BY John Hickey 05:23PM 03/02/2011

Pineda impresses; M’s acquire Aaron Laffey

RHP throws two perfect innings in bid to make starting rotation; Laffey joins Mariners from Cleveland Indians organization.

Michael Pineda threw two perfect innings in first spring start Wednesday. / Courtesy Tacoma Rainiers

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Considering it was his first game of the spring, one of the questions that Michael Pineda had to answer Wednesday was a little unfair.

Pineda, a 22-year-old right-hander who might turn out to be the best pitcher the Mariner farm system has produced since Felix Hernandez, threw two innings in a start against Arizona, facing six batters and retiring them all in Seattle’s first loss of the spring, 5-3 at the hands of the Diamondbacks.

Because he only used 22 of the 40 he’d been allotted for the game, Pineda wound up going back into the bullpen to throw another dozen pitches just to feel he’d gotten enough work. He’d asked to pitch the third inning, but with almost three dozen pitchers in camp, manager Eric Wedge and pitching coach Carl Willis are being forced to dole out innings carefully.

Pineda said he felt great, that he would have loved another inning, that he was feeling strong, all the normal stuff. Then he was asked if he’d been told what it would take for him to make the Seattle opening day roster.

“I don’t understand the question,’’ said Pineda, a Dominican who has been studying English and who takes pride in not needing a translator.

In fact, like Dorothy in Oz, he had the answer all along. It’s in his performance. If he continues to pitch the way has the last two years and so far this spring, it will be difficult for Wedge and Willis to burn a blind eye.

“We’re open-minded with what we’re going to do,’’ Wedge said. “Without a doubt, he’s right in the middle of everything.’’

Wedge said he was impressed by the smooth, consistent effort Pineda showed in his 22 pitches.

“He threw comfortable, he controlled his fastball well and also his secondary pitches,’’ the manager said. “And he was throwing downhill. I liked what I saw today.’’

Pineda threw mostly fastballs to catcher Josh Bard Wednesday, mixing in “a couple of changeups’’ just for the fun of it.

“I’m very happy; it was fun today,’’ Pineda said. “It was my first game this year, but I wasn’t nervous at all. It was just another game.’’

The road will undoubtedly get harder for Pineda, who was 11-4 in 2010 in a season split between Double-A West Tennessee and Triple-A Tacoma, striking out 154 batters while walking just 34 in 139.1 innings.

But if performance like Wednesday’s routinely are “just another game,’’ keeping him out of the Seattle starting rotation will be a major chore.

NOTES: The Mariners on Wednesday acquired left-handed pitcher Aaron Laffey from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for minor league infielder Matt Lawson and cash considerations. To make room on the 40-man roster, the Mariners placed Shawn Kelley on the 60-day disabled list. 25, appeared in a career-high 29 games with the Indians last season. He split the 2010 season between Cleveland, AAA Columbus, AA Akron and A Lake County. In parts of four Major League seasons he is 18-1, 4.41 ERA (157 ER, 320.1 IP) in 79 games, including 49 starts. As a starter he is 17-19, 4.35 ERA (134 ER, 277.1 IP), as a reliever he is 1-2, 4.81 ERA (23 ER, 43.0 IP). . . . .Trainer Rick Griffin said that two of the doctors who put center fielder Franklin Gutierrez through a battery of tests last week designed to get a the root of his stomach problems of the last year will be in Arizona Saturday and Sunday. They will review the last of the data coming in from those tests, then sit with Gutierrez, Griffin and the front office to talk about options going forward. Meanwhile, Griffin said, “Franklin is on his regular program.’’ … Hernandez throws a simulated game Thursday, his first game experience of the spring, and Jason Vargas follows with a simulated game of his own Friday. … Ichiro Suzuki started both Tuesday and Wednesday and will get Thursday off. He normally doesn’t get back-to-back starts this early in the spring, but Wednesday he served as the DH, going 0-for-3. … The Mariners never led against the D-Backs, but Seattle scored once in the ninth and had two on before Josh Wilson grounded out to end it. … Seattle had just four hits after pounding out an average more than 12 in the first three games. The only two extra-base hits came back-to-back in the ninth inning, a triple by catcher Adam Moore that included a head-first slide at third and a subsequent double by Dustin Ackley. Wedge laughed when asked to judge the quality of Moore’s slide but said he “liked the swing. Adam was more under control at the plate today.’’

Twitter: @JHickey3


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