Ichi will be fine and we'll get him in a couple games here [in Arizona]," Servais said. "It's not like he hasn't been in many Major League games, but the big thing is the health and hopefully he's good to go. He will stay with us and hopefully play a bunch in the last couple games."

Helping out Bishop's efforts
Servais recognized outfield prospect Braden Bishop's 4MOM Foundation fundraising efforts for Alzheimer's by purchasing T-shirts bearing that logo and giving them to all the players in Major League camp on Saturday and asking them to make donations.

"Braden shared his story with our whole group when he was in camp and it was very impactful," Servais said. "We'll talk about it today in our meeting. It was just something I thought we'd do for him. It's family, it's very close to him and he's gone through a lot."

Bishop, the team's No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, was in big league camp to start the spring, though he's since been reassigned to the Minors. But the former University of Washington standout impressed Servais both on and off the field.

"He's played really well in our camp," Servais said. "Great kid with a lot going on in his life and we're here to support him."

Injury update
Left fielder Ben Gamel took about 50 batting practice swings off live pitching on Friday and continues to progress well from his strained right oblique. The next step will be facing more of a simulated game situation, but Gamel said he didn't know when he'd be cleared for that progression.

"I'm just getting a feel for where I'm at," Gamel said. "I feel good, though. No pain, no nothing. I'll just keep inching along."

Pitching plans to wrap up spring
With Felix Hernandez and James Paxton lined up for their final spring starts this weekend, Mike Leake will then throw in a Minor League game on Monday's off-day for the Mariners to keep him in turn, with Marco Gonzales slated to face the Rockies in Tuesday's spring finale at Salt River Field.

"It'll be good to get one more in because otherwise it'd be a long time until that next start," Gonzales said. "So it'll be good to get a little tune-up and then get going."

Though it hasn't been completed, Hernandez and Paxton are expected to pitch the first two games of the final spring series against Cleveland on Thursday and Saturday. Leake lines up to pitch the third game of the home series against the Indians on Sunday, April 1, with Gonzales then kicking off the first road trip at San Francisco on Wednesday, April 3.

Paxton makes his final Cactus League start in Sunday's 12:10 p.m. PT game against the Padres at Peoria Stadium. Nick Vincent, James Pazos and Juan Nicasio are among the relievers scheduled for the final home game of the spring, which is available on Gameday Audio.

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