ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's been eight years since Lloyd McClendon drew up his own starting lineup, eight years since he was the man calling all the shots for the Pirates.
So after serving as a coach on Jim Leyland's Tigers teams the past eight years, the 55-year-old acknowledges there's something special about getting another chance in the manager's seat as the Mariners prepare to embark on their new campaign Monday night against the Angels.
"I'm excited," McClendon said Sunday. "I'm happy to be back in the saddle, so to speak. I got a text from Jim yesterday and I told somebody, I know he's on the other end crying because it was a very emotional text. That's why he didn't call, he texted.
"I shed a tear and texted him back," McClendon said with a chuckle. "I didn't call him either. I didn't want to cry either. So, yeah, I'm excited. I've been waiting for it a long time. I'm proud of the team we have and I'm proud to be a Seattle Mariner."
McClendon will lead a young squad projected by most to finish fourth in the American League West after going 71-91 a year ago. But he's been a positive force since his arrival, saying that being young isn't an excuse and that he believes there's considerable talent on a team that added Robinson Cano over the offseason.
Losing All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and top prospect Taijuan Walker to injuries at the start of camp increased the early degree of difficulty, but both are expected back toward the end of April or early May and the long-time hitting instructor has seen good things from his young offensive players.
"I like where we are from a mental standpoint," McClendon said. "Obviously, we have to pitch well and we have to hold the fort until we can get a couple guys healthy. But I like the attitude and the preparation, I like the walk. And they're playing good baseball."
McClendon has told his young players to relax and "unleash their talents." He feels the club is more athletic and has more speed than last year's roster and should be better defensively in the outfield as well.
McClendon said the Mariners are still pushing to balance their lineup and don't have the pieces to platoon in any particular spots on a regular basis, but he'll do whatever possible to create the best opportunities.
"I'll make the moves I think give me the best chance to win the game that day," he said. "It's really simple. There's no magic. I've said this from the start, I'm no smarter than anybody else. I'm no dumber either. I know when to bunt, I know when to hit-and-run, I know when to bring in the right pitcher for the right situation. Once they're in there, it's up to them to get the job done. My job is to make sure to put my personnel in the best possible position to be successful. The rest is up to them.
"I've said all along, I don't know how many games we're going to win, but I do know this," he said. "We'll be prepared every day to win. And that's real important."
Miller thrilled for first Opening Day in Majors
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Brad Miller played in 76 games for the Mariners as a rookie last year, including one in Anaheim near the end of September. But none of those games will be quite like what the Mariners shortstop experiences Monday night when he steps out on the field for his first Major League Opening Day.
Miller beat out Nick Franklin for the starting shortstop job this spring and now will be one of eight Mariners relishing their first big league Opening Day when they toe the line at Angel Stadium for the 7:05 p.m. PT season debut.
"That's what [general manager Jack Zduriencik] said in our meeting," Miller said Sunday before the Mariners took the field for a final workout. "Hey, this is every little kid's dream. And he's exactly right. I still feel like a little kid. This is so much fun, is the main thing. It's going to be pretty cool."
Miller erased any question in the shortstop competition by putting together a monster spring. He led the Cactus League in slugging percentage (.836), tied for first in runs scored (17), tied for second in hits (25), finished third in on-base percentage (.478) and triples (4) and fourth in batting average (.410).
Still, he didn't know until Franklin was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma on Friday that he'd definitely won the job.
"It really hit me when we got on the plane after [Saturday's] game," said the 24-year-old. "Luckily I got a chance to come here last year, so there's a little familiarity. But yeah, it's all new. It's weird. I remember last year Opening Day, I was playing in Jacksonville.
"Just everything is different. It's going to be a lot of fun, being out there with these guys. Felix [Hernandez] has thrown seven Opening Days, that's just awesome. I'm trying to take everything in stride, but I'm just excited more than anything."
The other first-time Opening Day players for Seattle are center fielder Abraham Almonte, catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Stefen Romero, starting pitchers James Paxton and Roenis Elias and relievers Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina.
Romero and Elias will be making their Major League debuts, the other players all were midseason callups last year.
Manager Lloyd McClendon knows the butterflies will be churning for those youngsters, particularly with Almonte, Zunino and Miller all expected to be in the starting lineup on Monday. McClendon well remembers his own Opening Day experiences.
"It's a great day," he said. "Heck, everybody is in first place and hope springs eternal. I think it's a special day for a lot of reasons. But for the players who've worked so hard to get to this point, it's their chance to have their opening moment on the stage. It's an important day and I don't take it for granted. I'm proud of all of them and I hope they all enjoy it."
He said he'll address the first-timers at some point to make sure they keep things in perspective.
"I know their emotions are high, but at some point you have to level off and get focused again," he said prior to Sunday's workout. "Today is the day it needs to level off and you start getting focused again. They've made all their phone calls and shed all their tears, now it's time to get back to work."
Hart will not get Opening Day start against Weaver
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- While Lloyd McClendon wasn't ready to announce his first Opening Day lineup for the Mariners on Sunday, the new skipper did acknowledge that designated hitter/right fielder Corey Hart won't start against Angels right-hander Jered Weaver.
Hart was acquired in free agency to provide a needed right-handed bat and McClendon said he'll play Tuesday and Wednesday when the Angels have lefties C.J. Wilson and Hector Santiago on the hill. But for now, McClendon will pick his spots for the two-time All-Star as he works to regain his health and timing at the plate.
Hart, 32, missed all of last season with Milwaukee following microfracture surgeries on both knees. The legs have held up fine this spring, but he missed a week at the end of camp due to a sore forearm and hit just .132 (5-for-38) with five walks and 18 strikeouts in 13 Cactus League games.
"Corey and I just talked," McClendon said Sunday before the Mariners worked out at Angel Stadium prior to Monday's opener. "I doubt if Corey is going to play every day right off the start. There's still some building we need to do with him. You have to look forward."
McClendon noted that the Angels and A's both have two left-handed starters scheduled to face Seattle in the first week, so those are games he'll target for Hart. That opens the door for Michael Saunders to get much of the work in right field, with Logan Morrison to likely DH against right-handers when Hart sits.
"I have to be careful how much I push him early," McClendon said. "He's OK with it. He understands that with him, I want to continue to build. If I can get 145-150 games out of him this year, I'll be very happy."
If healthy, Hart figures as a key component in the middle of the Mariners' order. He's a career .276 hitter who averaged 33 doubles, 24 home runs and 78 RBIs over his last six seasons in Milwaukee before sitting out 2013.
• Taijuan Walker threw four innings in a Minor League game in Peoria on Sunday and totaled 55 pitches, hitting 93-95 mph on his fastball, according to McClendon. The 21-year-old then went to the bullpen and threw another 17 pitches as he returns from a sore shoulder that sidelined him for a week at the start of March.
Walker will start the season on the 15-day disabled list, but is ready to begin a Minor League rehab stint. McClendon said he'll start for Class A High Desert on Friday.
• All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma will also begin the year on the 15-day disabled list and he's behind Walker on his return schedule after missing the first six weeks of camp with a sprained tendon in his right middle finger. Iwakuma is with the Mariners on their first road trip and is currently playing catch at 60 feet.
He'll extend that to 90 feet in a few days and then to 120 feet before getting on the mound for the first time to throw a bullpen session in about 10 days, according to McClendon. Iwakuma will then need to throw several bullpens before he can begin pitching in Minor League games or simulated situations to begin building up his arm strength enough to pitch for the Mariners, which would seemingly put his return sometime in early May if all goes well.
• Felix Hernandez will be making his club-record seventh Opening Day start, with five of those having been against the A's. His other opener was against the Twins. Hernandez is 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in those six games.
While Hernandez has never opened against the Angels, it's hardly a first for the Mariners. Seattle has started its season against the Halos nine previous times (with a 3-6 record), the last coming in 2006. Only three of those have been in Anaheim, with the two teams splitting the first two at Angel Stadium (in 1987 and '90).
• The Mariners have won seven straight and are 22-15 on Opening Day in franchise history, with their .595 winning percentage fourth best in the Majors since they debuted in 1977. The only teams better in that span have been the Mets (28-9), White Sox (23-14) and Orioles (23-14).