Inbox: Backup battle at first one to watch during camp

Beat reporter Greg Johns answers Mariners fans' questions

February 18th, 2016

With pitchers and catchers set to report on Friday, let's open the Inbox and answer fans' questions one more time before players hit the field.
The Mariners keep signing Minor League deals with first basemen. Is this a sign that Jesus Montero isn't measuring up?
-- David P., Brush Prairie, Wash.

It's a sign that general manager Jerry Dipoto wants a healthy competition for the backup spot, knowing the team needs a good right-handed hitter to complement Adam Lind. Montero figures to be leading that race going into camp, but there are questions about his defense and he still needs to prove he can hit Major League pitching after putting up big numbers at Triple-A Tacoma last year. So Dipoto has signed veterans Gaby Sanchez and Ed Lucas as well as Korean slugger Dae-Ho Lee to Minor League deals, and that figures to be an intriguing battle to watch all spring.
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Has Robinson Cano fully healed from his hernia surgery, and are there any other Mariners with injury issues going into the start of camp?
-- Robert W., Bellingham, Wash.

Cano's double hernia surgery was done in October so he could be recovered in plenty of time to resume his normal offseason work. He's expected to be 100 percent from the start of camp when position players report on Wednesday. The one position player on the injured list is catcher Jesus Sucre, who broke his leg during winter ball in Venezuela in January and is sidelined for at least six months. Reliever Charlie Furbush is coming back from shoulder problems that put him on the disabled list for the last three months of 2015, but he threw his first bullpen session of the offseason on Thursday without any issues.
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I know that four-man starting rotations used to be the standard. Now the standard is five. With the Mariners looking at six quality starters -- provided they stay healthy -- would the club ever consider using a six-man rotation?
-- Wil K., Seattle, Wash.

The question to ask is, do you want your best pitchers -- in the Mariners case, Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma -- to start fewer games just so you can use a sixth starter? Most teams aren't looking to make that tradeoff other than perhaps in short stints late in the season when guys are wearing down. Most pitchers prefer the rhythm of starting every fifth day. The Mariners have four off days in April -- one each week -- which would mean Felix is already pitching just once every six days in the first month. So, no, I don't see that happening.
I'm reading where the Mariners signed five free agents during the offseason, but I count seven when including the two Mariners re-signed, Iwakuma and Franklin Gutierrez. The others would be Chris Iannetta, Nori Aoki, Justin De Fratus, Ryan Cook and Steve Cishek. So which is correct?
-- Lance L., Renton, Wash.

You pretty well answered your own question. They signed five new free agents, which is how most people report it. They also re-signed two of their own free agents in Iwakuma and Gutierrez. So it's just a matter of semantics.
I thought the Mariners signed Travis Ishikawa. What happened to him?
-- Michael C., Las Vegas, Nev.

The veteran first baseman from Federal Way, Wash., had an agreement in place with the Mariners on a Minor League deal at one point, contingent on passing a physical, but that fell through before the contract was signed and he wound up signing a Minor League deal with the White Sox instead, which is why the Mariners and other MLB clubs never announce deals until all the paperwork is done. Ishikawa, like most veterans looking for non-roster invitations, likely saw that the Mariners were also bringing in Gaby Sanchez on a Minor League deal and found a place where he felt he might have a better shot at a 25-man roster spot.
When will single-game tickets go on sale?
-- Kate C., Seattle, Wash.

Individual tickets for Mariners games at Safeco Field this season go on sale to the public on Saturday, March 5.
How many players do the Mariners have competing in the World Baseball Classic?
-- Dave T., Mill Creek, Wash.

The next WBC tournament isn't until March of 2017, so that will be an issue next Spring Training as various players miss parts of their big league camps, as last happened in 2013. There are four four-team WBC qualifying tournaments this spring to fill out the last four spots in next year's 16-team field, including one that already has been won by Australia. You might have seen that Mariners prospect Dylan Unsworth threw eight scoreless innings for South Africa against New Zealand in that tournament.
There are two more qualifying tournaments in March involving Mexico, Germany, Nicaragua and the Czech Republic in Mexico and Colombia, France, Panama and Spain in Panama City. Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan are in the final qualifier in September in Brooklyn. The U.S. and 11 other countries -- including Japan, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Canada -- have already been awarded berths. But we won't know which players from those countries are competing in the main WBC tournament until next year.