PEORIA, Ariz. -- Outside of Felix Hernandez, there aren't many certainties about the Mariners' rotation as the club heads toward Opening Day on March 31. But manager Lloyd McClendon said he likes the way things are coming together, despite a series of health setbacks to three of his starting candidates.
Hernandez is already set in stone for his club-record seventh Opening Day start when Mariners face the Angels in their road opener, but it's best to use a pencil beyond that spot.
If you're looking for clues, however, the club has tentatively lined up Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton to pitch the following two days after Hernandez makes his final Cactus League start on March 25. Things could well change between now and then, but that at least is the plan as of Tuesday.
After that, there's a lot of gray area, as Blake Beavan and non-roster invitees Scott Baker, Randy Wolf and Roenis Elias are also scheduled for starts in upcoming days, though no one has been even tentatively listed yet for the final two Cactus League games on March 28-29, before the team breaks camp.
The club has those seven healthy starting canddiates and will regain Hisashi Iwakuma (sprained finger), Taijuan Walker (sore shoulder) and Brandon Maurer (sore back) sometime after the first few weeks of the regular season if all goes well.
"I like the way things are shaping up," McClendon said. "Some guys are throwing well. Baker had a good game over in the Minor League camp [on Sunday]. So they're starting to pick it up a little bit. The competition is starting to get a little stiff."
Elias is the latest addition, with the 25-year-old Cuban throwing five strong innings on Sunday against the Angels, allowing two hits and one run in his first Cactus League start. He'll get another start, tentatively Saturday in a split-squad game against the Rockies in Scottsdale, on the same day Baker faces the A's in Phoenix.
Beavan is slated to throw Wednesday against the Brewers and again Monday against the White Sox, with Ramirez starting Thursday in Mesa against the Cubs and Paxton lined up for a Friday night game with the Padres in Peoria.
Wolf, like Baker coming back from Tommy John surgery, follows his Tuesday night game against the Padres with another start Sunday against the A's.
Hernandez's next start will come in a Minor League game on Thursday, then he'll get his final spring tuneup on March 25. Paxton is also slated for a Minor League outing on March 27 to keep him on schedule, since the Mariners are off that day.
Wolf makes his case with four shutout innings
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Left-hander Randy Wolf, attempting to win a rotation job after sitting out last season following Tommy John surgery, threw four shutout innings on Tuesday in the Mariners' 5-5 tie against the Padres.
Wolf, 37, is one of four pitchers who appear to be battling for the final two starting spots in Seattle's opening rotation behind Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton.
"I feel great," Wolf said. "Every day I'm very thankful and pleased with how I'm feeling, just the way I'm bouncing back between starts."
Wolf lowered his spring ERA to 4.15 while allowing two hits with two walks and picked up three strikeouts. He's on a Minor League contract as a non-roster invitee, looking to land a job with a Seattle organization that has a lot of talented young arms, but also a couple openings due to injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer.
"There's definitely a lot of talent here," Wolf said. "The starting pitching staff has done an incredible job in Spring Training. I've always said, 'You never get excited about numbers in March.' But there's a lot to be excited about with the talent that's here."
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon liked what he saw of the veteran's latest outing.
"He threw the ball extremely well," McClendon said. "He had all his pitches going. I thought he was a little bit sharper than the last couple times out. It was a good outing for him."
Mariners reassign Gillespie to Minors camp
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Mariners' outfield competition continued thinning out Tuesday as the club reassigned Cole Gillespie to its Minor League camp, leaving just six outfielders fighting for likely five spots.
Gillespie, 29, has had a strong showing this spring and was hitting .391 with seven RBIs in 23 at-bats over 14 Cactus League games, but he figured as a long shot from the start after signing as a non-roster invitee.
The former Oregon State standout has spent parts of the past three seasons in the Majors with the D-backs, Giants and Cubs, batting .225 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 78 games.
With Gillespie's departure, the Mariners have 39 players remaining in Major League camp, including 29 roster players and 10 non-roster invitees.
That group includes six outfielders: Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Endy Chavez, Corey Hart, Stefen Romero and Michael Saunders. Chavez is the only non-roster invitee among that group.
Manager Lloyd McClendon indicated Ackley is his left fielder from Day 1 of camp, and Ackley started 13 of the team's first 21 games at that position while hitting .432. Almonte has been a fixture in center field, set to make his 13th start there in Tuesday night's game against the Padres.
Saunders is the most versatile of the group, and he has started 10 games in right field, one in center and one in left, while Hart is being brought along slowly from two knee surgeries that wiped out his 2013 campaign with the Brewers. He was slated for his third start of the spring in right on Tuesday night, and he has played seven games at designated hitter.
That would seem to leave Romero and the veteran Chavez competing for the last outfield spot, though infielders Willie Bloomquist and Logan Morrison can also play the outfield.
Romero brings a needed right-handed bat, and the club is trying to increase his versatility as a bench option, having him take ground balls at third base for the first time during Tuesday afternoon's workout. Chavez, 36, is a veteran who can play all three outfield positions and hit .267 in 97 games for the Mariners last season.
• New closer Fernando Rodney gave up two hits and two runs (one earned) with a walk and two strikeouts in another shaky outing, but McCLendon said he wasn't concerned despite the veteran's 15.75 ERA -- with nine hits and seven earned runs in four innings -- after four outings.
"The fact is, most closers stink in Spring Training," McClendon said. "They pitch in the fifth, sixth innings. It's tough. They're a different animal and it's hard to get their adrenaline going. We just need to keep getting him out there and getting his work in."
• Second baseman Robinson Cano is now slated to rejoin the Mariners on Wednesday morning and play in Wednesday's game against the Brewers in Peoria, according to McClendon. Cano flew home to the Dominican Republic on Friday and has missed four Cactus League games while dealing with a personal issue.
• Right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor threw his second live batting practice session on Tuesday as he continues his return from surgery to repair a torn latissimus dorsi muscle in his shoulder last August.
• Maurer played catch from 75 feet on Monday, then extended that out further on Tuesday as he works his way back from a sore back and neck that have sidelined him the past week. Maurer has thrown in just two Cactus League games this spring.
• Former outfielder Jay Buhner is now in camp to work with both Major and Minor League hitters. He joins Edgar Martinez, who arrived on Sunday, and the two Mariners Hall of Famers will continue as special instructors through this week.