Griffey set to debut Wednesday

Updated: March 2, 2009, 8:04 PM ET
Associated Press

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Now that Ken Griffey Jr.'s swollen knee has improved, he is ready to play in his first game for Seattle in a decade.

The 39-year-old slugger hit for about 10 minutes against two Class A pitchers in a simulated game on Monday. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu then confirmed Griffey will make his spring debut, as planned, at designated hitter on Wednesday night against Australia's national team.

The outing will come 11 days after baseball's leading active home run hitter signed an incentive-filled deal to return to where his career began 20 years ago. Griffey had arthroscopic knee surgery in October.

Griffey was icing his propped-up left knee after workouts a few days ago, then spent the weekend with his wife and children, who were in from Florida.

On Monday, he let a few initial pitches from wide-eyed, 24-year-old Jake Wild go by before he lofted fly balls while Wakamatsu and general manager Jack Zduriencik watched.

Veteran Mike Sweeney, trying to make the team after operations on both of his knees last summer, first baseman Russell Branyan and shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt also hit to keep themselves sharp. All but Branyan have yet to play in a spring game.

"That's all I need," a smiling Griffey told his manager after the short session.

"Junior did great," Wakamatsu said. "There was some swelling in the knee a couple of days ago, but everything's good now."

Wakamatsu has said he wants Griffey to have about 30 or 40 at-bats before the opener on April 6 at Minnesota. And Griffey says he doesn't need games to get that work, adding that spring games are primarily for pitchers.

He will get more swings in another simulated game planned for Friday, and Wakamatsu may put Griffey in minor league games later this month just to keep his swing sharp.

"There are no restrictions on him," Wakamatsu said, reiterating the Mariners are trying to preserve Griffey for the entire season.

"[During the season] it's going to be the plane flights, if he has to slide in games, playing the field a lot. We're going to be cognizant of all that and monitor as we go along," Wakamatsu added.

Griffey, fifth on the all-time home run list with 611, signed a one-year contract worth $2 million in base pay on Feb. 21. He could earn $3 million more if the Mariners have a paid attendance total of 3 million, he has 500 plate appearances and he does not go on the disabled list, according to salary figures obtained by The Associated Press.

He wants to play left field as much as he can. The Mariners will also use him as their designated hitter.

On Monday he faced a 24-year-old who said he grew up in Fresno, Calif., cherishing his Griffey baseball cards.

"No, I'm not selling those. I'll try to see if he'll sign them," Wild said in the dugout soon after throwing nothing but fastballs to a star who made his major league debut when Wild was 5 years old.

Asked if he was in awe, Wild said: "A little bit, but I got over it. He was one of my guys growing up, you know, so it was cool.

"He wasn't really trying and was just looking at the first few pitches," he added.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press