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Sense of familiarity marks McClendon's second year

Manager heads into spring with deeper knowledge of players, organization

SEATTLE -- After an offseason of optimism and expectations, the Mariners will gather Friday for the start of Spring Training when 34 pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to the team's complex in Peoria, Ariz.

Unlike a year ago when he was just introducing himself to new players and staff, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon comes into spring with a firm grasp of where the club stands and what needs to be accomplished in the coming seven weeks before regular-season play begins.

Seattle made some significant additions over the winter -- headlined by 2014 Major League home run leader Nelson Cruz -- but the bulk of the squad consists of returning players from a team that went 87-75 last year and missed an American League Wild Card spot by one game.

Spring Training: Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | Non-roster invitees

McClendon will greet 27 pitchers and seven catchers Friday, with the rest of the position players due by next Tuesday. The first day will consist of players taking physical exams before on-field activity begins Saturday.

"I'm very excited," McClendon said. "Going into Spring Training last year, I didn't know my personnel. I didn't even know faces. There were a lot of things we couldn't accomplish last spring that we'll be ahead of the game on this year, as far as putting in some things we'd like to from an offensive and defensive standpoint.

"I certainly think we're well adapted to do those things. We know the club, we know the talent that we have and we know their capabilities. So it should be a fun spring for us."

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There's a different buzz going into this year's camp, with Seattle regarded as a prime contender in the AL West after improving by 16 wins in 2014, then adding some intriguing veterans in Cruz, left-hander J.A. Happ, outfielders Seth Smith and Justin Ruggiano and newly defined utility man Rickie Weeks.

"All in all, it was a very good winter," said general manager Jack Zduriencik. "We're excited to get into Spring Training."

Putting all the pieces in place is a process that will play out in the coming weeks on the practice fields in Peoria. The Mariners must identify a starting shortstop between young candidates Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, clear up their fifth-starter battle between Taijuan Walker and Roenis Elias, decide when and where Weeks might fit into the picture and how a talented -- but crowded -- bullpen lines up.

While the middle of the lineup looks suddenly solid with Robinson Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager in the 3-4-5 spots, McClendon needs more production from leadoff man Austin Jackson and a better start from Dustin Ackley, who has struggled out of the gate the past two years.

McClendon feels he has a good handle on Jackson, having been his hitting coach in Detroit for four years before he took the job in Seattle. And now that McClendon has been with the Mariners for a season, he'll come to camp with better ideas on how to help returning players as well.

Take Ackley, for instance.

"My plan is to play the heck out of him in Spring Training and get all the slow-starting stuff out of the way," McClendon said. "I'll wear him out, and he knows that. Either he'll get tired or I'll get tired, so we'll see what happens."

Pitchers and catchers report:
Friday, Feb. 20

Full squad reports:
Tuesday, Feb. 24

First Spring Training game:
Mariners vs. Padres at Peoria Stadium; Wed., March 4, 12:05 p.m. PT

Opening Day:
Mariners vs. Angels at Safeco Field; Monday, April 6, 1:10 p.m. PT

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