PEORIA, Ariz. — For the Seattle Mariners, spring training is about to kick into a higher gear.
Pitchers are stretching out their innings. Position players will soon begin to play back-to-back games. Roster battles are going to heat up.
“We’re game-on now,” manager Eric Wedge said after their 10-game winning streak ended with a 7-6 loss to Milwaukee.
Casper Wells is engaged in one of those dramas, competing to win a spot in the Mariners’ crowded outfield picture. With Michael Morse, Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay all added during the offseason, Wells knows there’s a logjam. In fact, most assessments have the final berth coming down to him or Bay, with Carlos Peguero remaining a much longer shot despite a hot start to spring.
“I think we have a lot of good players on the team, and the Mariners are probably in a good position for themselves,” Wells said. “It’s always better than not having enough. They’re the ones that have to make decisions. I just go out and play.”
And Wells hopes to keep playing for the Mariners, who acquired him on July 30, 2011, one of four players coming from Detroit in the Doug Fister trade.
Wells’ situation is complicated by the fact he is out of minor-league options, meaning he must clear waivers to remain in the organization if he doesn’t break camp with the team.
That status can often be a benefit to a player, giving him an edge because Seattle doesn’t want to risk losing him to another team’s waiver claim; but it can also be unsettling, because the possibility exists of changing teams at the end of camp.
“My goal is to be in the big leagues,” Wells said. “I love the Mariners organization. I’d love to be with the Mariners for my whole career. I love it here. Whatever happens, happens.
“It is a business. I understand that. I’ve been traded over before, so I understand that. I’m not new to it. I just go out and take care of my business and let the chips fall where they may.”
The only way it would seem possible to keep both Bay and Wells, barring an injury or unexpected trade, would be to go with a six-man bullpen. But with 30 games in 31 days to start the season, that doesn’t appear likely.
Wells, 28, certainly made a positive statement on Monday when he drove in five runs with a single, double and triple against the Rockies.
Wells offers more defensive versatility than Bay and has shown flashes of offensive firepower in major-league stints over the past four seasons. The Mariners are looking for more consistency at the plate after a season in which he hit .228 in 93 games with 10 homers and 36 runs batted in.
Beginning in the second half of last season, which included a demotion to Tacoma in May, Wells has worked to shorten his swing while honing his stroke in other ways. His showing Monday was a welcome dose of positive reinforcement after few balls fell in early in the Cactus League, despite some of them being well-hit.
“It’s kind of reassuring,” he said. “I’ve tried to stick to a diligent plan, stay disciplined in my routines. I talk to Raul (Ibanez) and other veteran guys. It’s all about routines and being consistent with those, outside the field and on the field. That way it can translate into game situations.”
Wells underwent laser eye surgery in the offseason and also stayed in Peoria to work out all winter at the Mariners complex.
“Last year, I probably didn’t swing as much as I should have,” he said. “This year, I was up here at the facility. I was doing a lot of stuff off the tee. Videoing stuff so I could see, just visually, how it looks and how it felt that day, so I could translate it over to just having some swings that felt good in the cage.”
Now he’s trying to carry it over to spring, and after that, into the season. The key, Wells said, is to not let an occasional frustrating game be the impetus to changing his approach.
“Last year, if something wasn’t working, I’d be quick to fix and do something else,” he said. “I’m trying to be consistent with my swing and my approach. If you’re always trying to change something, and switching stuff around, you’re not going to be consistent.”
One of the reasons Wells wants to stay around is the positive feeling he sees developing around the team.
“There’s definitely a different comfort level,” he said. “There’s no kind of tension among any of the players. Everyone gets along. Even the players who came right in here, like Raul and Mike Morse, even Kendrys (Morales), my locker mate, it seems like they’ve been part of the team all along.”
Now Wells will try to ensure that he will be here with them for the long haul.