February 28, 2016

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) Dae-Ho Lee does not have the typical background of a spring training non-roster invite.

The 33-year-old slugger has superstar status in Asia after playing professionally for 15 seasons. He gave up a hefty contract and the chance to win a third straight Japanese Series championship to contend for a role-player position with the Seattle Mariners.

Yet, the South Korea-born Lee is happy to find himself in tight competition to make the team and reach the apex of professional baseball.

''Competition always makes me a better player,'' Lee said through an interpreter. ''I just want to enjoy it. I just want to make the team.''

On Sunday at the Peoria Sports Complex, Lee, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, dwarfed his teammates near the batting cage. Lee said he has shed about 15 pounds from his playing weight in Japan. Being more nimble and quicker on defense will help Lee in his quest to get a spot on the major league roster.

Seattle manager Scott Servais said Lee and the other players vying for the backup first-base role must be able to field to make the team.

''He's going to have to play defense, that's how we're built,'' Servais said. ''It'll be important, he knows it's important. We've talked to him about it and he's been working with (coach) Manny (Acta), getting a feel over there and getting comfortable.''

Lee has been working out at Seattle's complex since signing a minor league contract about two weeks before camp opened. He said he feels ready for the season.

''I've been playing for the last 14 years,'' he said, ''and I think this is the most prepared time of my career.''

Lee is competing with Jesus Montero and Gaby Sanchez to make the team as the right-handed hitter in a first-base platoon with left-handed batter Adam Lind, who will start the majority of games.

Montero, 26, has not lived up to expectations since being traded to Seattle in 2012, playing only 73 big league games in the past three seasons. He is out of minor league options.

Sanchez played the 2015 season in Japan, hitting .226 with 7 home runs and 18 RBIs in 66 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Lee, playing for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Nippon Professional Baseball league last season, hit .282 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs. He has 323 career home runs and a lifetime .303 batting average.

Yet, despite his massive frame, Lee says he's not a stereotypical slugger.

''I'm not a really big home run guy,'' he said. ''I just try to put everything in the center (of the bat) and control the ball. So when it's hit good, it's automatically a home run.''

Servais has been impressed with Lee in spring training so far and understands that the player might have some catching up to do.

''It's an adjustment period to how we practice and go about our day,'' he said. ''I don't know what they do in Japan or Korea as much, but I'm sure there's some differences there. Getting him to understand and be comfortable with our bunt plays, cutoffs and relays, being in the right spot is a big deal as well. From a manager's perspective, you want to be able to trust that the guys you're putting out there are going to be in the right spot. They're not always going to make the play, but they've got to be in the right spot.''

Lee believes he's already found the right spot.

''It's a dream come true to come to the major leagues,'' he said. ''This is the last stop for people who play baseball.''

FIRST BULLPEN

Felix Hernandez threw from the mound on Saturday for the first time in spring training. The 29-year-old ace said he threw about 40 pitches.

''It felt good (Saturday),'' Seattle's Opening Day starter said. ''It felt like everything came out easy. It felt like the pitches were all there, so I'm happy with it.''

Hernandez wasn't happy with his performance last season. His 3.53 earned run average was his highest since 2007 and the 23 home runs allowed tied for the most he's given up in a season. He said he's been working on his mechanics to lower both numbers.

''Last year I was inconsistent,'' he said. ''I left a lot of balls up. There were a lot of homers. So I decided to keep the ball down and fix my mechanics.''

NOTES: Left-handed pitcher James Paxton will start Seattle's first spring training game when the Mariners play San Diego on Wednesday. Right-hander Nate Karns, right-hander Taijuan Walker and left-hander Wade Miley are scheduled to start the following games. Servais said the starters will throw two innings or 30-35 pitches. . Felix Hernandez threw from the mound on Saturday for the first time in spring training. The 29-year-old ace said he threw about 40 pitches.

''It felt good (Saturday),'' Seattle's Opening Day starter said. ''It felt like everything came out easy. It felt like the pitches were all there, so I'm happy with it.''

Hernandez wasn't happy with his performance last season. His 3.53 earned run average was his highest since 2007 and the 23 home runs allowed tied for the most he's given up in a season. He said he's been working on his mechanics to lower both numbers.

''Last year I was inconsistent,'' he said. ''I left a lot of balls up. There were a lot of homers. So I decided to keep the ball down and fix my mechanics.''

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