SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — As the Mariners prepared for their 17th Cactus League game in 17 days and knowing they still have nine more over the next nine days before they get an off day, they find themselves in that gray area of the daily grind of spring training. With opening day two weeks away on April 1, it feels close enough for players to start getting excited and just far enough away to feel like the next 14 days will take forever.

For the 10 to 12 players still trying to play their way onto the opening-day roster, they might like more than the 14 days and 10 games remaining to make a push for a coveted spot.

At this point in spring training, it’s safe to assume that 19 or 20 of the spots on the 26-man roster have been secured, including eight of the nine spots in the daily lineup.

Ideally, the Mariners would like to have their 26-man roster decided by that off day on March 29 and go into the final Cactus League game of the spring on March 30 vs. the Reds with it finalized and ready to head to Seattle after the game.

Here’s our latest updated roster projection. The previous one came out on March 8 when the Mariners had played eight games.

Starting Rotation (6)

  • Marco Gonzales, LHP
  • Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
  • James Paxton, LHP
  • Justin Dunn, RHP
  • Justus Sheffield, LHP
  • Chris Flexen, RHP

Notes: The first five pitchers of the Mariners’ six-man rotation have been locked into spots since the day Paxton signed a one-year, free-agent contract just before pitchers and catchers were to report to spring training. General manager Jerry Dipoto had already confirmed that Flexen had a spot in the rotation before spring training along with Gonzales, Kikuchi and Sheffield.

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It left Dunn and Nick Margevicius battling for the last spot.

From a performance standpoint, it’s been fairly even through their first two starts. Dunn had some early command issues while Margevicius gave up some hard contact. But the separator, at least for now, is the stuff, the potential and place in the organization’s future. Dunn’s fastball has bumped back up to the mid 90s, his slider has been sharper, his curveball has better shape and the changeup has become a real pitch. Margevicius has pitched like himself, solid but not overpowering, pitching to contact with command. Dunn has always been a part of this organization’s rebuild, and the Mariners would be foolish to not reward the gains made this offseason with a spot in the opening-day rotation.

If you notice the slotting, Dunn and Flexen would be the only two right-handers in the rotation. Given that they are starting back-to-back days this spring, they will likely be split up going into the season. You could bump Dunn up in the rotation if he continues to pitch well. Flexen’s command has been spotty at times this spring, and moving him down in the rotation is an option.  

Bullpen (8)

  • Rafael Montero, RHP (closer)
  • Keynan Middleton, RHP
  • Kendall Graveman, RHP
  • Casey Sadler, RHP
  • Erik Swanson, RHP
  • Yohan Ramirez, RHP
  • Joey Gerber, RHP
  • Anthony Misiewicz, LHP

Notes: The Mariners’ bullpen suffered a big loss when Roenis Elias was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, which will require season-ending Tommy John surgery. Even though he was a nonroster invite on a minor league contract, Elias was seen as a lock to make the bullpen given how well he was throwing as well as his skill set that includes being able to pitch in leverage situations and pitch multiple innings with ease.

Servais admitted the Mariners don’t have another pitcher like him.

Montero, Middleton and Graveman have spots locked up based on their status and contracts. Misiewicz is also locked into a spot and might be the only lefty in the bullpen, though fellow lefty Aaron Fletcher has pitched well this spring. Sadler is out of options, which could work in his favor since the Mariners like his pitch profile, spin rate and ability to pitch out of trouble.

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While Servais won’t elaborate, it’s safe to assume those five spots are locked up with the other spots open.

“We do have open competition going on still throughout this camp in that bullpen,” he said. “You’re kind of looking at the pocket of players that are competing for those final two, three spots, it’ll be interesting.”

There’s myriad arms competing for the other three spots. Gerber has been solid this spring and deserves to make the team. Ramirez can be optioned, so he isn’t a lock to make the team and he’s only made one appearance this spring.

“For me, I want to take the best eight pitchers we have that fill a role or need in how we put our bullpen together,” Servais said. “I say all that, but you want to have flexible pieces, so if you need to option a guy out when you put a bullpen together. You do need guys that can go multiple innings, you need guys who can go back-to-back days. All those things work together. I can’t have eight guys down there that can only go one inning apiece. You do have to be open to different ways of putting it together.”

Servais doesn’t think having a long reliever in the bullpen is necessary. So Margevicius might not be a candidate for the bullpen though he was in the opening-day bullpen in 2020.

Outfielders (4)

  • Kyle Lewis, CF
  • Mitch Haniger, RF
  • Taylor Trammell, LF
  • Jose Marmolejos, LF/1B

Notes: After a sluggish start, Jake Fraley has pushed his way back into the competition, finding some results at the plate. But Trammell is still leading the competition. While he’s made mistakes and looks a little overwhelmed by big-league breaking pitches, he’s not the only one.

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The big news is that Jarred Kelenic has returned to Cactus League action after a strained adductor muscle in his left leg sidelined him for about 10 days, though he felt he should’ve been cleared earlier.

He got two at-bats in Wednesday’s game vs. the Angels and didn’t travel to Thursday’s game in Scottsdale. With so few games left in the Cactus League, it seems like he won’t play enough to force his way onto the roster.

When asked if Kelenic would start the season in the minor leagues on MLB Network, Dipoto said, “That’s likely.”

Marmolejos is out of minor-league options, so the Mariners would like to keep him on the roster instead of losing him on a waivers claim. He offers a backup for Evan White at first base and can play left field at an adequate level.

What will be the determining factor?

“It is not just about results like we’ve talked about,” Servais said. “It’s how are they handling the at-bats as we continue to move along, how are they handling the plays in the outfield and doing the little things while running the bases. There is an understanding that we are talking about young, inexperienced players at the major-league level and they continue to learn every day. You just get a feel for where guys are at and who you’re comfortable going forward with.”

Infielders (6)

  • Kyle Seager, 3B
  • J.P. Crawford, SS
  • Dylan Moore, 2B
  • Evan White, 1B
  • Ty France, IF
  • Sam Haggerty, Utility

Notes: These positions have been set since Shed Long Jr.’s surgically repaired shin started bothering him early in spring and forced him to be shut down. White had a slow start to spring training but has started to look more comfortable. A pro scout asked if he was a lock to make the opening-day roster. Given his Gold Glove defense and the delayed start to the minor league season, White would have to fall into a serious funk for the Mariners to consider something so drastic.

Catchers (2)

  • Tom Murphy
  • Luis Torrens

Notes: Murphy was bothered by a sore hip for a few days, but not enough to force him out of games. Torrens has shown improvement behind the plate. It will be interesting to see what the playing-time split is between the two catchers.

And for fun, here’s a projected opening day batting order:

  1. Mitch Haniger, RF
  2. Dylan Moore, 2B
  3. Kyle Seager, 3B
  4. Kyle Lewis, CF
  5. Ty France, DH
  6. Tom Murphy, C
  7. J.P. Crawford, SS
  8. Evan White, 1B
  9. Taylor Trammell, LF