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Elias pushing to make leap into Mariners rotation

All-Star in Double-A last year, Cuban lefty posts 2.04 ERA in five spring outings

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Unheralded Cuban defector Roenis Elias continued making a strong case to be included in the Mariners' rotation plans with another impressive outing in Seattle's 4-3 loss to the Rockies on Saturday.

Elias, 25, allowed four hits and two runs over 5 1/3 innings with two walks and four strikeouts, putting his Cactus League ERA at 2.04 in five outings.

Though the 6-foot-1 lefty has never pitched above Double-A ball and is in camp as a non-roster Minor League invitee, manager Lloyd McClendon said he believed the youngster will get another start next week as the club zeros in on its starting five.

"He threw the ball extremely well. I was very pleased," McClendon said. "He just keeps going out there and keeps doing good. He certainly has made a statement for himself."

Elias was a Southern League All-Star for Jackson last year when he went 6-11 with a 3.18 ERA in 22 starts, but there was little talk of him contending for a rotation spot until he shut down the Angels on one run and two hits over five innings in his first starting opportunity last Sunday.

He now appears squarely in the mix for one of the final two rotation berths behind Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton. Blake Beavan and veteran non-roster invitees Scott Baker and Randy Wolf are also competing for those openings, with All-Star Hisashi Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker not expected ready until mid-to-late April due to injuries.

"I don't have any idea what my chances are," Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "I just come in and do my work and it's up to them to make those decisions."

Other than a two-run homer by catcher Wilin Rosario in the fourth, Elias kept the Rockies in check in an 82-pitch outing that was followed by another 10 pitches in the bullpen to work on some things.

He gave up a leadoff double in the second to Michael Cuddyer and a leadoff triple to Jason Pridie in the fifth, but dug in and stranded both runners, a feat duly noted by his skipper.

"It says he has the ability to make pitches under adverse conditions," McClendon said. "I think that's pretty good."

Having fled Cuba on a boat with 25 other passengers in 2010 -- he has not seen his parents since -- Elias brings an interesting story. He also has a strong confidence that is serving him well in his first Major League camp.

"He's a tough kid," McClendon said. "He comes from tough surroundings. I don't think facing big league hitters is going to mess with him too much. He did OK today."

Elias said he's progressed this spring with help from veterans like Robinson Cano and Hernandez. He said Cano observes things from second base and offers advice, as well as some unique motivation.

"There was a situation earlier in the year when there were runners on base and he came over to the mound and said, 'If you get this guy out, I'll sign an autographed baseball for you,'" Elias said with a smile.

So far he hasn't received the ball. But he could be close to earning a Major League roster berth.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.
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