BY Art Thiel 05:00PM 04/12/2012

Thiel: Mariners lose; Wedge has himself a load

After a two-month odyssey finally returns to Seattle, Mariners bring an odd collection of overpaid vets and youngsters needing more time. Mariners manager will earn his keep.

Eric Wedge and Jack Zduriencik have a lot of figuring out to do. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The eight-game, 15,000 mile road trip ended at 4-4, but that’s the only thing that has reached a conclusion regarding the 2012 Mariners.

Well, there’s one more thing: Over the next sixth months, besides Bobby Petrino’s agent, Mariners manager Eric Wedge will have the hardest job in sports.  Another tough job will be Ozzie Guillen getting anyone to buy him a drink in Miami’s Little Havana. But we digress.

Wedge’s task is finding enough playing time for a roster full of players who deserve it — not necessarily because they’re world beaters, but because they need major league time to play themselves off the roster, or onto another team’s roster.

Relative to having little talent to work with — the Mariners’ long-held tradition — the collection of capables is the preferred alternative. But after the first eight games, the most recent a 5-3 loss Thursday in Texas that gave the defending AL champs a predictable 3-1 series win, it seems as if Wedge has about three candidates for every four at-bats, particularly when outfielders Mike Carp and Franklin Gutierrez return from injury.

Opening Night Friday at 7 p.m. at Safeco Field against Oakland (the Mariners apparently will play the A’s another 57 times this season) will allow fans the first look live at the issues, which would seem to start with the fact the Mariners have seven rookies on the roster and are, at 28 years and change,  the American League’s second-youngest team.

But it’s a weird young. Three of the rookies are not the typical kids — the Japanese imports, infielder Munenori Kawasaki (31 in June) and relief pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma (31) and domestic pitcher Steve Delabar (28) — but guys who have about an hour and half to prove themselves.

Of the others, Jesus Montero, 22, and Alex Liddi, 23, are showing signs of providing the offense so desperately needed,  but can be seen currently as position players without  positions. Two rookies in the pen, Erasmo Ramirez, and Lucas Luetge, look promising, despite Ramirez Thursday letting a respectable start by Jason Vargas go awry with a double by Ian Kinsler a single by Michael Young that brought in the Rangers’ decisive runs in the seventh inning.

Aside from DH Montero, who has caught one game so far,  it can be argued that perhaps only two positions are set — right field with Ichiro Suzuki and second base with Dustin Ackley, who didn’t play Thursday partly because he’s trying too hard and partly because he’s still not fully back from whatever ailed him in the Opening Series in Japan.

Justin Smoak seems OK at first, but what if he keeps hitting .212, as he is now, when Carp, a more developed hitter, comes back and discovers his spot in left taken by the Michael Saunders Renaissance?

At .321, Kyle Seager, 24, is 14th in the American League in batting, but where does he play when Chone Figgins, whom the Mariners seemed committed to showcasing for a mid-season trade, returns to third base to relieve the glut in the outfield?

Then there’s catcher. If the rest of the world passed kidney stones the way Miguel Olivo, 33, passes balls, consumption of painkillers would drop 25 percent.  He’s still good at throwing out baserunners, but is otherwise death to defense and hitting .143. Montero isn’t ready to catch fulltime, and Wedge curiously hasn’t felt emboldened to use backup catcher John Jaso, acquired specifically to prop up Olivo, once behind the plate.

While it’s true that having options is better than not having options, the downside is the Mariners, barring multiple injuries, won’t have enough ABs to go around to establish major league values for themselves or trading partners. So as long as they keep give lots of ABs to veterans on the downside such as Ichiro, Figgins, Olivo and even Brendan Ryan, 3o, they run a higher risk of getting shorted at the bazaar as well as neglected at the gate and TV ratings.

Among sports fans in Seattle, there is, besides the usual springtime naivete, a low rumble of excitement for the Mariners’ youngsters. But not wanting to be Charlie Browned again when ready to kick off, few will admit to it, putting off the rumbles to leftover gas from the NIT finish.

Managing this collection of veterans on the decline and youngsters needing action will be difficult. But as long as Wedge gives no motorcycle rides nor opinions on world leaders, it could be worse. He won’t finish first in this week’s Sports Standings of Dumb.