PEORIA, Ariz. – With opening day a week away, it appears more than likely that Stefen Romero will make the Mariners’ 25-man roster out of spring training.
It seemed this way even before he hit a towering, three-run, walkoff homer off Athletics reliever Evan Scribner to give the Mariners a 6-4 win over Oakland on Sunday at Peoria Stadium.
“I faced this guy in Sacramento last year so I have a little bit of knowledge of what he wants to do — especially breaking balls early,” Romero said. “Fortunately, I had my timing down on his breaking ball. I had (Dustin) Ackley hitting behind me so he didn’t want to walk me there.”
Romero fouled off a few curveballs before getting a fastball at the belt and launching it onto the fan-filled grass berm.
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“I was just looking for something up that I can drive so I could get the sac fly, and luckily it went out,” he said.
The Mariners entered the bottom of the ninth down 4-2. Tyler Smith led off the inning with a single and Justin Smoak pulled a curveball through the right side for another single. Kyle Seager doubled off the right-field wall to cut the lead to 4-3 and set Romero up to be the hero.
Of course, Romero knows his hopes of making the team won’t hinge on the homer or even a few good games. But he’s aware there is an opportunity for him.
“When you see guys getting sent down and you see the numbers get smaller and smaller, you just want to go out and compete every day and do your best and everything will take care of itself,” Romero said.
His chances to make the team got a major boost on Sunday morning, when manager Lloyd McClendon admitted that Corey Hart would likely be limited to designated hitter to start the season.
Hart missed his third straight game because of forearm and biceps tightness.
“It’s nothing serious,” McClendon said.
But Hart’s overall health is a serious issue. He is coming off multiple knee surgeries that forced him to miss all of last season. This spring the Mariners have tried to bring him along slowly, but he has battled arm issues and lower back stiffness to go with the knee recovery.
He’s played in just 12 Cactus League games and is hitting .143 with (5 for 35) with one extra-base hit.
“His at-bats are fine,” McClendon said.
While McClendon isn’t worried about Hart at the plate, there is a concern about Hart playing in the field.
“I’m not so sure how much right field he is going to play starting off, we’ll see,” McClendon said. “The goal is to keep him physically sound. And if DHing him is the better option, that’s probably what we’ll lean toward.”
That leaves an odd mixture of outfielders since Logan Morrison, who started in right field on Sunday, really isn’t an outfielder by nature. With Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders and Abraham Almonte likely to fill roster spots, Romero could definitely grab a spot.
The one-time infielder converted to outfielder has shown that he’s more than capable of handling himself in left or right field. More importantly, he’s hitting the ball hard – he’s hitting .283 with three doubles, two triples and three homers this spring.
McClendon didn’t need to read the detailed reports from Scott Baker’s start on Saturday in Phoenix to know it wasn’t good. With the squad’s split, he didn’t see Baker give up six runs on seven hits and six walks in four innings pitched.
“It wasn’t a good outing,” he said. “The line score will tell you that.”
With Baker fighting for a rotation spot, the timing wasn’t ideal.
“It’s never good to have that kind of outing at any time,” McClendon said. “He just didn’t have the command.”
Baker wasn’t sure what went wrong.
“It was one of those days for sure,” Baker said. “Just coming out of the gate, I was overthrowing. It was bad enough to where I just wasn’t able to make the adjustments. It just wasn’t happening yesterday.”
His surgically repaired elbow was fine.
“I felt good physically,” he said.
But with Roenis Elias pitching well and Randy Wolf looking decent in his start on Sunday, there is a chance Baker might be the odd man out for the two remaining spots in the rotation behind Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez.
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @RyanDivish