By Shannon Drayer
I think everyone who looked at the lineup posted on the clubhouse door did a double take this afternoon. Batting 6th and playing center is Jason Bay.
Bay has not played a big league game at center since September 2005. He did play there quite a bit in college, the minors and in the WBC however.
"I've done it," he told me in the clubhouse. "It's probably not my long term position out there but I think I can definitely fill in in a pinch."
Bay was approached about playing center a few days ago so he is not totally unprepared for tonight. Two things pop into mind when you see Bay penciled in at center. This is not good for Casper Wells who is battling for that final spot on the bench and is there anything wrong with Franklin Gutierrez who has not played center since last Sunday?
I talked to Gutierrez in the clubhouse and he told me he is completely healthy and that the leg tightness he suffered last week is behind him. He also said that because there are more games this spring and that he played in winter ball he doesn't need much more time in center to be ready for Opening Day. The Mariners have been careful with him and have not run him out on the field for anything extra and that is okay with him.
As for Wells, his strength in the battle for the last spot is that he not only has the ability to play center but would be a good defensive replacement at any of the outfield positions. If Bay can play center in an emergency that takes a little bit of Wells' value away.
Bay has been very consistent with the bat throughout the spring and beyond the results has put up good at bats which no doubt has caught Wedge's eye. While Wells led the bigs in RBI for a time it was fairly early in games and those RBI's while impressive mostly came in just a few games.
Wells is streaky and has been since he came to this club. After homering in four straight games shortly after being traded to the Mariners he only had 7 hits in his next 19 games and struck out 25 times. Last year after returning from a stint in AAA he hit .307/.366/.467/.833 over his first 22 games, but just .196/.272/.374/.646 over his final 46 games. We have even seen a little bit of the streakiness this spring as he has gone 0x11 since missing a few days with a stiff neck.
I doubt this is a make or break appearance for Bay in center, just more of an opportunity to see if it is an option. It has been an interesting spring for Bay who keeps popping up in spots where you would not expect him to. Right field, leadoff hitter and now center. Some of this was surprising for him, but not totally unexpected.
"Maybe not everything," he answered when I asked if this is what he saw himself doing when he walked through the doors in Peoria, "but I kind of felt I needed to do some things to make the team. It was kind of adaptability and whatever they needed type thing. I said stick me wherever you want. I'm not too good in the infield but anywhere else I can help you out. They need to know what I can do, what's feasible, what's not. That's what spring training is. I may never play an inning in centerfield, I may never bat leadoff but this is the time to do that stuff."
As for the rest of the lineup that will take on the Cubs tonight...
All eyes of course on Jon Garland who may or may not be making his final start as a Mariner. Garland can opt out of his contract if he so chooses Friday if he is not given a spot in the rotation.
Brendan Ryan makes his return from a stiff neck and Michael Saunders is the leadoff hitter of the day.
One last note, Kenji Johjima stopped by the clubhouse this afternoon and was greeted warmly by those who were with the team when Joh last played for the Mariners. He spent a good amount of time talking with Raul Ibanez and the trainers. Joh, who retired last year, was in San Francisco for the WBC and decided to make the trip to Peoria with his son just to stop by and say hi to people.