BY John Hickey 02:32PM 03/17/2011

Olivo back working out well ahead of schedule

Veteran catcher’s chances of starting the season in the opening day lineup are looking much better these days.

Mariner Miguel Olivo is back catching bullpens and running and could be playing soon after groin injury. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Guess who’s back behind the plate for the Mariners?

Miguel Olivo, whose strained groin was supposed to keep the veteran catcher out of action for a month or so, is back catching bullpens, running, hitting and stretching.

Olivo, who told the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Larry LaRue Thursday morning that “I’m fine,’’ signed a two-year contract this off-season to be the veteran catching presence that the Mariners so badly need. But when he had to be assisted off the field two weeks ago, it seemed unlikely that he’d be ready to go come opening day.

Now it seems there is a real possibility that Olivo will be good to go come the opener April 1 in Oakland.

“I caught a bullpen yesterday,’’ Olivo told the paper. “I just ran hard for the trainer, and I’m going to catch another bullpen today. I’m fine.’’

In Olivo’s absence, the Mariners have been working mostly with second-year catcher Adam Moore and veteran Josh Bard behind the plate, although minor league prospect Steven Baron is getting more work than might have otherwise been expected.

But getting Olivo, who also packs some offensive punch, back behind the plate, is key to the Mariners putting the team they want on the field to start the season.

All along Olivo has been saying that he’s a quick healer, that he’s never been prone to injury and that he would be back sooner than the doctors suggested.

It seems that Olivo could be back in a game sometime next week.

But trainer Rick Griffin, manager Eric Wedge and general manager Jack Zduriencik all have to sign off on Olivo’s expedited return, and that process has barely begun to run its course.

NOTES: The Mariners, who play in Surprise, AZ, tonight against Kansas City, made four more roster moves Thursday. Hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Dan Cortes was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma and right-handed pitchers Manny Delcarmen, Charlie Haeger and Chris Smith were all assigned to the organization’s minor league camp. … The Mariners are left with  47 players in camp, including 31 roster players and 16 non-roster invitees. … Right-handed starter Doug Fister will start a minor League game Saturday rather than face the Texas Rangers. Fabio Castro will start instead against Texas. The move is being made because Fister is likely to make his first start of the season against the Rangers on April 4, and the Mariners don’t want the Texas hitters to get too much of a look at him.

Twitter: @JHickey3