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Uphill battle for Carp to make Mariners

Can his hitting earn him a roster spot on a team flush with first basemen?

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By Kirby Arnold
Herald Writer
PEORIA, Ariz. — Mike Carp didn’t need to read about the Seattle Mariners’ flurry of personnel moves this offseason, especially the four other first basemen they acquired.
“All my friends were calling and saying, ‘They got this guy. They got that guy. What about you?’” Carp said Wednesday before the Mariners’ spring training workout. “And I’m thinking, ‘Well, I’m trying to make the team, too.’”
The Mariners traded for defensive specialist Casey Kotchman, who’ll be their starting first baseman. But they also signed free agents Ryan Garko and Brad Nelson, and claimed Tommy Everidge off waivers.
While it became clear that Russell Branyan wouldn’t return when they traded for Kotchman, a lot of people wondered just where Carp stood in the organization when they kept adding first basemen.
“It gives you that little fire to want to do better,” Carp said. “The way I took it, I’m here to try to win a job and I can only control myself.”
The 23-year-old Carp, acquired last offseason in the three-team trade that sent J.J. Putz to the Mets, played well in 21 big-league games last year. He batted .315 with a home run and five RBI in 54 at-bats, including a .415 on-base percentage that reflected his good eye and patient approach to hitting.
Those are important in an organization that values on-base percentage.
“I got a great opportunity last year and I think I made the best of it. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do,” said Carp, who batted .271 with 15 homers, 64 RBI and a .372 on-base percentage at Class AAA Tacoma.
“He gives you a good, professional, mature at-bat,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He has a tool that will allow him to play a long time if everything comes together, and that’s hitting.”
There’s a big “if” in that statement. Carp knows he must improve all areas of his game to reach the big leagues and stay there, but in this organization quality defense is required.
“I want to prove I can play first base, that I’m not just a hitter,” he said. “We’ve got great pitching, and you’ve got to have the defense to back it up.”
That’s the reason Kotchman is here. He’s a .269 hitter with only 40 career home runs, but he has a streak of 185 games without an error at first base, including 114 games last year that made him one of three players in major league history to play a season without an error (the others are Kevin Youkilis in 2007 and Steve Garvey in 1994).
“Defense is going to be a key with Mike, his continued improvement in that to make him a compete player, which I think he can be,” Wakamatsu said. “What is the standard for being a good first baseman? I’m not saying he’s not a good first baseman, but our standard and our level of expectation is higher than last year.”
Carp didn’t play fall or winter ball for the first time since he became a pro in 2004, instead using the time to work on his conditioning, speed and agility. After two days of spring training Wakamatsu said he has noticed a difference.
“He looks stronger, more in the approach of his swing,” Wakamatsu said. “I’m not talking so much physically, but there’s a little different sound coming off his bat, which is nice. He has more authority in his swing, and so far I’ve been impressed.”
Barring injury, nobody will beat out Kotchman for the Mariners’ starting job at first base. But the competition among the others — Carp, Everidge, Garko and Nelson — will be one of the elements worth following.
“I think it’s kind of fun,” Carp said. “It makes for better competition. It gives you that fire to want to be better. I’m not taking it as anything bad. I’m taking it as a challenge, and let’s see what we can do with it.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at
Story tags » Mariners

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