BY John Hickey 02:03PM 03/29/2011

Mariners get down to 25 men

Seattle will start season with three pitchers who were at Double-A or lower at this time last year, and without Franklin Gutierrez.

Tom Wilhelmsen is one of three Mariner pitchers never to have thrown in the big leagues. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The Seattle Mariners were projected at the start of spring training to be going young, but as of two weeks ago, it didn’t seem as if that was happening.

Guess again. Two veteran contenders for the starting 25, center fielder Franklin Gutierrez (stomach problems) and left-handed starter Nate Robertson (elbow surgery) are going to start the season on the disabled list, so there was suddenly unexpected room for the kids.

The Mariners have put their final 25-man roster forward three days in advance of their season opener in Oakland following the optioning of left-handed reliever Cesar Jimenez to Triple-A Tacoma Tuesday morning.

And yes, the Mariners, who went on to stretch their Cactus League record to 16-12-2 with a 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies in Scottsdale, AZ, have some youth going.

Three members of the 12-man pitching staff, starter Michael Pineda and relievers Josh Lueke and Tom Wilhelmsen, not only have never pitched in the big leagues before, Pineda started 2010 in Double A, Lueke began the year in Class A and Wilhelmsen in the Arizona Rookie League. Wilhelmsen, in fact, has never pitched above Class A and said earlier this month, “I’d be thrilled just to start the season at Tacoma.’’

And the starting first baseman, Justin Smoak, opened last year at Triple A.

The Mariners aren’t as young as they’re going to get as the team moves forward, but they will have a different look from the teams that have lost 101 games two of the last three seasons.

Seattle still has 29 players in camp, but the club officially put Gutierrez on the disabled list Tuesday, where he will join David Aardsma, Shawn Kelley and Robertson. So the team is at 25, although the club could make a move to add a player or two let go by one of the other 29 teams as all Major League teams going trim to 25.

Backup outfielder Ryan Langerhans and backup infielder Luis Rodriguez both are still technically minor league invitees, but Seattle already has one opening on the 40-man roster and the other can be created with the moving of injured pitcher Mauricio Robles, recovering from surgery, to the 60-day disabled list.

Gutierrez’s move to the DL will be backdated the maximum 10 days, meaning he will be eligible to come off the disabled list April 6. The problem is that the Mariners don’t have any final diagnosis of the problem. They’ve thought they had it under control last year and earlier this spring. Both times they’ve been mistaken.

Jimenez, who had a 9.82 ERA this spring, was offered on waivers by the Mariners, and when he wasn’t claimed, the club assigned him to the Tacoma roster. He spent most of the 2010 season coming back from shoulder surgery and only pitched in seven games.

This is the way the roster looks:

Starters: RHP Felix Hernandez, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Doug Fister, LHP Erik Bedard and RHP Michael Pineda.

Bullpen: RHP Brandon League, RHP Chris Ray, LHP Aaron Laffey, RHP David Pauley, RHP Jamey Wright, RHP Josh Lueke and RHP Tom Wilhelmsen.

Catchers: Miguel Olivo and Adam Moore.

Infielders: 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Jack Wilson, SS Brendan Ryan and 3B Chone Figgins along with backups Adam Kennedy and Luis Rodriguez.

Outfielders: RF Ichiro Suzuki, CF Michael Saunders, LF Milton Bradley and OF Ryan Langerhans.

Designated hitter: Jack Cust.

Projected disabled list: RHP David Aardsma (15 day), CF Franklin Gutierrez (15), RHP Shawn Kelley (60), 3B Matt Mangini (15), LHP Nate Robertson (15), LHP Mauricio Robles (60).

NOTES: The Mariners left after the game against the Rockies for Los Angeles, where they will play one final tuneup against the Dodgers in Dodger Stadium Wednesday night. … After that, Seattle heads for Oakland and a Thursday workout in front of Friday’s season opener. …  Miguel Olivo caught all nine innings Tuesday, the first time this spring that Olivo, sidelined by a groin injury for most of the spring, had done that. …

Twitter: @JHickey3


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