August 2012

Wedge sticking with familiar lineup in White Sox opener

Eric Wedge knows a good thing when he sees it. The Mariners skipper is sticking with essentially the same lineup that has helped Seattle win eight straight going into tonight’s 5:10 p.m. PT game against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

That means Eric Thames, who has hit .400 during the win streak, is back out in right field and Trayvon Robinson — who made four Web Gem catches in the past week — is back in left. I keep getting questions on what’s going on with Casper Wells and the simple answer is that he cooled off at the plate — an 0-for-13 streak — about the same time Robinson started playing well in left.

Wedge has said Wells will get playing time against left-handers — but the White Sox are starting right-hander Jake Peavy tonight. The only lefty Seattle faces in this series is Jose Quintana on Saturday, but they will see two lefties of the four upcoming games in Minnesota as well.

Here is today’s full lineup:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Kyle Seager 3B
John Jaso DH
Jesus Montero C
Eric Thames RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Trayvon Robinson LF
Brendan Ryan SS

Jason Vargas P

 

Mariners will try to stay hot in warm Chicago

Beautiful day in Chicago as the temps are already at 90 degrees at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. So the Mariners will have warm weather in which to try to continue their eight-game winning streak, but it won’t be easy this weekend as they face the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

The Sox are leading the AL Central at 68-55 and are fresh off their first three-game sweep of the Yankees in Chicago since 2000.

Something has to give in this series, either the Mariners current hot streak or their long cold streak in the Windy City where Seattle has won just three of its last 19.

The Mariners are 4-21 against the White Sox overall over the past three years and their 1-5 mark this year includes the perfect game of Philip Humber in April in Safeco Field.

So history says the Mariners are in tough. But history also holds another interesting note. On this Aug. 24 date in 1995, the Mariners began their improbable turnaround when they were 11 1/2 back of the Angels in the standings and trailing the Yankees by a run with two out in the ninth inning.

That’s when Vince Coleman stole two bases and scored the tying run on Joey Cora’s single and Ken Griffey Jr. hit John Wetteland’s next pitch into the second deck of the Kingdome to begin what turned out to be a crazy late-season run to the playoffs.

The current Mariners, at 61-64, are only 6 1/2 out of a wild-card berth as we speak. The difference is they have far more teams ahead of them this time. While the Angels helped with their ’95 collapse, these Mariners would need help on multiple fronts to leapfrog three teams in the current wild-card jumble.

But, yeah, there’s a chance, at least if the Mariners keep playing good baseball. Just having more meaningful games in late August is a nice step forward.

Here are the pitching matchups for this series, starting with a good matchup tonight:

Friday: LH Jason Vargas (13-8, 3.53) vs. RH Jake Peavy (9-9, 3.11), 5:10 p.m. PT

Saturday: RH Blake Beavan (8-7, 5.00) vs. LH Jose Quintana (5-2, 2.76), 4:10 p.m. PT

Sunday: RH Kevin Millwood (4-10, 4.29) vs. RH Gavin Floyd (8-8, 4.56), 11:10 a.m. PT

Here’s what an eight-game win streak does for you

What exactly does an eight-game win streak do for a team in mid-August? For the Mariners, it’s certainly put some spark back into a season that now has a far better feel to it heading into the final six weeks.

It’s a stretch to say the Mariners are suddenly contending for a wildcard berth, but it’s not wrong to say they’re at least putting themselves into the conversation.

After losing to Tampa Bay 4-1 on Aug. 13, the Mariners were 53-64, 15 1/2 games back of front-running Texas in the AL West and 10 games out of a playoff berth, needing to jump seven teams to get into the final wildcard spot.

At that point, they were 12th among the 14 AL teams in winning percentage and 23rd out of the 30 MLB teams overall.

Fast forward to today, in the wake of the eight-game streak that is the longest by a Mariners team since they won eight in a row from June 23-July 1, 2007.

Now the Mariners find themselves at 61-64, 12 back of first-place Texas in the West and 6 1/2 out of a wildcard berth following Oakland’s loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday. Significantly, they have leapfrogged three teams in the wildcard hunt and now have just three more between them and the final wildcard berth.

Here are the wildcard standings, which are getting wild indeed with three teams tied now for the second spot in the AL.

In their eight-game streak, the Mariners moved up to ninth in the AL and 17th in the Majors in winning percentage. Bad news for getting a top draft pick, but good news if you’re a fan of progress.

The Mariners outscored the Rays, Twins and Indians by a combined 30-13 in the eight-game streak, which means pitching again was the primary reason for success. But the key for Seattle clearly is getting enough offense to go with its pitching and defense and, indeed, some bats warmed up enough to make that happen.

Newcomer Eric Thames has hit .400 (10-of-25) with two home runs and seven RBIs during the winning streak. Michael Saunders provided pop by batting .333 (9-of-27) with four home runs and seven RBIs.

Dustin Ackley remains a huge key to this team’s long-term success and he showed why with a .344 stretch (11-for-32) over the past eight games.

The Mariners hope now to keep the mojo going as they travel to Chicago for three games this weekend against the AL Central-leading White Sox, followed by four in Minnesota. Whether they’re really going to make noise in the wildcard race will be a lot more evident after these next seven games.

But one thing we already know for sure. This season clearly is a solid step forward from last year’s 67-95 performance. Just how big a step will be determined by these final six weeks.

A few thoughts on Felix and the happy vibe at Safeco

Crazy night at Safeco Field last night and nobody enjoyed it more than the man in the middle of the mayhem, Felix Hernandez. A couple observations, before we move on to today’s 12:40 p.m. series finale with the Indians.

I’ve watched a lot of professoinal athletes over the years and very few have I seen as appreciative of the moment as Hernandez for the entire past week. He’s seemed almost humbled by the perfect game and its aftermath, continually talking about how much he appreciates the outpouring of support from Mariners fans and the organization.

And that all culminated with Tuesday night’s playoff-atmosphere and the crazy sight of 39,204 fans wearing yellow “King of Perfection” shirts and waving their “K” cards every time Felix got two strikes.

It was a scene that clearly affected Felix, who called it “the best game I’ve ever pitched at Safeco Field.” Obviously he wasn’t referring simply to his own performance as it’s pretty tough to top the previous perfect game. This one meant so much to him because of the support, the chants, the people calling his name and letting him know how much they appreciate his performance.

“I got chills,” he said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ This is something special.And I really appreciate the Seattle Mariners and these fans. They’ve supported me every year.”

But this night wasn’t just about Felix. His teammates soaked up the same atmosphere, and saw a little bit of what can be in Seattle if they can get to the point of playing meaningful games in a stretch run.

“This is as close to a playoff environment as we’ve had,” said Brendan Ryan. “Pretty awesome. It was nice to see those seats filled up and people having a good time. Felix gave them exactly what they wanted, minus another perfect game.”

It was good to see the team come through in one of those situations. It seems like too often in the past, when the stands filled for Opening Night or some other big moment, the result fell flat. But this time, the Mariners provided a 5-1 win and continued floating out that feeling that a corner is being turned by a club that has won 14 of 15 at home to pull to 60-64.

The playoffs remain a longshot, but not an impossibility. Even if remote, the idea that winning games can mean something in late August matters for a club that seemed lost in last place a month earlier.

“We’re playing the right way,” said Hernandez. “We’re playing good games, the defense is doing its job and it makes you more comfortable out there on the mound. I’m seeing everything. Offense, defense pitching, we’re playing pretty good right now and we’ve got to continue doing that.”

A few of the young players have begun to mention the Wildcard berth as a possibility. Ryan, 30, has been around a little longer, but he dares to dream just a little as well.

“Last year we were kind of trying to play spoiler and all that stuff, but it sure feels like we’re trying to sneak back into this thing,” he said.

That’s the vibe in the Mariners clubhouse at the moment. Winning does that for you. And having Felix on the mound and 39,000 fans going nuts doesn’t hurt either.

There’s still room in the Supreme Court tonight

Lots of buzz building for tonight’s perfect game follow-up performance by Felix Hernandez, but there were still 12,000 tickets available as of this morning for what should be quite a scene tonight at Safeco Field.

The Mariners are encouraging remaining fans to buy early to avoid possible long lines at the ticket windows for the 7:10 p.m. game against the Indians.

The first 34,000 fans will receive yellow “King of Perfection” T-shirts and a “K” card, which in essence will turn the entire Safeco Field into a larger version of the normal King’s Court rooting section. Thus, the Mariners are calling it “Supreme Court” night.

And yeah, Felix is pretty stoked.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be. I think I’m going to get chills,” he said last night. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. But it’ll be good. I’m looking forward to it.”

Felix has handled all the hoopla, well, perfectly, it seems. He’s been appreciative and almost humbled by the magnitude of the outpouring of support. He’s genuinely tickled by the outbreak of “Felixing,” as people are calling the new pose he struck after getting the final out of last Wednesday’s perfecto.

Sounders star Fredy Montero was among those who struck the same pose after scoring a goal last weekend and the Mariners have asked him to throw out the first pitch tonight.

“I heard that and saw the pictures,” Felix said with a grin. “A lot of guys are doing it. That’s good stuff.”

It’s so good that someone joked that his next Mariners commercial likely will involve Felixing. And Hernandez took that and ran as well.

“Probably. But you know what, that’s good because Larry is going to be out,” he said in mock indignation. “I’m tired of Larry, Larry, Larry. Larry is going to be out. He’s going to be fired from my commercial.”

It’s all in good fun. But one thing about Hernandez. He knows when the fun ends and it’s time to get back to business. And he’s eager to follow up his perfect game with another strong start tonight against the Indians.

“It’s a great feeling. But I’ve got to turn the page,” he said. “This is another day. I’ve got nine more starts and I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing right now.”

Should be a kick. Hernandez has been on an incredible run and it should be something to see Safeco Field with 30-plus thousand fans in yellow and waving ‘K’ cards every time Felix gets two strikes.

Furbush comes off DL; Kelley sent to Tacoma

Left-handed reliever Charlie Furbush was activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday, with right-hander Shawn Kelley optioned to Triple-A Tacoma to make room on the 25-man roster.

Furbush, 26, has been on the disabled list since July 18 with a strained left triceps. He made five rehab appearances with Tacoma with a 6.00 ERA (four earned runs in six innings) with seven strikeouts.

Furbush, who was acquired as part of the Doug Fister trade with the Tigers a year ago, has been one of the Mariners’ top relievers this season with a 4-2 record and 2.17 ERA. He’s struck out 47 in 37 1/3 innings and has held left-handers to a .155 batting average.

Kelley, 28, is 2-3 with a 3.41 ERA, pitching 34 1/3 innings in 36 appearances.

The Mariners chose to keep veteran Josh Kinney and rookies Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor on the 25-man roster as their right-handed relievers along with closer Tom Wilhelmsen. Kelley started this season in Tacoma and still has options left, while Kinney is out of options and would have been exposed to the waiver process if he’d been sent down.

Furbush’s return gives manager Eric Wedge three lefties in the pen with Furbush, Oliver Perez and Lucas Luetge.

The Mariners face the Twins tonight at 7:10 p.m. Here’s tonight’s lineup:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Kyle Seager 3B
John Jaso DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Trayvon Robinson LF
Eric Thames RF
Brendan Ryan SS

Hisashi Iwakuma RHP

Perfect game reading: The Best of Felix coverage

Lots of great coverage of Felix Hernandez’s perfect game yesterday. If you haven’t had time to wade through it all, here are some of my favorite reads:

- Zack Meisel of MLB.com has the reaction from around baseball, from Bud Selig stopping to watch the end of the last few innings to players in various clubhouses erupting as he got the final outs. Great reminder of how the moment extended far beyond Safeco Field.

- Larry Stone of the Seattle Times talks about finally seeing his first no-hitter after 27 years of covering Major League Baseball.

- Bill Chastain, who covers the Rays for MLB.com, tells us how Tampa Bay’s players viewed the overpowering performance of The King.

- ESPN.com provided a fascinating collection of stats and info on the perfecto, including some interesting observations of how Felix’s fastball got stronger as the game progressed.

- John Harper of the New York Daily News provides the obligatory Big Apple reaction, having been reminded again that, gee, wouldn’t Felix help out the Yankees’ rotation.

- Paul White of USA Today takes a stab at ranking where Felix’s outing ranks among all perfect games in terms of sheer dominance.

- If you want some goosebumps just from watching what this game meant to others, here’s an awesome video of the Double-A Jackson Generals — who include Felix’s older brother, Moises Hernandez — going bonkers as the perfect game played out on the big screen at their ballpark.

- And I’d be remiss if I didn’t link to my own game story about the first no-hitter I’ve seen in person in the time I’ve been covering the Mariners as a columnist and reporter for various publications since 1997.

It was a remarkable performance and in so many ways inevitable, it seems. Randy Johnson is the only other pitcher I’ve followed on a regular basis that gave the feeling that if you were there often enough, sooner or later you were going to see something very special.

For Felix, this is the culmination of a remarkable run during which he’s pitched complete-game shutouts of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers and Rays now in his last 10 starts. Those are some of the very best offensive teams in baseball that Hernandez has absolutely dominated.

In that regard, Wednesday’s no-hitter seemed only a matter of time. But a perfect game? As Felix said, “This does not happen every day.”

And thus, he joined this most impressive list: The 23 perfect-game pitchers in Major League history.

A perfect ending to a perfect day for Felix

As journalists, we’re not supposed to get involved in the stories we cover. But I’m finding it perfectly acceptable to relish the first perfect game — or no-hitter even — that I’ve ever witnessed in person, thanks to Felix Hernandez’s overpowering 1-0 performance today against the Rays.

This one was historic.  This one was monumental. The first perfect game in Mariners history. And, yeah, it was cool to see.

Sure, the Mariners endured a perfect game against them in April by Philip Humber. I happened to have that day off. Ditto two months later when six Mariners pitchers combined to no-hit the Dodgers.

Both those games happened to be covered by my backup, recent University of Washington graduate Josh Liebeskind, who is an associate reporter for Mariners.com. Josh has covered all of 54 Major League games now — and seen three no-hitters.

That’s a sore point to some, like Larry Stone of the Seattle Times, who has covered Major League baseball for 30 years now. Today was the first no-hitter he’s seen in person.

I haven’t covered as many baseball games as Larry, having also been an NFL and college reporter in my younger days, but I have been covering the Mariners as a columnist or beat writer now since 1997 and this is my first no-hitter. And no, I won’t forget it.

In this age of the Internet, game stories have to be filed literally as the game ends — or even earlier, if possible — so they can be posted immediately. So I started writing the perfect-game angle about the sixth inning, thinking all the while that I’d need to re-do my focus as soon as one of the Rays reached base.

Instead, the game zoomed along as Hernandez never relented. After eight innings, I sent in my initial story with a note saying I’d rewrite as necessary. Three outs later, Hernandez and catcher John Jaso were exchanging the most heart-felt man hug imaginable and my story was just fine.

Eventually, after talking to all parties involved, I rewrote the final game story, which you can read here.

Eleven days earlier, Eric Wedge called Hernandez’s two-hit shutout in Yankee Stadium the best game he’d ever seen by a starting pitcher. But on Wednesday, the King one-upped himself.

And all of us who were lucky enough to see it will never forget this perfect day.

Another setback for Guti, plus today’s lineups

Franklin Gutierrez’s ongoing health issues continue as the Mariners center fielder had another setback Sunday, just when the team was ready to start him on a 20-day Minor League rehab stint.

Gutierrez has been out six weeks since getting a concussion on June 29 when he got hit in the side of the head with a pickoff throw. He was slated to finally play Sunday for the Class-A Everett AquaSox, but the return of headaches canceled that plan, according to manager Eric Wedge.

He’d been working out the past few days with Everett after Triple-A Tacoma went on the road.

“Now we’ve got to put the brakes on again, so that’s disappointing,” Wedge said. “He’s going to see the specialist again tomorrow. Maybe they have to change the medication. We’ll see.”

Gutierrez has played just 12 games this season after originally being sidelined by a partially torn pectoral muscle, then landing back on the disabled list with the concussion. He hit .267 in 45 at-bats and was looking more like the 2010 Gold Glove center fielder when he got hurt again.

Wedge hopes Gutierrez can play Winter Ball this offseason, but hasn’t given up on this season.

“Right now I just want to focus on hopefully getting him back for some period of time this year,” said Wedge. “He just makes such an impact on our club. We’ve had a couple games this road trip where if we have a different outfield, we probably win.

“And the impact he makes in our lineup as a right-handed bat with some experience that you can really hit anywhere, I value that. The fact he can hit anywhere in the lineup, has a little pop, a pretty good hitter. In just a short period of time, you saw the impact he had on our club.”

The Mariners will wrap up their nine-game road trip today against the Angels at 12:35 p.m. It’s a tough matchup against Jered Weaver, who brings a 15-1 record and 2.13 ERA in a day game where bright sun won’t help hitters trying to pick up his assortment of off-speed pitches.

But Jason Vargas beat his former Long Beach State teammate in a 3-0 decision in their previous meeting last year, so we’ll see how this one plays out. Here’s Seattle’s lineup:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Kyle Seager 3B
John Jaso DH
Jesus Montero C
Mike Carp 1B
Eric Thames RF
Trayvon Robinson LF
Brendan Ryan SS

Jason Vargas LHP

Ryan returns to lineup Friday against Angels

Brendan Ryan is back in the lineup Friday after missing four games with a bruised elbow after getting hit with a pitch by Hideki Kuroda last Saturday in New York.

That’s good news for the Mariners as Ryan’s defense has been excellent all year and his bat has heated up the past six weeks as well, as he’s hit .274 over his past 40 games to hike his season average up to .204.

Felix Hernandez is on the hill, which is always good news for Seattle.

Here’s tonight’s full lineup from Angel Stadium against Ervin Santana (5-10, 5.83 ERA):

Dustin Ackley 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Jesus Montero DH
John Jaso C
Kyle Seager 3B
Mike Carp 1B
Casper Wells LF
Eric Thames R
F Brendan Ryan SS

Felix Hernandez RHP

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 108 other followers