April 2012

Kawasaki gets third straight start, replacing Ryan tonight

Manager Eric Wedge is giving utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki his third straight start tonight, this time putting him at shortstop in place of Brendan Ryan as the Mariners face the Rangers for Game 2 of their four-game series in Arlington.

Kawasaki started in place of Ryan on Saturday when Ryan had a stiff neck, then filled in at second on Monday when Jesus Montero had a bad stomach and Dustin Ackley moved to DH.

Ryan didn’t have his best game Monday, his errant relay throw to first on a double play ball in the first inning costing the Mariners two runs and some early momentum. Ryan also didn’t have a great night at the plate. Not sure if that’s why Kawasaki is in the lineup, but we’ll find out more when Eric Wedge meets the media before the game.

Kawasaki is 2-for-7 (.286) with two RBIs and one run in his two games after batting.455 and leading all MLB hitters this spring.

The Mariners will need all the offense they can find, with former Rangers closer Neftali Feliz on the mound. The Mariners are 0-for-48 against Felix with four walks and 21 strikeouts in his career as a reliever. We’ll see how they fare against him in his first start.

Blake Beavan is on the hill tonight for Seattle, his first start of the season and a tough one, coming off a long layoff at the end of spring due to the Japan trip and now facing the Rangers in Arlington. Beavan grew up in Irving, Texas, about 10 minutes from the ballpark, and is eager to face his hometown team. So should be an interesting one.

The Mariners need a good start in the wake of Hector Noesi’s rough go last night. The Rangers are going with the same lineup as Monday, with good reason, after an 11-5 victory that included four home runs.

Here’s Seattle’s full lineup:

9  Chone Figgins (S)      LF
13  Dustin Ackley (L)      2B
51  Ichiro Suzuki (L)      RF
17  Justin Smoak (S)       1B
15  Kyle Seager (L)        3B
63  Jesus Montero          DH
55  Michael Saunders (L)   CF
30  Miguel Olivo           C
61  Munenori Kawasaki (L)  SS
49  Blake Beavan           RHP

Kawasaki starting as M’s ready for Yu …

Munenori Kawasak is the only Mariners player to have faced Yu Darvish in a game, having posted a .221 career average against the Japanese ace. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)So it’s finally Yu Darvish Day in Arlington, where the much-anticipated debut of the Rangers new Japanese ace coincides nicely with the arrival of the Mariners and Ichiro Suzuki.

This one will be huge news in Japan, where it’ll be televised live despite the 15-hour time difference.

To add to the storyline, manager Eric Wedge is giving Munenori Kawasaki (above) the start at second base today. He’s the only Mariners hitter to ever have faced Darvish in a game.

Dustin Ackley will DH and Jesus Montero gets the night off.

(UPDATE: 1:25 p.m. PT: Since I wrote this, the word has come out that Montero had a stomach issue this morning, which is why he’s out of the lineup. But that move allows Kawasaki to play.)

As I wrote in my preview story this morning, Ichiro has never faced Darvish in a game — given their 13-year age difference, he was long gone from Japanese pro ball by the time Darvish arrived.

But according to Japanese reporters, Ichiro did face Darvish twice in practice-type situtions before the 2006 and ’09 World Baseball Classics when they were playing for Japan. And Ichiro apparently singled off him once and grounded out in the other unofficial at-bat.

Kawasaki regularly faced Darvish’s Nippon Ham team while with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in the Pacific League. According to the Mariners research, Kawasaki is a career .221 hitter (19-for-86) against Darvish with one home run, 10 RBIs, two walks and 19 strikeouts.

Kawasaki owned Darvis in 2010 when he went 10-for-19 (.526), but last season he was 3-for-27 (.111) with just three infield singles.

Game time is 5:05 p.m. PT and it should be a good one. Here’s the Mariners full lineup:

Chone Figgins LF
Dustin Ackley DH
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Kyle Seager 3B
Michael Saunders CF
Miguel Olivo C
Munenori Kawasaki 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Hector Noesi RHP

Here’s the lineup for Opening Day Deux

It’s a nice sunny afternoon in Oakland as we get ready for the return to regular-season play tonight. Temperatures figure to dip to about 48-50 degrees by the first pitch at 7:05 p.m., so it’ll be a bit of an adjustment for players who’ve been enjoying the 80-degree plus weather in Arizona the past seven weeks.

But, hey, we’ll be back in Seattle in a week, so might as well start getting used to it, eh?

Jesus Montero is in the lineup tonight, so he’s obviously fine after working out for the first time Thursday since getting head in the head with a pitch on Monday.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

Chone Figgins LF
Dustin Ackley 2B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Brendan Ryan SS

Jason Vargas LHP

And so, the rest of the journey begins …

Erasmo Ramirez made the Mariners' Opening Day roster as a 21-year-old reliever out of Nicaragua. (Greg Johns/MLB.com)

After 55 days in Arizona — minus an eight-day side trip to Tokyo — I headed to Oakland this morning to begin the journey of the regular season.

Yeah, there were two games against the A’s in Japan, but let’s face it. Those games count in the standings, but they didn’t really feel like part of the normal season because, well, they weren’t part of a normal season.

Now we begin the six-month grind, with 160 games over the next six months for the Mariners starting Friday night in Oakland. I always say that every season is like a book, filled with unexpected plot twists and turns that play out over those six months. And some of my favorite characters in that book are always the new rookies who have realize their dream by making the Opening Day roster.

This year, the Mariners have seven rookies, but only two are what I’d classify as “true” rookies — Lucas Luetge and Erasmo Ramirez — who have never played in the Majors before. Munenori Kawasaki and Hisashi Iwakuma never have played in MLB before, but they have been part of the top level of baseball in Japan for a decade.

The other rooks — Jesus Montero, Steve Delabar and Alex Liddi — all are still rookies by definition, but they each got their feet wet last year as September call-ups.

All these guys are thrilled to be in the big time now, of course, but Luetge and Ramirez were the two guys absolutely soaking up the new experience Thursday when the Mariners arrived in Oakland for their workout before Friday’s U.S. opener.

I loved this response Luetge gave when I asked him about what he did when he first found out he’d made the 25-man roster. He said he called his wife and then his mom and dad, as you’d expect. But then he put into words exactly what every spouse and parent feel when someone they love reaches a long-sought dream.

“My wife has been going through all this with me, and my parents have been with me since Little League,” Luetge said. “My dad coached me when I was little, and then videotaped every game and would talk to me after every high school game.

“He was speechless when I told him. This was all of our dreams. This is what you work for, and when it finally happens, it takes you back a step.”

Ramirez was also great. The 21-year-old from Nicaragua is a gem. He’s one of those guys who just always has a smile on his face and truly enjoys where he’s at and what he’s doing. When I asked him about how he’s adjusting to pitching in the bullpen, he launched into a free-flowing dialogue about the positives of both starting and relieving.

Finally I said, “You pretty much like everything, don’t you.” And he just laughed and acknowledged the obvious truth of his situation and personality.

“Yeah, I want to pitch,” he said. “Give me a ball, give me a chance. It wasn’t like I wanted to be a starter or reliever all my life. Just give me a chance to throw the ball to home plate.”

You can read my stories on both those youngsters, as well as lots of other news that came out of Thursday’s workout, by going to this story on Mariners.com.

Furbush, Peguero optioned to set final 25-man roster

The final cuts came today for the Mariners and left-handed reliever Charlie Furbush and outfielder Carlos Peguero were optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to bring the team to its 25-man roster limit.

Furbush’s departure leaves Rule 5 Draft pick Lucas Luetge with a spot on the team as it heads to Oakland to resume the regular season after playing twice in Tokyo last week.

The decision with Peguero means Seattle will go with three full-time outfielders as well as utility man Chone Figgins for at least the start of the season, with Mike Carp on the disabled list until at least April 13 with a sprained right shoulder.

Figgins has been playing left field since Carp’s injury in the Opening Day game in Tokyo.

If Figgins plays in the outfield, that allows Kyle Seager to play third base, where he’s had a strong spring. The Mariners also kept Alex Liddi, who can play first or third, as well as new Japanese utility player Munenori Kawasaki.

Here’s the final 25-man roster heading to Oakland, where they’ll play Friday and Saturday before heading to Texas.

Starting pitchers: Felix Hernandez, Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood.

Bullpen: Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, George Sherrill, Steve Delabar, Erasmo Ramirez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Lucas Luetge.

Catchers: Miguel Olivo, Jesus Montero, John Jaso.

Infielders: Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Brendan Ryan, Kyle Seager, Munenori Kawasaki, Alex Liddi.

Outfielders: Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Saunders, Chone Figgins, Casper Wells.

Disabled list: Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp, Adam Moore.

Kelley optioned to Tacoma as roster cut to 27

Right-handed reliever Shawn Kelley was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday as the Mariners reduced their Major League roster to 27 players, with two more moves still needing to be made by 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

Kelley, 27, had a good spring with a 1.98 ERA with 15 hits and one walk with 11 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings over eight appearances, but gave up a two-run home run to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh inning that proved costly in Seattle’s 4-1 loss to the A’s in the Tokyo Dome last Thursday.

He’d seemed a prominent part of the bullpen this spring after returning from his second Tommy John surgery last year and posting 12 2/3 scoreless innings in 10 appearances in a September call-up, but general manager Jack Zduriencik said tough decisions needed to be made and Kelley had an option remaining and thus could be sent to Triple-A without having to clear waivers.

“There’s just some things he needs to work on,” Zduriencik said. “He’s still a young guy and his time in the big leagues has been off and on with a few injuries that had a few setbacks here. Shawn has a good arm and there are some things he did real well, but there’s some things he needs to work on and we felt the best thing right now is to go to Triple-A and let him work on some things he’s been instructed to do.”

The move leaves 13 pitchers in camp, with 12 expected to open the season on the 25-man roster. Kelley’s departure seemingly clinches a roster spot for rookie Erasmo Ramirez in the bullpen. The club still has three lefty relievers — veteran George Sherrill, Rule 5 Draft pick Lucas Luetge and Charlie Furbush — so one of those three figures to be the final pitcher cut.

Right-handed relievers still on the team are Brandon League, Tom Wilhelmsen, Steve Delabar, Hisashi Iwakuma and Ramirez. Kelley thus was the odd-man out.

“You have to make decisions,” Zduriencik said. “No one finishes the season with 12 pitchers. I guarantee you we’re going to go down and bring him up at some point in time if he stays healthy and continues to compete down there. It’s just the way it is. Someone is going to have to go and in this case it’s Shawn. But it’s not an indication of anything except that he has an option left and if he produces, he’ll be back. It’s up to him.

“Shawn is a good kid. He understands. Players understand how it goes. The door is wide open to come back if he produces.”

Big rematch today with the rival Rockies

That heated rivalry with the Rockies resumes this afternoon in Scottsdale, where the Mariners play the second of three straight against Colorado to close out Cactus League play.

The final two games are at Salt River Fields. Today’s game is televised on ROOT Sports. The finale on Wednesday is radio only, with both games at 1:05 p.m.

Dustin Ackley is back in the lineup today after missing three straight games due to feeling lousy after coming back from Japan. Michael Saunders is also back in center field for the first time since the trip.

Manager Eric Wedge is using today to get work for many of his relievers. Erasmo Ramirez, who appears to have won a job as a rookie right-hander, gets the start. Lefty relievers Charlie Furbush. Lucas Luetge and George Sherrill are all available to pitch today, as are right-handers Steve Delabar, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen.

Final cuts need to be made by tomorrow to get down to the 25-man roster. Among the decisions remaining are what to do with the lefty relievers. I’m guessing Furbush or Luetge makes the team and not sure what happens with Sherrill, who could conceivably open the year on the DL if they decide he’s not ready.

Two pitchers need to be moved to get down to 12 there. And one position player — presumably Alex Liddi — will get sent down as well. Carlos Peguero is the other guy seemingly on the bubble, but with Mike Carp on the DL until April 13, I presume they’ll keep Peguero as the fourth outfielder even though Chone Figgins can play out there as well.

Here’s the full lineup:

Munenori Kawasaki SS
Dustin Ackley 2B
Kyle Seager 3B
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders CF
Alex Liddi 1B
Carlos Peguero RF
Casper Wells LF
John Jaso DH

Erasmo Ramirez RHP

The sick ward is cleared up … and lineup vs. Moyer

With a couple days now to acclimate back to the 16-hour time difference from Japan, all the Mariners who went home sick Sunday are back at work today.

Dustin Ackley, who missed two days over the weekend, said he feels better, though he won’t play today. Carlos Peguero, George Sherrill and Michael Saunders are also back and Peguero is even in the lineup today vs. the Rockies.

I was on the trip myself and can tell you the “jet-lag” issue is real when you change that many time zones. It took most of the week in Tokyo to get the body clock used to the complete reversal in what is day and night. Then just when you’ve gotten into that routine, you come back and have to flip-flop again.

The first few days, it’s pretty typical to wake up at 2 or 3 a.m., no matter what time you went to bed, because that is the equivalent to 6 or 7 p.m. in Japan and you don’t just get out of that routine in one day. Some players say they’ve already adjusted, others still seem to be dragging a little. But they’ve got four more days — including today — to get back in sync before the real games begin again.

Should be an interesting matchup at Peoria Stadium with Felix Hernandez facing off against Jamie Moyer. That’s about a good a storyline as you get in a Cactus League game, particularly in this “dead-zone” period after the Mariners already started regular season play and now are  in the midst of their five-game adaption stint before returning to American League play Friday in Oakland.

Here’s today’s lineup:

Chone Figgins LF
Brendan Ryan SS
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero C
Casper Wells CF
Carlos Peguero DH
Alex Liddi 3B
Munenori Kawasaki 2B

Felix Hernandez P