ST. PETERSBURG -- When Ken Griffey Jr. stopped by Tropicana Field this weekend to see some old friends, one of the newest Mariners hung patiently in the dugout waiting for his chance. And when he saw his opening, rookie reliever Lucas Luetge pounced with a pair of baseballs in hand, asking for autographs.
Sometimes players are just like fans when it comes to meeting their heroes and for Luetge, Griffey remains as big as it gets.
Luetge grew up playing Griffey's Super Nintendo video game and closely following his Mariners career as a kid in Industry, Texas.
"I've still got that game," Luetge said. "It was pretty crazy getting to talk to him. I grew up watching him and that was 'our guy.' You know how on Yahoo when you log in you can track your favorite teams? I had the Mariners even before I was here because of him, just so I could track what he was doing. So it's pretty cool, and a little weird, just thinking about it now.
"I had him sign two balls, one for myself and one for my family. He was nice about it and talked to me for about 20 minutes. I loved it. I'll be smiling for a while."
Griffey isn't Luetge's first autograph and he won't be his last.
"I've been getting them all year from other teams," he said. "I've got Thome, Hamilton, Cain, Lincecum. I'm just trying to make a collection. I've got my Jeter jersey waiting for next week. I would have brought my Junior jersey but I didn't know he was coming.
"I'm just trying to get the collection for my man cave one day. We all know how baseball is. You're here today, you might not be here tomorrow. So while I'm here, I'll take advantage of it."
Lots of players trade autographs with each other or seek keepsakes, but Luetge admits he has to gather up some courage to ask at times.
"These guys know I'm not getting it to sell it. I'm keeping it for my memories," he said. "It's a little weird at first, even asking my teammates. You're a little gun shy at first, especially being a rookie. But everybody does it.
"It's one of those things where you just have to say, 'Hey, I'm doing it.' I was pretty pumped about it with Junior. I've met him and said hi before, but it was pretty cool to really get to talk to him."
Felix eager to face his 'idol' on Tuesday
ST. PETERSBURG -- When Felix Hernandez takes the mound on Tuesday against the Yankees, it'll be his first time facing former Mariners standout Freddy Garcia. And for "The King," facing "The Chief" is a big thing.
Hernandez grew up watching Garcia when his fellow Venezuelan was pitching for Seattle and then befriended him when he signed with the Mariners toward the end of Garcia's time with the team.
"When I signed they brought me to Safeco and he was the first guy I met," Hernandez said. "I was always looking up to Freddy. He was my idol back in the day. He still is. He's always sending me texts like 'Hey man, you need to do this or do that.' He's a great guy."
Hernandez just heard from Garcia, who is nine years older at 35.
"He sent me a text a couple days ago saying, 'Dude, we're going to pitch together,'" Hernandez said. "I said, 'I know.' It's going to be fun. But I've got to do my job, too."
The two never pitched for the Mariners at the same time. Garcia was traded to the White Sox in the middle of the 2004 season. He's now in his 14th year in the Majors, having posted a 149-98 record.
Hernandez was promoted to the Mariners in 2005. He's put up a 93-72 record in eight seasons with Seattle, but never has pitched against his boyhood idol. Until now.
Wells gets first crack at leading off
ST. PETERSBURG -- With Dustin Ackley getting the day off Sunday, Mariners manager Eric Wedge gave Casper Wells his first start of the year in the leadoff role for the series finale with the Rays.
Wells became the seventh leadoff hitter Wedge has used this season since shifting Ichiro Suzuki out of that role in Spring Training. Ichiro moved back to leadoff for a brief time but now is entrenched in the No. 2 spot.
Wells led off for the Tigers twice last season before getting traded to Seattle and hit a leadoff home run off Ted Lilly of the Dodgers on June 22, 2011.
With the Rays starting left-hander Matt Moore, Wedge moved most of his available right-handed hitting options up in the lineup.
"Wells has been putting up competitive at-bats," Wedge said. "Obviously it's been a tough couple days offensively, so we'll see if that triggers anything."
Ichiro remained in the No. 2 spot -- and in right field -- despite throwing mistakes in back-to-back games. He overthrew the cutoff man when the Rays scored their winning run in the 14th inning Friday, then received his first error of the season Saturday by throwing wide of Kyle Seager at third and allowing Tampa's lone run to score in a 2-1 win.
"Yesterday he shouldn't have made the throw," Wedge said. "There was no play there. It was just an instance of him trying to do too much. The day before it was a strong throw, an aggressive throw, but he just overthrew Ackley. The first one is a fundamental error. The second one is a mental error. He's got to know. People make mistakes. He's a smart player."
Mariners to make decision soon on Carp
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mike Carp's 20-day rehab stint with Triple-A Tacoma ends on Monday, so the Mariners will either need to make a roster move to bring him back or have him sit on the 15-day disabled list without playing.
Carp was hitting .218 in 14 games with Tacoma through Saturday. Is he ready to return from his shoulder issues?
"He should be," manager Eric Wedge said. "He's been playing a lot of first base. We'll wait to the very end to completely evaluate and make a decision, but he's been playing a lot of first base and getting a lot of ABs and that's what you're looking for. We'll evaluate and make sure he's healthy at the end and go from there."
With first baseman Justin Smoak continuing to hit below .200 for the Mariners, it's possible Carp could be in line to replace him. But Wedge wasn't tipping his hand on any move Sunday.
"I don't want to speculate on that," he said. "I want to take it day by day. We'll see how today goes and take it from there. Obviously we've got a lot of moving parts. We optioned [Stephen] Pryor yesterday, I want to see how [Franklin] Gutierrez's exam goes tomorrow, we have to get [Erasmo] Ramirez out. And Carp is obviously ahead of that. We'll just take it day by day and see what happens."
Gutierrez will see doctors in Seattle on Monday as he continues having post-concussion headaches three weeks after getting hit in the head with a pickoff throw. Ramirez, also on the 15-day disabled list with a strained elbow, will throw a bullpen Monday in Seattle and then likely start for Tacoma on Wednesday.
• Heading into Sunday's games, Kyle Seager's 58 RBIs were the most in the Majors by any player under the age of 25.
• When Jason Vargas beat the Rays on Saturday, he improved his record to 9-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 13 starts following a team loss the previous game.
• Ichiro tied Ken Griffey Jr.'s club record for intentional walks with 172 on Saturday night.
• When the Mariners won 2-1 on Saturday despite 15 strikeouts, it was just the second time in franchise history that Seattle won despite striking out 15 or more times in a nine-inning game. The other instance was a 3-1 victory at Oakland when the Mariners struck out 16 times on April 24, 1986.