Another name for spring training games is the Cactus League. The games start for the Seattle Mariners against the San Diego Padres on March 4. The players get excited because they start playing against other teams besides throwing and batting against teammates.
What I like about early cactus league games is watching the minor league prospects the Mariners have and how they perform. Generally the starting players do not play in the early games. They usually do not play a lot until the second half of the cactus league. Even then they play for only about three innings until the last week of spring training. You will be able to see the pitchers that will be on the team pitching but they only pitch one or two innings. In fact, Felix Hernandez the Mariners number one pitcher is not scheduled to pitch in the first six games. Felix does not pitch much in the games during spring training. He may get in a couple games near the end of spring training. He goes on his own schedule to be ready for the opening game of the regular season. His first session last week in the bullpen he looked like he was ready to start the season; the last week of spring training he usually faces minor league players so the major league pitchers will not see where he is at.
The first cactus league game will be started by Tijuan Walker who is in competition of the fifth starter on the Mariners pitching staff. He has been the Mariners number one pitching prospect for the last three years. He is only twenty-two years old so the Mariners have been really slow with him to get going. Last year he was also in the mix to be the fifth starter but started the season being hurt. He was out until late June or early July. He spent the time when he recovered pitching for the Mariners triple-A team in Tacoma. He came up in September when the rosters expanded. The difference we saw was that he pitched from the stretch all the time which is normally done by a pitcher when runners are on base. He did so that there would be less strain on his arm. He struggled in a few games in September but had some outstanding games as well especially the last one he pitched again the Toronto Blue Jays. If he pitches that way during the cactus league he should be the fifth starter. In the first game he will pitch no more than two innings depending on how many pitches he throws.
In the coming weeks of the cactus league I will write about how Tijuan Walker is progressing along with other players especially the young ones. The Mariners lineup is pretty much set for the coming season; however, there usually a surprise or two in spring training. The only position that is up for grabs is shortstop. It can be won by either Brad Miller who was the starting shortstop for much of last year or Chris Taylor who came up in July and played some because Brad Miller was struggling at the plate. Only other changes may occur because of injuries.