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Cano, Mariners get fresh start as spring slate opens

New addition expresses excitement as club prepares for Cactus League games

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Robinson Cano has been through enough Spring Trainings to know that Major League games and jobs aren't won and lost in February. But that doesn't stop the newest Seattle star from being eager to get going when the Mariners open Cactus League play on Thursday in their annual charity game against the Padres at Peoria Stadium.

After 13 years in the Yankees' organization, everything is new this spring for Cano and now he'll put on the new game uniform for the first time for the 12:05 p.m. PT opener.

"We'll see how it goes tomorrow," Cano said after Wednesday's workout. "It's the first time and I'm excited. I can't wait."

Cano is far from alone in that regard. Pitchers and catchers have been in camp since Feb. 12 and most of the players showed up in Arizona before that date to begin working out. So the chance to face off against somebody in a different jersey is welcome.

"Absolutely," said catcher Mike Zunino. "You're out here for your three weeks or however long it is and now you're just ready for the adrenaline of a game. It may be a small sample size at first, playing-wise, but there's nothing better than going out there playing and competing against another team.

"With intrasquads or batting practice, you just can't simulate the game. So I know I'm excited to go out there and face some different people and start the year off."

Thursday's game will be broadcast live on Gameday Audio.

New manager Lloyd McClendon said he wouldn't announce a starting lineup until Thursday morning, but the Mariners will open with right-hander Erasmo Ramirez on the mound, with Blake Beavan the first to follow as both are expected to throw two innings.

McClendon said there's no big reasoning behind which pitchers will throw when in the early stages of Cactus League action. James Paxton will start Friday's game, which is also against the Padres, and newcomers Scott Baker and Randy Wolf -- a pair of veterans coming back from Tommy John surgeries -- are slated for Saturday and Sunday against the Angels and Indians, respectively.

"We're just trying to line them up, give them opportunities and get them in there," McClendon said. "As we move forward, then we'll start shaping it up."

Felix Hernandez won't throw his first Cactus League game until Tuesday against the Dodgers in Glendale as he goes about his normal early camp routine. Young right-hander Taijuan Walker is on an even slower schedule as he's been held back in the initial going after arriving with a sore shoulder. Walker threw long toss on Wednesday, but isn't scheduled yet for any Cactus League action.

Ramirez, 23, is eager to kick things off Thursday as he's one of a large group of contenders for rotation berths.

"It'll be fun, being in the first game," said the youngster from Nicaragua. "It's going to be awesome. We've spent more than two weeks just training, throwing bullpens, live BP, seeing some hitters, going to the training room, working out. Now everything we've been working on, we just have to do it in the game."

McClendon said he's extremely pleased with how the first phase of camp has progressed. After eight years as a coach on Jim Leyland's staff with the Tigers, he was eager to get back to managing and has been met with an energetic response from a young Mariners group that obviously wants to make a positive impression on its new skipper.

"Jim Leyland and I talked this morning and I said, 'Skip, no disrespect, but this is probably the best camp I've ever been involved in,'" said McClendon, back in the saddle for the first time since managing the Pirates from 2001-05. "And I mean that sincerely. And the reason is because of the players, not so much what we've done. Just the effort the players have put forth.

"They've blown me away with their energy and how they're going about their business. I've been very pleased."

The Mariners have some things to sort out over their 33-game Cactus League schedule before opening the regular season March 31 in Anaheim. The starting rotation remains very up in the air beyond Hernandez, particularly with Hisashi Iwakuma doubtful to be ready to start the year due to a sprained finger.

Shortstop also is up for grabs between returning starter Brad Miller and Nick Franklin, who lost his second-base job to Cano. McClendon said he'll split playing time early between the two and see what happens.

"We'll try to make it as equal as possible," McClendon said. "At some point, somebody will separate themselves. It's been my experience, you put guys out there and let them play. And at some point, guys will either step up or eliminate themselves. That's just the way it is.

"That goes for pitching and position players. You hope that's the case. You hope they don't all eliminate themselves. Then we've got a problem. That's the problem I had in Pittsburgh."

McClendon is pleased with the talent he's seen in camp so far. And Cano echoed the same thought.

"It's fun here," Cano said. "You see all the young kids and everybody gets along. Felix is always joking around. It's amazing. It's better than what I thought. I'm getting along with these guys. We have great talent. We can have a pretty good team. We just need to stay together and go out and play hard every day."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Robinson Cano, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan