World Baseball Classic testing Mariners' depth

Three of Seattle's starting pitchers away from camp

March 9th, 2017

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Drew Smyly will throw about a 20-pitch simulated inning on the Mariners' practice field on Thursday and then head off to join Team USA for the World Baseball Classic, which will leave Seattle minus three of the five members of its projected starting rotation for at least another week.

(Venezuela) and (Mexico) have already joined their national-team workouts and Smyly will be added to the U.S. squad from the "designated pitchers pool" to help out in the second round of play. But manager Scott Servais said his club still has plenty of young starters to help fill in behind holdovers , who started Wednesday, and .

Chris Heston, acquired from the Giants in December, will start Friday against the Cubs. Chase De Jong, a young right-hander added by trade from the Dodgers just last week, makes his first Cactus League start in Saturday's game against the Reds. And , competing for either a starting or long relief role, faces the Angels on Sunday in Tempe.

, another young starter in the mix, will pitch three innings behind De Jong in Saturday's contest and the Mariners have other promising prospects like , and who can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen as well.

"We have guys to cover the innings," Servais said. "We have starting depth in this camp. We'll be fine there. Once the starters begin getting stretched out, you're looking for innings to give to guys. So we'll be in good shape."

Paxton, who declined an invitation to pitch for Canada so he could focus on his first full season as a Mariners starter, makes his first Cactus League start Thursday against the Cubs in Mesa after pitching two innings in relief of Gallardo last Saturday.

"It's always great being able to get into your routine and get on that five days that I'm on now," Paxton said. "It's definitely nice to kind of get into that and start feeling what it's going to be like during the season."

But Paxton looks around the clubhouse at the moment and is quickly reminded that something is missing -- as in 12 Mariners players, including his three rotation mates as well as the team's 2-3-4 hitters in , and , plus closer .

"It is strange," Paxton acknowledged. "We've got a lot of guys gone and a lot of our main guys, a lot of our leaders have taken off. It's good to have [Kyle] Seager here, which is good for everybody to have that stability from that leadership core. He's definitely one of those guys, so it's helpful to still have him here."

The first round of the Classic runs through Monday, so players whose teams are eliminated won't be gone long. But half of the 16 teams advance to the second round through March 19 in San Diego and the final four play through March 22 in Los Angeles.