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Friday, March 22, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Spring Training Notebook

Adding Hunter Could Affect Pirkl, Sorrento

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. - The signing of Brian Hunter to a minor-league contract may be the beginning of the end for Greg Pirkl and perhaps a role change for Paul Sorrento.

Hunter, 28, a left fielder and first baseman, was signed by the Mariners yesterday after being released by Cincinnati a week ago. He hit just .215 last season in 40 games, but was bothered by a torn right hamstring. He has a .231 career batting average, with 42 home runs and 165 runs batted in.

Hunter gives the club some insurance if Pirkl does not make the team. Pirkl is out of minor-league options and might be released.

Hunter, a right-handed hitter, faces mostly left-handers. If Sorrento struggles against lefties, Hunter could be an option. He'll start at Class AAA Tacoma.

"We gave him a chance to basically see if he fits in. He has some power and has been productive against lefties," Piniella said.

Hunter said several teams expressed some interest in signing him after his release, but said "this is my best opportunity to play, especially if they decide to platoon.

"I feel I can do something against left-handers," Hunter said.

THE FIFTH STARTER?

Seattle will carry 10 pitchers into the season, but that doesn't mean the fifth starter will be one of them.

"The fifth could be added or we might bring in a fifth," Mariner Manager Lou Piniella said.

Factored into that decision will be how Paul Menhart returns from a right calf strain. He is expected to pitch Monday. If he throws well in the final week of spring training, he may stay in Peoria for extended conditioning, then be called up April 13 at Toronto.

JOHNSON HAS ONE START

Randy Johnson, in his penultimate spring start, worked 4 1/3 innings against the Angels, allowing eight hits and five runs (two earned).

"I thought he threw well," Piniella said. "He threw over 100 pitches."

Beginning with Johnson's outing, each starter was to have two more starts before the season begins.

Chris Bosio, slowed by offseason knee surgery, will pitch Sunday.

GRIFFEY WATCHING VIDEO

Piniella and Lee Elia are going over videos with Ken Griffey Jr. daily to improve the center fielder's swing.

This spring, Griffey is hitting .266 with one home run and eight strikeouts in 45 at-bats. In last spring's abridged three-week camp, he hit .300 with three home runs and 11 strikeouts in 30 at-bats.

Asked if the slow start could be related to his broken wrist from last season, Piniella said, "It hasn't bothered him. He hasn't complained. Maybe he's overcompensating, but I don't know that."

POLONIA TAKES THE LEAD

Luis Polonia seems to have a tighter grip on the starting left-field spot, despite Darren Bragg's outstanding spring (.462). Polonia is hitting .308, but in his last four games he has six hits in 11 at-bats (.545) with a double, triple and two RBI.

"Luis hasn't hurt himself the past couple of days," Piniella said.

BUTCHER'S CHANCES SLIM

Pitcher Mike Butcher has been impressive recently but his chances of making the Mariner roster are slim. In 4 1/3 innings over his last three outings, Butcher allowed no runs and six hits.

If Butcher, a non-roster invitee, makes the team, someone would have to be taken off the 40-man roster. That player could then be claimed by another team.

It's expected that three non-roster players will make the team - Polonia, pitcher Bob Wells and catcher John Marzano. Thirty-nine players now are on the 40-man list.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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