PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Scott Servais said not to read anything into the early spring rotation order, but left-hander Marco Gonzales will be on the mound first when the club opens Cactus League play against the A's on Thursday.Servais said Gonzales will pitch two innings, while rookie right-hander Justus
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners manager Scott Servais said not to read anything into the early spring rotation order, but left-hander Marco Gonzales will be on the mound first when the club opens Cactus League play against the A's on Thursday.
Servais said Gonzales will pitch two innings, while rookie right-hander Justus Sheffield is slated to follow with another two innings before turning over the final five frames to relievers in the 12:05 p.m. PT game at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa.
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Gonzales is a candidate to pitch the regular-season opener as well when the Mariners travel to Tokyo to face this same A's club on March 20, but Servais isn't prepared to name his Opening Day starter yet.
"There's so much flexibility. Don't read too much into things," he said. "No decisions have been made yet on how we map this thing out going to Japan, which will be different from when we open up [in Seattle] at T-Mobile. Don't think too far ahead."
Mike Leake is slated to start Friday's game against the A's in Peoria at 12:10 p.m. PT, followed by young prospect Justin Dunn. Félix Hernández will start Saturday's game against the Padres in Peoria, with Roenis Elias also throwing that day in another 12:10 p.m. start.
The schedule hasn't been extended beyond that, but Servais said Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi will be given an extra batting practice session before he goes into game action in order to allow him more time to adjust to the new ball and environment in the United States. Kikuchi and Wade LeBlanc are the other two starters expected to open the season in the rotation.
Gonzales went 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 starts last year in his first full season in the Majors. He said the shorter preparation time this spring isn't an issue as the club will fly to Japan just three weeks after Thursday's opener.
"Being prepared this offseason was where it starts," said the former Gonzaga standout. "It's not showing up to camp and throwing, it's November and December, getting things right and doing things the right way then. I'm confident and I know there's a lot of workload behind the scenes that has been done prior to showing up to camp."
As for Thursday?
"We want to start things out on the right note, hopefully," Gonzales said. "Throw some strikes. I think that's the main focus early on. You just have to be over the plate. You can fine-tune things as we go, but the important thing is to lock down the plate. Maybe control the running game a little bit, field my position, the basics. It's a fresh start from there."
Felix feeling his way early
Hernandez will throw batting practice on Wednesday, then he will make his Cactus League debut on Saturday in a televised game against the Padres.
Servais said he "hasn't seen any marked differences" in the 32-year-old's initial work at camp, but he is waiting to see how things play out in Cactus League play as the former American League Cy Young Award winner looks to rebound from a difficult 2018.
"We'll see what happens," Servais said. "I know he wants to build arm strength, get him into some games. Some of the veteran guys don't pay any attention to results. I think Felix does. How are they reacting to pitches and is he locating and doing stuff like that on the mound well or not doing well? So I think he'll have a little better feel once he gets into games and starts building up pitch counts."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.