PEORIA, Ariz. -- Scott Baker has been around long enough to know that Spring Training games are, well, Spring Training games. But that didn't stop the veteran right-hander from feeling plenty good about his Cactus League debut Saturday in the Mariners' 5-3 win against the Angels.
Baker, 32, is almost a two years removed from Tommy John surgery and is making a bid for a rotation berth with Seattle after pitching just three September games for the Cubs last season. The Mariners need Baker as much as he needs them at this point, given injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker have already thinned the rotation competition.
Thus, Baker's two scoreless innings -- he allowed one hit, one walk and struck out one on 32 pitches -- loomed as a welcome initial step for a guy trying to crack the team as a non-roster invitee on a Minor League deal.
"I think it's huge," Baker said of making a positive early impression. "I haven't been in this scenario in quite a number of years where I've had to come in and try to make a team. But I've never allowed myself to use Spring Training to get ready for the season. I like to come in in good shape so I don't have to worry about that part of it and I can focus on getting ready as far as working on my pitches and trying to hit some spots.
"Overall, I'm happy with where I'm at as a whole at this point. Now it's just about building the innings and the pitches."
Baker was a quality starter for the Twins from 2007-11 until running into elbow problems. He owns a 63-48 record and 4.14 ERA in 166 Major League games (162 starts).
He didn't overwhelm the Angels on Saturday, but hit 91 mph while spotting his fastball, threw some good changeups and worked out of trouble after allowing the leadoff hitter to reach base in each frame.
"I thought the ball came out real well," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "It was good to see him competing again. He's not a power guy. He needs to stay out of the middle of the plate, make his pitches in and out, up and down. I thought he did pretty good with that today."
Hart acknowledges adjustment in return to game action
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mariners right fielder Corey Hart took his first step toward returning from a pair of microfracture knee surgeries with a successful debut in Friday's 12-1 victory against the Padres and said all checked out great Saturday morning when he reported back to work.
Hart played designated hitter in his first game of the spring and went 1-for-2 with a single and a walk, then admitted he felt more like a rookie than a nine-year Major League veteran as he stepped back into a game situation for the first time since 2012 with the Brewers.
"Nervewracking," Hart said. "It's been a year and a half since I've seen a live pitch, so it was definitely fast. But I need to build, and every at-bat was a little better. So for me, it's just getting the timing and pace of the game. I'm healthy enough to go out there and do everything, and as spring goes on, I'm sure I'll get more comfortable."
Hart struck out in his first at-bat, then walked and advanced to third on a double in the fourth before driving a single to left field in the sixth.
"It was exciting," Hart said. "My wife and a couple of my kids were there. It was nice just to be involved. It's a big rush. Having missed that for the length I did, it was cool to get back out there."
Hart said there is no way to prepare for the speed of an actual game, but that things slowed for him a little in each subsequent at-bat.
"You can hit off a machine as hard as it will go or have live BP, but once you get in there, it's completely different," he said. "It becomes a chess match, what are they going to throw, don't swing at stuff you're not supposed to swing at, the ball comes out of guys hands differently. Every at-bat as different, but it'll come.
"It still might take me a few weeks to be comfortable enough to not miss pitches, but they know that and I'm confident. I don't care if I struggle for a while. It'll come. I've had 0-for-20s when I feel great. Yesteday I went 1-for-2 with a walk, I was like, 'Hmm, that's a pretty good on-base.' If that's the worst I feel and that's what I do, it's a good thing."
Zduriencik takes wait-and-see approach with rotation
PEORIA, Ariz. -- With injuries already sidelining two of Seattle's top hurlers in Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said Saturday "it remains to be seen" if his club has enough starting pitching heading into the regular season.
Neither of the two right-handers is expected to be available until at least several weeks into April after Iwakuma reported to camp with a sprained tendon in his right middle finger and Walker came down with bursitis in his throwing shoulder.
Zduriencik said the good news is neither pitcher is expected to miss significant time. In the meantime, a couple starters will get an early opportunity to show what they can do. The Mariners have two proven veterans -- Scott Baker and Randy Wolf -- in camp as non-roster invitees attempting to come back from 2012 Tommy John surgeries.
Additionally, a young group of prospects -- Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi -- have all gained some experience in the past season or two and will have a chance to grab jobs.
"You're hoping something real positive comes out of Baker and Wolf," Zduriencik said. "Those are veteran guys that have been around a while. They've got every opportunity to make the club here. Brandon Maurer has to get back on the mound and start throwing again. We've got Erasmo, Beavan, Noesi. Let 'em all compete.
"It sounds like we've been through the worst with these pitchers in terms of the two that have had setbacks. But the bright side is they should recover nicely and it's going to make for an interesting camp for everybody else that's in there."
Baker made his spring debut Saturday against the Angels and threw two scoreless innings with one hit, one walk and one strikeout, while Wolf will start Sunday's game against the Indians in Goodyear, Ariz. Zduriencik and the rest of the Mariners' staff will watch those two closely.
"No question," Zduriencik said. "And there's no question that they came in with intentions of making the club. And that's good. They'd have been given every opportunity to make this club because they give you options and depth, but now it puts them in a little different light.
"There are less numbers, at least initially. They'll be given every chance to pitch here, so let's see. And you've got other guys like Mark Rogers and Matt Palmer coming in here to compete, too, that want to be part of this club. And Zach Miner has starting in his history. So you never know. Let's see what happens."
Zduriencik said the positive with Walker is the 21-year-old didn't have any structural damage in his shoulder based on MRI tests.
"It was just a young guy who got amped up before camp trying to get himself ready and strained himself," Zduriencik said. "The good part is everybody feels good about it, he just needs to build his throwing program back up and that's going to be the setback. We don't think it's going to be anything physical now, being he's got the clearance and positive information on it."
• Felix Hernandez threw a bullpen session Saturday morning in his last mound action before his Cactus League debut Tuesday at 12:05 p.m. PT against the Dodgers in Glendale, Ariz.
• Saturday's seven-inning, rain-abbreviated 5-3 win against the Angels will be replayed on MLB Network on Sunday at 7 a.m. PT.
MLB Network will show nine Mariners games this spring on a delayed basis, including Tuesday's start by Hernandez. That game will be shown on a one-hour delay starting at 1 p.m.
• New closer Fernando Rodney has been brought along slowly this spring and has yet to throw live batting practice or pitch in a game, but McClendon said there is nothing to worry about.
"He's dancing somewhere around here. I haven't seen him in three days. I think he's going to pitch at some point," McClendon said with a smile. "I don't worry about Rodney. This is very normal."
• Justin Smoak had a pair of hits Saturday, including a ringing double high off the batter's eye in center field while hitting right-handed against C.J. Wilson, and is 3-for-4 in his first two games.
"He's putting a lot of time in with [hitting coach Howard Johnson] and it's nice to see him get positive results very early," McClendon said. "That's always good because you can build off that. There's nothing like confidence in this game."