Griffey lauds Ichiro catch; Mariners fall to Padres

Left-hander Jason Vargas might have locked up a spot in the rotation tonight after tossing five scoreless innings against the Padres.

But manager Don Wakamatsu is not quite ready to proclaim victory for the lefty.

“Vargas was outstanding,” Wak said after the 2-1 loss. “There was nothing I didn’t like about what I saw out there. I thought all of his pitches were good. I was was pleased with his performance.”

Vargas lowered his ERA to 2.89 and Wak nodded when asked if he would wait at least one more Varegas start before making a decision on the rotation.

At the other end of the spectrum, closer David Aardsma had a rough inning and the 12.46 ERA he went to sleep with last night is not even close to where he needs to be when the regular season opens in 12 days.

Aardsma was slated to pitch two innings, but four hits, two runs and 33 pitches kept him to one inning.

“I think he was feeling through it a little,” Wakamatsu said. “The ball up the middle, we didn’t make that play, and the popup in right field extended the inning.

“He’s still not quite where we like him, but we’ll continue to watch him pitch. For me it’s consistency. He was a little bit fast, he has been fast. He’s been getting the ball and going, not getting in the set position. That’s what we talked about. You see more of a push than the explosion through the zone. We need to get him out there pitching more.”

Sean White and Brandon League each pitched one scoreless inning and both looked sharp.

Meanwhile, the catch Ichiro Suzuki made in right field yesterday left Ken Griffey Jr. at a loss for words.

“All I could say was ‘damn’, but it was one of those good ‘damns’,” Junior told me a few minutes ago when asked what he said to Ichiro in the dugout after the top of the second inning ended.

So what did Junior think of the grab?

“It was unbelievable,” he said. “He went a long way, looked over his shoulder, took a little jump and, the most important thing, he didn’t get hurt.”

Ichiro’s catch near the warning track at Peoria Stadium was the premior web gem of the day on numerous TV stations and Junior called it one of two best catches he has ever seen made by a right fielder.

“Jay’s catch in Boston is the other one,” he said.

He was refering to longtime sidekick Jay Buhner, who tumbled over a five-foot wall and into the visiting bullpen on July 29, 1997, robbing Scott Hatteberg of a two-run home run.

“Very seldom does any outfielder get to make that kind of play,” Griffey said of the Ichiro and Buhner catches.

It goes without saying that Junior, a 10-time Gold Glove winner with the Mariners, has made more than his share of highlight-reel grabs.

Almost 24-hours after the catch, Wakamatsu said, “That might be the best catch I have ever seen.”

In the catch-your-eye department, right-handed reliever Shawn Kelley will start tomorrow’s split-squad game against the Royals in Surprise.

He has been a career-long reliever, including 41 appearances for Seattle last season. His only “starts” occurred during a rehab assignment last season in Arizona. Kelley is being stretched out a bit.

“Don’t read anything into it,” Wakamatsu said in his pre-game media session. “It is really trying to make up for (Doug) Fister and also use it to our advantage to stretch those guys, him and (Kanekoa) Texeira. Hopefully, we can get three innings out of each of the, but I can’t imagine us getting over the 40- to 50-pitch range.”

In other news:

— Left-hander Cliff Lee will give his strained lower abdominal muscle another test tomorrow when he plays catch on one of the practice fields. He threw for about six minutes on Monday and still felt some discomfort in the area.

It is highly unlikely that he’ll be able to begin the regular season in the rotation. 

— Utility infielder Jack Hannahan will have is injured right groin re-examimed by a specialist in Philadelphia, further lessening the chances of him being ready for the regular season.

— Fister and Garrett Olson each threw a bullpen session today and both passed with flying colors. Also, left-hander Erik Bedard played long-toss. He will take tomorrow off, have another long-toss session and if all goes well, he could throw off a mound for the first time this spring.

— Wakamatsu said right-hander Chad Cordero has shown flashes of his former self. “I like what I see and he’s closer. There are stints in there when I know he feels he’s back to normal and then there will be a little inconsistency. But it is light years from last year. He has made tremendous improvement.”

— The next round of roster cuts are expected after tomorrow’s split-squad double-header. The cuts could include one or two catchers. “There are some choices we have to make and might keep guys here through Albuquerque (April 2-3) and San Francisco (April 4),” Wakamatsu said.

— Jim Street

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