April 2011

I’m back … and so are the Mariners

After skipping the road trip to Kansas City, I’m back on the job today as the Mariners begin a seven-game homestand against the Tigers and A’s.

The club didn’t exactly light things up in K.C., going 1-3 and getting outscored 20-9 by a young Royals squad that is off to a nice start.

Surely the Mariners had hoped to do better in a series where they threw Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda at the Royals. Turned out, only Pineda pulled out a win as he continued his excellent beginning.

But at some point the club needs to start hitting better than the current .214 batting average and .311 slugging percentage, both of which are the worst in the American League. Maybe that day is today, who knows.

Manager Eric Wedge has his team out early today for a rare full-squad pregame workout, partly because the team didn’t get much extra work in Kansas City because of the weather and partly because he’s doing anything that might  help shake the squad out of its 5-11 start.

Among those working out is closer David Aardsma, who is supposed to start his rehab stint in Tacoma tomorrow.

Obviously there is a message here from Wedge, who isn’t going to let things just slide. Good for him for trying to set an early tone.

Here’s the lineup Wedge is going with against Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer in tonight’s 7:10 p.m. game:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Adam Kennedy 2B
Miguel Olivo C
Ryan Langerhans CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Jason Vargas P

Taking a quick break …

For those still checking out the blog — and thank you, since I know the link off the front page of Mariners.com has disappeared — just letting you know I’m skipping the trip to Kansas City and taking a couple days off.

We’ll still have wall-to-wall coverage on Mariners.com, with Kansas City native Robert Falkoff filling in from Kauffman Stadium, so nothing changes on the website.

If you’re curious, MLB.com has its beat writers generally skip one city on the road each month. Typically that means going to two cities on a three-city trip, but the Mariners have an unusual schedule this year with only two three-city journeys all season. So it made sense this month to just skip the four-day jaunt to K.C.

After nearly two months in Arizona and then starting the season on the road, I’m ready to enjoy a little break before hitting it hard again Monday back at Safeco when Detroit and then Oakland come in for the next homestand.

See ya again in a couple days!

-Greg

Yes, the sun is out today after last night’s rally

Things were feeling pretty dreary about six innings into last night’s game against the Blue Jays, with the Mariners facing a 7-0 deficit, Felix Hernandez having been knocked around in a rare rough outing, the offense again failing in key situations and a defensive lapse on a rundown allowing two Toronto runs.

And, oh yeah, a seven-game losing streak on the verge of stretching to eight games in front of the smallest crowd in Safeco Field history.

Then a funny thing happened. The Mariners rallied. A Toronto bullpen that came in with the best ERA in the league suddenly started handing out free passes — 11 on the night and three with the bases loaded in the eighth — and before you knew it, the Mariners had pulled out an 8-7 victory and a young man named Luis Rodriguez had introduced himself to the Seattle faithful with a gritty 10-pitch at-bat that led to the winning hit.

So, yes, the sky is blue today as we arrive at Safeco. The sun is shining. There’s a little more bounce in the steps of some guys who needed a boost.

Chone Figgins isn’t in the lineup today, apparently still bothered by the bruised thumb that knocked him out of yesterday’s game in the fourth inning. Rodriguez, who replaced him, is penciled in at third base.

Jack Cust, batting .171, gets the day off as Milton Bradley will DH. That allows Michael Saunders to play left field and is something we might see more of once Franklin Gutierrez returns, if Bradley continues hitting better than Cust. It seems Saunders should continue getting playing time, so something has to give when Guti returns.

There’s no timetable on that yet. He took batting practice yesterday and will do so again for the next two days, then likely join the Rainiers for the weekend. Turns out Tacoma has room has Greg Halman fractured his left wrist when hit by a pitch and is likely out a month or more.

Tonight’s game should be interesting with Michael Pineda making his first Safeco start, opposed by Toronto ace Ricky Romero.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jack Wilson 2B
Milton Bradley DH
Miguel Olivo C
Justin Smoak 1B
Luis Rodriguez 3B
Michael Saunders LF
Brendan Ryan SS
Ryan Langerhans CF
Michael Pineda P

Jack Wilson back in lineup tonight

After spending three games in Eric Wedge’s doghouse, Jack Wilson will be back in the lineup tonight when the Mariners open a three-game set against Toronto at Safeco Field.

Wilson hasn’t played since he took himself out of the game in Texas after committing two errors in the second inning during Felix Hernandez’s last start. Wedge, who has talked from the start of wanting tough, hard-nosed ballplayers, wasn’t happy with that move. Nor was he pleased when Wilson told reporters afterward that he wasn’t hurt in the game, but was taken out because Wedge wanted a more experienced, steadier presence at second base.

Wedge had already told reporters that Wilson left the game because he was “a little hazy” after being undercut on a hard slide by Ian Kinsler after his relay throw on a potential double-play ball sailed wide of first, one play after he’d dropped an easy throw at second from Chone Figgins.

That whole situation was a little cloudy, frankly, with Wilson unaware at the time that Wedge had said he was hazy. Asked if he was hurt, Wilson said no. But asked if he was taken out by the manager, Wilson didn’t answer directly, instead saying Wedge asked him how he was feeling and then chose to go with a more-experienced second baseman in Luis Rodriguez.

As unusual as it is for a player to take himself out, I don’t think Wilson was trying to hurt the team. His confidence was shaken at a position he’s just learning and he took the blame full on — exhibiting accountability in his own mind — for letting Hernandez and his team down. He didn’t want to his on the job experience to come at the cost of the team.

Wedge understandably wasn’t thrilled to have one of his guys ask out of  a game when the going got tough and he sent a strong message by benching the veteran Wilson. But it’s worth remembering also that Wilson is not a problem guy and has done everything possible in recent weeks to learn a new position after 10 years at shortstop, even knowing his spot is short-term until Dustin Ackley’s arrival.

From my point of view, Wilson is hardly a troublemaker. Just the opposite. There are some potential problems on this Mariners club and Wilson should not even be on that list. So it’s good Wedge and he are apparently back on the same page now because Wilson deserves to play and the Mariners need a guy who was hitting as well as anybody in their struggling lineup.

Here is the full lineup today:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Jack Wilson 2B
Felix Hernandez P

Chris Gimenez was recalled from Tacoma on Friday to replace Adam Moore, who went on the 60-day disabled list. (Photo by Greg Johns/MLB.com)

The Mariners made their move to replace Adam Moore by selecting the contract of Chris Gimenez from Tacoma.

There’s been lots of speculation that Josh Bard would get the ball, but the Mariners opted instead for the more versatile Gimenez, who played in 2009 for manager Eric Wedge in Cleveland.

Moore was placed on the 60-day disabled list, which cleared a space on the 40-man roster and allows Gimenez to be added without having to remove anyone else at this point.

Gimenez, 28, played 73 games for the Indians the past two years and hit .160 with four home runs and 15 RBIs.

He was assigned to Triple-A Tacoma after being optioned on the Mariners cutdown to their 25-man roster, but was recalled Friday before playing a game with the Rainiers.

Moore tore the medial meniscus in his right knee in the eighth inning of Seattle’s series-ending loss in Texas on Wednesday and will undergo surgery. The Mariners are making no prognosis on how long he’ll be out until the surgery is done, but obviously he’ll be out at last two months with his placement on the 60-day DL.

Gimenez is a “super utility” player who was originally drafted as an outfielder by the Indians and can also play first and third base. His versatility could help the Mariners as they only have four outfielders at the moment, with Franklin Gutierrez still on the disabled list with a stomach issue.

The Mariners also have posted their lineup for tonight’s home opener and Adam Kennedy is at second base instead of Jack Wilson.

Here’s the full lineup:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Adam Kennedy 2B
Brendan Ryan SS
Ryan Langerhans CF

Jason Vargas P

Felix pitching Monday, Pineda bumped back a day

Looking to keep Felix Hernandez on his every-fifth-day routine, the Mariners have moved their Cy Young Award winner up a spot in the rotation to pitch Monday instead of Tuesday against the Blue Jays.

With an off day yesterday, Hernandez would have had an extra day of rest if he’d stayed in his normal slot. Instead, the club will flip-flop him with Michael Pineda, moving Pineda back a day to Tuesday, so the rookie will be pitching on two extra days rest when he faces the Blue Jays.

Here are the pitching matchups for the first home series against Cleveland and Toronto:

Today: LH Jason Vargas vs. Carlos Carrasco, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: RH Doug Fister vs. RH Justin Masterson, 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: LH Erik Bedard vs. RH Josh Tomlin, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: RH Felix Hernandez vs. RH Jessie Litsch, 7:10 p.m.
Tuesday: RH Michael Pineda vs. LH Ricky Romero, 7:10 p.m.
Wednesday: LH Jason Vargas vs. RH Kyle Drabek, 12:40 p.m.

Also, the Mariners have announced that tonight’s home opener is now sold out, though a few tickets may still be available if they are returned to the box office today.

Plenty of seats available for the rest of the homestand, however. As of yesterday, there were 18,500 tickets left for Saturday and 26,000 for Sunday, with more than 30,000 for each of the weekday games against the Blue Jays.

Should be some news coming out before tonight’s home opener as well. The club needs to make a roster move to add a catcher, with Adam Moore going on the disabled list with his torn meniscus in his right knee. Either Josh Bard or Chris Gimenez will be added. Bard caught for Tacoma last night in its opener in Sacramento.

Moore’s injury will test catching depth

Adam Moore is helped off the field by trainer Rob Nodine and manager Eric Wedge as Miguel Olivo (right) comes in to replace him in Wednesday's eighth inning in Arlington. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The Mariners lost not only their fourth straight game on Wednesday in Texas, but also backup catcher Adam Moore when he hurt his right knee while scrambling after a Brandon League pitch in the dirt that scooted away from him in the eighth inning of the 7-3 defeat.

Moore will undergo an MRI test Thursday, but indications are the injury could be fairly serious. Trainers helped Moore off the field without letting him put any weight on the leg and he was clearly upset in the clubhouse after getting ice treatment.

Well after the game ended, Moore came to his locker and struggled getting his sock off. He said his foot slipped as he went to plant it, but at that point teammate Chone Figgins intervened and asked reporters to give Moore some space and wait until later to talk to him.

Figgins said Moore was emotional about the situation and needed some time, which is understandable. And also an indication the injury likely is something relatively serious.

Manager Eric Wedge said the knee “locked up” on Moore on the play, but he didn’t know exactly how the injury occurred yet.

So where does Moore’s injury leave the club? Miguel Olivo is the starting catcher and was already destined to get the bulk of the playing time, but he’s only two weeks back from a strained groin muscle and Wedge has intended to be somewhat cautious with him early.

Veteran Josh Bard and Chris Gimenez — the super utility man who can catch, play the outfield and corner infield spots — are the two Tacoma catchers. Both are capable fill-ins.

Neither player is on the 40-man roster, so the club will either need to release someone currently on the 40-man or place Moore on the 60-day disabled list if his injury is that serious, which would eliminate the need to clear a roster spot.

I wouldn’t expect any move to be announced until Friday, given the team is off Thursday and doesn’t need to make a move until sometime before Friday night’s  home opener.

Bard opened last year with the Rainiers and then joined the Mariners on May 16 when Moore hurt his other knee. Gimenez played for Wedge in Cleveland in ’09 and the skipper likes his versatility, though at this point the Mariners are in need primarily of a catcher, so that point may be somewhat moot. Both those guys had pretty solid springs and should be capable fill-ins.

The question might be more long-term depth, however, as there isn’t a lot of experience behind them in the system. The two catchers assigned to Double-A Jackson to start the season are Jose Yepez and Brandon  Bantz.

Yepez, 29, hit .322 in 34 games for Double-A West Tenn last year and caught one game in Tacoma. He’s a 6-foot, 205-pounder out of Venezuela.

Bantz is a 24-year-old Texan who hit .241 at Double A a year ago as a former 30th round draft choice.

In case you’re wondering, Steven Baron, the promising 20-year-old who played extremely well in camp, will open the season at Class A Clinton. He may be the catcher of the future, but he still has a lot of learning to go and the club won’t rush him.

Gutierrez improving, plus today’s lineups

Manager Eric Wedge said the team is waiting word on one final test on Franklin Gutierrez, but he expects the Gold Glove center fielder to begin playing a few innings in Minor League games in Arizona by this weekend if all continues to go well.

Gutierrez is eligible to come off the Disabled List on Thursday, but obviously that’s not going to happen. However, Wedge sounded semi-optimistic about his progress and indicated he could begin getting some limited game action soon.

The skipper offered no sort of expectation on how long it would take Gutierrez to get ready for a return to the Mariners, however.

Meanwhile, the lineup got a slight change today with Adam Kennedy making his first start at second base and Jack Wilson sliding back to shortstop. The plan all along has been to play those three in the two middle infield positions, so getting Kennedy in the lineup should be no surprise, especially with a right-hander on the mound.

Wilson hasn’t played shortstop since getting the news late in Spring Training that he’d be the second baseman, so he took ground balls there early today and said it actually did feel a little different being back on the other side of the bag.

“It’s kind of turn back the clock day,” Wilson said with a grin.

For Wedge, the time is right today as Brendan Ryan has gotten off to a slow start at the plate (1 for 12) and could use a day to relax. Ryan says he just hasn’t gotten many fastballs to hit and is adjusting to the way American League pitchers seem to throw more offspeed stuff, but 12 at-bats admittedly isn’t much of a time frame to judge anything.

More than anything, Wedge wants to get Kennedy some action and keep his bench sharp coming out of spring.

Wedge said Adam Moore will catch tomorrow in order to give Miguel Olivo two days off in a row — tomorrow and then the Thursday off day — before the home opener Friday in Seattle.

Here’s today’s batting order:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Adam Kennedy 2B
Jack Wilson SS
Michael Saunders CF
Michael Pineda P

Now comes Bedard, Pineda and Felix … not bad

We saw what may well be the Achilles’ heel of the Mariners today in Oakland, a bullpen blip with Josh Lueke and David Pauley giving up four runs in the seventh inning in a 7-1 loss that ended those dreams of a perfect season.

I’ve felt all spring this rebuilt reliever corps could be an issue. And while one game shouldn’t be overreacted to, it’s clear that the ‘pen has a lot of unproven guys who’ll need to come through. Felix Hernandez can’t pitch complete games every day.

Lueke had some tough luck, a flyout that turned into a sun-aided double is a rough thing to overcome for a guy pitching his first game. His only other hit was a bloop shot that fell between Ichiro and Jack Wilson, but he got himself in trouble with a pair of walks in between.

Pauley didn’t bail Lueke out when he came in with the bases loaded and allowed all three runners to score without benefit of a hit with a hit batter, a walk and a sacrifice fly.

Lueke will be better. He’s got good stuff and says his velocity generally picks up during the season as he gets more innings, so we’ll see on that. He’s throwing low 90s now.

It’s worth noting as well that David Aardsma threw his third bullpen session before Sunday’s game in Oakland and Wedge said he’s progressing steadily. Still no timeline from the team, but signs seem positive for a return sometime around the end of the month, I would think.

The club heads to Texas now to face a Rangers squad that just swept Boston and is going to make a lot of people regret picking Oakland as the preseason favorite. Texas will certainly pressure the Mariners pitching staff, but this series will be interesting. While the Mariners are coming with their Nos. 4 and 5 starters, those two are Erik Bedard and Michael Pineda, followed by Felix Hernandez in the series finale.

That’s a pretty potent threesome and we’ll find out in a hurry if Seattle’s rotation is ready for prime time.

I’m headed out of Oakland bright and early Monday morning, so will check in from Arlington before the 5:05 p.m. PT game, the airline gods willing.

Mariners looking for the sweep today

The Mariners go for their first sweep of the A’s in Oakland since Sept. 17-19, 2007 today at 1:05 p.m.

It’ll be a tough matchup with Doug Fister against Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 3.23 last year), but the Mariners overcame Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson in the first two games by being patient at the plate and forcing their pitch counts up. So we’ll see how that plays out today as well.

Only change today is Eric Wedge going back to Ryan Langerhans in center field and bringing Miguel Olivo back at catcher after a day off last night. Olivo did come in and pinch hit for Adam Moore in the ninth inning and came through with a single, eventually racing home on a wild pitch.

Wedge said this morning that if something had happened to Olivo, Adam Kennedy had volunteered to be the emergency catcher. And, no, Kennedy has never caught before.

“That would have been interesting, having Adam Kennedy catching Brandon League,” Wedge said with a chuckle.

That’s one reason I’m surprised the club went with utility infielder Luis Gonzalez over Chris Gimenez as the 25th man on the roster. Gonzalez and Kennedy have yet to play yet. And that’s a reason Gimenez may eventually find his way to Seattle from Tacoma if he hits at all early this season.

Meanwhile, the Rangers have changed their pitching for the upcoming series in Arlington, with left-hander Derek Holland moving up to Monday to face Erik Bedard, flip-flopping with right-hander Alexi Ogando. He’ll now throw Tuesday against Michael Pineda.

Wedge said he didn’t know why the Rangers had changed things around and that it does affect his advance planning by changing from a lefty to a righty on Monday. But he said he’ll live with it.

Here’s the Mariners lineup for today:

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Ryan Langerhans CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Jack Wilson 2B
Doug Fister P

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 107 other followers