Felix and the kid kick off a hot-topic road trip

Jesus Montero returns to the Bronx tonight and figures to be the center of attention as Yankees fans ponder the offseason trade that landed them Michael Pineda. (Greg Johns photo)

It’s always an interesting trip when the Mariners head back east to face the Yankees and Red Sox and the upcoming five days appear to have as many storylines and dramas as ever.

Tonight’s series opener in Yankee Stadium presents “The return of Jesus Montero” to New York, where there is much handwringing and backlash over the offseason trade of Montero for Michael Pineda, who is lost for the season following labrum surgery.

Additionally, well-regarded Minor League prospect Jose Campos — the other young pitcher sent to the Yankees in that deal — is now on the disabled list with a sore elbow after getting off to a torrid start in Class A.

So Montero, who Yankees fans had been awaiting for several years as the brightest bat in their Minor League system, will return to the Bronx to much intrigue. And indeed, he is already hitting in the middle of Seattle’s order while taking on an increasing role as the starting catcher in Miguel Olivo’s absence.

Not to be overlooked, Felix Hernandez starts tonight and that is always significant in this series. Many have been obsessed with The King somehow eventually winding up in New York, but he remains Seattle’s shining star. And that star seems often brightest when he’s facing the Yankees.

In 11 starts against the Bombers, Hernandez is 6-4 with a 3.29 ERA. In New York, he’s 4-1 with a 1.96 ERA in five starts. And in the new Yankee Stadium, he’s 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA in three starts. So, yeah, there’s that.

So Felix figures to be center stage tonight. And if Montero hits well in this three-game series, the New York media figures to have a field day with that. Then add in that Hector Noesi, the other player sent to Seattle in that deal, pitches on Saturday afternoon with a chance to make another impression — good or bad — in what has been a roller coaster beginning to his own Mariners tenure. Noesi has been outstanding in two starts — against the A’s and Twins — and it would be comforting to see a strong follow-up against one of the league’s better-hitting clubs.

Then comes Sunday, when all eyes will be on Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte, making his Major League return after an aborted retirement. Pettite, 39, brings 240 career wins onto the Yankee Stadium stage. And with Blake Beavan doubtful to be ready after taking a line drive off his elbow in his last start, Seattle likely will move Kevin Millwood up a day (he’d still be on four day’s rest thanks to Thursday’s off day).

Millwood, 37, has 163 career wins of his own — though he’s still looking for his first as a Mariner. That would mean a combined 403 victories on the mound in one New York afternoon, which is pretty good company.

The Mariners then head to Boston, where the weather looks threatening on Monday and Tuesday. But the real storm centers around the Red Sox, who have struggled out of the gates with a 12-19 record that has them last in the AL East. And all the angst now is pointed toward Josh Beckett, who missed a start last week because of a sore ab muscle, then was seen golfing the next day.

When Beckett got shelled Thursday night in his next start and then defiantly told reporters what he did on his off day was his own business, the fingers really began pointing, especially in context of last season’s beer-and-chicken clubhouse stories.

So, of course, Beckett’s next start? That would be Tuesday against the Mariners in Fenway.



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