August 2012

A pair of aces showing this weekend in Anaheim

Has there been a better pitcher in baseball the past six weeks than Felix Hernandez? Well, maybe Jered Weaver. And we’ll get to see both aces in action the next three days here in Anaheim.

Felix goes tonight at 7:05 p.m. against Ervin Santana in the opener of the three-game set at Angel Stadium. Hernandez has won six straight decisions, going 6-0 with a 1.41 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings over his last 10 starts.

He’s coming off the two-hit gem at Yankee Stadium and has shutout the Yankees, Rangers and Red Sox in his last eight starts. So, yeah, he’s about as warm as the mid-90s weather today in L.A.

Weaver has been doing that all year for Anaheim and brings a 15-1 record and 2.13 ERA into Sunday 12:35 p.m. game against Jason Vargas.

The middle game Saturday sees Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Dan Haren at 6:05 p.m.

The Mariners need to play better in this series just to get back some of the positive mojo that has slipped away following the 8-2 homestand. They’re 1-5 on this trip, which figured to be a tough one going through New York, Baltimore and now Anaheim. They let one slip away with the 14-inning loss in Baltimore on Tuesday, then played their first real clunker with Wednesday’s 9-2 loss.

So a solid showing in Anaheim would be welcome, certainly, as we continue looking for signs of progress from a young team that has defined the term “inconsistent” to date. The Angels, meanwhile, haven’t been playing very good ball the last few weeks despite the continued breakout of Mike Trout. And they’re in the thick of the playoff chase in the AL, so this figures to be an important weekend for them.

And while we’re talking Felix and pitching, if you’re looking down road, the King will have two starts scheduled for the next homestand at Safeco Field. He’s set to pitch Wednesday against Tampa Bay in 12:40 p.m. matinee game, then come back Tuesday, Aug. 21, against the Indians in a 7:05 p.m. start.

Ryan still sidelined as Mariners face O’s fill-in starter

Looks like one more game without Brendan Ryan in the Mariners lineup as Munenori Kawasaki is at shortstop in the series finale against the Orioles at Camden Yards on Wednesday night.

Ryan was out doing a little running and even catching some passes in a football receiving routine a lot of the relievers do daily as part of their pregame work in the outfield. But Kawasaki — who had three hits in last night’s 8-7, 14-inning loss — is back in there today.

The Mariners are facing right-hander Steve Johnson, who is making his Major League starting debut after the Orioles made a late switch. Tommy Hunter was due to start, but he was warming in the bullpen last night in case the game continued on and the Orioles decided to switch to Johnson instead.

Hunter is available in the bullpen tonight, while last night’s starter — Zach Britton — was optioned to Triple-A to make room for Johnson.

So the Mariners will face a bit of an unknown there, though Johnson did throw a couple innings of relief for Baltimore in an early-season appearance. Johnson’s dad, Dave, is a former Orioles pitcher who is now part of the club’s broadcast crew.

Dave Johnson was 0-3 with a 7.88 ERA against the Mariners in his career, so Seattle will attempt to keep the family tradition going.

Here’s the complete lineup for tonight’s 4:05 p.m. PT game:

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

Kevin Millwood RHP

Ryan out with bruised elbow for third straight day

Munenori Kawasaki gets the start on Tuesday for the third straight game, with Brendan Ryan sidelined by a bruised elbow.

Brendan Ryan is out of the lineup for a third straight game Tuesday as he continues dealing with a bruised left elbow after getting hit with a Hideki Kuroda fastball in Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium.

Munenori Kawasaki gets the start again in today’s 4:05 p.m. PT game at Camden Yards. Kawasaki went 2-for-3 and drove in a run in Monday’s 3-1 loss, but made a bad baserunning decision when he tried taking second on his RBI single and got cut down for the first out of the eighth.

Kawasaki is a solid defender, but he’s not Ryan with the glove, so I’m sure the Mariners would like to get their starter back in as soon as possible.

With Baltimore throwing lefty Zach Britton today, manager Eric Wedge is trying to get as many right-handers in the lineup as possible. The Mariners are already left-handed heavy and missing Ryan doesn’t help.

Miguel Olivo gets the start behind the plate and switch-hitting Trayvon Robinson replaces left-handed hitting Eric Thames in the outfield today.

This game could be a chance for Seattle to revive its offense, which has scored just seven runs in the first four games on this road trip. The Mariners have been a good road-hitting club this year though and today face Britton, who gave up seven runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees in his last start.

He’s pitched four games since coming off the disabled list and is fighting to keep his spot in the rotation.

Blake Beavan gets the start on the hill for the Mariners. The Orioles are the only American League team he’s yet to face and the youngster said he’ll rely on his normal first-time tactic, which is to aggressively go after hitters early and then adjust as the game goes along.

Beavan has been very good since getting recalled from Tacoma on July 17, going 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA and 18 strikeouts with one walk in 28 1/3 innings.

On the fatherhood front, closer Tom Wilhelmsen is still with the team as he continues waiting word from his expectatant wife back in Seattle. And Mike Carp is presumably more rested than yesterday when he flew in just before the game after zipping to California to see his new-born daughter, Calais.

Here’s my story from last night on Carp’s crazy two days.

And here’s today’s lineup against Britton (1-1, 8.35 ERA):

Dustin Ackley 2B
Trayvon Robinson LF
Michael Saunders CF
Jesus Montero DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Casper Wells RF
Mike Carp 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Munenori Kawaski SS

Blake Beavan RHP

Carp returns, but Ryan still out as M’s hit Baltimore

Mike Carp is back with the Mariners on Monday and in the lineup as Seattle opens a three-game series with the Orioles, but Brendan Ryan is still sidelined with his bruised left elbow.

Carp flew to California on Saturday night after his girlfriend gave birth to their baby daughter, then flew back Monday after missing one game.

Closer Tom Wilhelmsen is also awaiting the birth of his first daughter, but still no word there and he’s still with the team.

Ryan was listed as day-to-day after taking a Hiroki Kuroda fastball off his elbow in the seventh inning of Saturday’s game, but he acknowledged Sunday that he might be out a few days given the stiffness and swelling. Haven’t had a chance to see him yet today, but we’ll find out later how that is coming along.

For now, Munenori Kawasaki is back at short for a second straight day. The Mariners face former farmhand Chris Tillman, one of the players sent to Baltimore in the Erik Bedard deal. Tillman is 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA, including a win over Seattle when he threw 8 1/3 innings of two-hit, two-run ball with seven strikeouts and two walks in a 4-2 victory on July 4 at Safeco.

The Mariners counter with Jason Vargas, fresh off being named AL Pitcher of the Month for his outstanding July.

Here’s today’s full lineup:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Michael Saunders CF
Jesus Montero DH
John Jaso C
Kyle Seager 3B
Mike Carp 1B
Casper Wells LF
Eric Thames RF
Munenori Kawasaki SS

Jason Vargas LHP

Here’s short-handed Mariners lineup for NY finale

The Mariners are a little short-handed for Sunday’s series finale at Yankee Stadium with first baseman Mike Carp absent and shortstop Brendan Ryan ailing.

Carp flew to California on Saturday night for the birth of his baby girl and isn’t expected back until Monday’s series opener in Baltimore.

Second baseman Dustin Ackley moved over to first base in his absence, with Kyle Seager starting at second base and Chone Figgins getting the nod at third base.

With Ryan sidelined by a bruised left elbow after getting hit by a pitch Saturday, the Mariners bench was down to Miguel Olivo and Casper Wells for Sunday’s game.

Closer Tom Wilhelmsen is also expecting the birth of a daughter any day, but is with the team on its East Coast road swing.

Here’s today’s lineup against right-hander Freddy Garcia (4-5, 5.10 ERA). The game is at 10:05 a.m. PT on ROOT Sports.

Dustin Ackley 1B
Michael Saunders CF
Jesus Montero C
John Jaso DH
Kyle Seager 2B
Eric Thames RF
Trayvon Robinson LF
Munenori Kawaski SS
Chone Figgins 3B

Hisashi Iwakuma RHP

Where does this gem rank in Felix’s collection?

Eric Wedge called it “the most impressive start I’ve ever seen as a manager,” the way Felix Hernandez controlled the Yankees in a two-hit shutout Saturday in the Bronx. And no doubt, the King was in command in this one, needing just 101 pitches while issuing two walks with six strikeouts in the 1-0 win.

You can read all about it here in my game story, complete with Derek Jeter noting that Felix was just “better than us” on this day. Of course, he’s been better than the Yankees many days as he seems to sparkle a little brighter than usual every time he faces them.

Just how did this one compare to Hernandez’s best ever? He seemed unsure himself, noting he’s pitched a lot of good games over the years. He’s yet to throw a no-hitter, though that’s clearly high on his bucket list. He had one one-hitter, that coming in a 3-0 victory at Boston on April 11, 2007 when he walked two and struck out six on 111 pitches.

He’s had three previous two-hitters, including one at Yankee Stadium on June 30, 2010 when he walked three and struck out 11 in a 7-0 win while throwing 115 pitches.

He also two-hit the Padres at Petco Park on June 16, 2009, with four walks and six strikeouts in a 5-0 win that required 117 pitches. And he lost a two-hitter at Toronto on Sept. 23, 2010 when he walked four and struck out five. That was an eight-inning complete game as he took a 1-0 defeat.

Wedge correctly noted that winning a 1-0 game — particularly at Yankee Stadium — takes a little something beyond special. The Yankees lead the Majors in home runs and as we saw again Friday with Eric Chavez’s two-run shot against Kevin Millwood, a high fly can turn into a home run pretty easily at The Stadium.

Walking that tight rope for nine innings is no easy task. And as I can readily attest after taking the subway back and forth to the game today from Manhattan, this was a very muggy day in New York and Hernandez had to deal with the heat as well.

What’s interesting to me is that all five of Hernandez’s lowest-hit games — the one-hitter and four two-hitters — have come on the road. Even while throwing half his games in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field, he’s yet to dominate a game on that level in Seattle.

But I’m pretty sure that’s only a matter of time. Hernandez has special stuff right now. He’s dominating very good teams these days — the three shutouts in his last eight starts coming against the Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees. That in itself is pretty incredible, as is his 6-0 record with a 1.41 ERA– with 75 strikeouts and 14 walks in 76 1/3 innings — over his past 10 outings.

So while whether this was Felix’s best start ever is a matter of debate, there seems little question that right now he’s pitching as well as ever for a six-week stretch of games. That’s a pretty easy truth, because you can’t get much better.

Saunders getting day off as M’s open series in NY

Still a little strange walking into Yankee Stadium and seeing Ichiro in his 31 jersey taking early batting practice this afternoon. When he had a break, the long-time Mariners star went over and chatted with former teammates Blake Beavan, Jesus Montero and Munenori Kawasaki, who clearly was delighted to see his friend and countryman.

As for today’s game, the interesting note from the lineup is that Michael Saunders isn’t starting. We haven’t had a chance to meet with Eric Wedge yet, but I’m guessing it’s just a standard day off against a tough left-hander in CC Sabathia. Saunders is 1-for-11 in his career with five strikeouts against Sabathia and has played 24 of the last 25 games.

Wedge is going with Casper Wells in center, with Trayvon Robinson in left and newcomer Eric Thames in right.

This is an interesting road trip for the Mariners as they look to see if they can maintain momentum from a seven-game winning streak as they hit New York, Baltimore and Anaheim in the next 10 days.

Here’s the full lineup today against Sabathia:

Dustin Ackley 2B
Casper Wells CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Jesus Montero DH
Mike Carp 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Eric Thames RF
Trayvon Robinson LF
Brendan Ryan SS

Kevin Millwood RHP

Live from NY: Ichiro Part II, plus A-Rod aftermath

Mariners fans will get their first look at Ichiro in the Yankees’ home pinstripes this weekend.(Getty Images)

Just arrived in New York and happy to report that my cab driver from the airport has invested wisely in keeping his horn tuned up, though apparently shock absorbers didn’t fit in the budget. Ahhh, you’ve got to love the Big Apple.

Looking forward to an interesting series the next three days between the Mariners and Yankees as well, one heightened by the Ichiro situation and perhaps the Yankees’ memories of a run of hit batters by Seattle hurlers in the last get-together in Safeco Field that included a Felix Hernandez pitch that broke Alex Rodriguez’s hand.

Regarding Ichiro, it’s interesting to note the Mariners have gone 8-2 since the trade, while the Yankees are 4-5. Not connecting the dots there, just throwing out the fact.

Here’s some added context: Seattle went 1-2 against the Yankees, then swept the Royals and Blue Jays.The Yankees had a little tougher matchups, facing the Red Sox and Orioles after leaving Seattle.

Ichiro has performed in pinstripes pretty much as he did with the Mariners this season. He’s hit .250 in nine games with a .270 on-base percentage. Manager Joe Girardi has hit him eighth in the lineup outside of one game leading off in Seattle and is now transitioning him to left field, with Nick Swisher getting healthy again in right.

He’s not the impact player of his prime, but the Yankees are simply looking at him as an adequate replacement for the injured Brett Gardner. That’s certainly a lower bar and lesser role than he held in Seattle, where his history and $18 million salary created greater expectations.

The Mariners clearly are having more fun and there’s an excellent vibe in the clubhouse the last week. And while I think that’s all to do with winning and nothing to do with Ichiro’s departure, it’s also true that the Mariners are a young club and Ichiro really didn’t seem to feel part of that this year. I have no doubt he’s fitting in better with the established veterans in the Yankees clubhouse and I’m told he’s been far more open and personable with the New York media so far as well.

So maybe a fresh start was perfect for Ichiro. And certainly the Mariners haven’t floundered in his absence. Their improved offense hasn’t come from his vacated right-field position, however. Carlos Peguero went 1-for-20 (.050) with 12 strikeouts and one RBI in six starts in right field before getting shipped back to Tacoma.

Casper Wells has since moved to right field. And while he’s excelled defensively, his bat has cooled and he’s 3-for-15 (.200) with two runs, one RBI and one walk in his four starts in right since Ichiro’s trade.

So while the combined right fielder’s in Ichiro’s absence have hit .114 in 10 games, the obvious improvement in that same span has been the addition of Mike Carp at first base. He’s hit .367 with a home run and six RBIs in nine games since Justin Smoak’s demotion.

Kyle Seager and Brendan Ryan also hit very well on the homestand, Dustin Ackley started showing significant signs of life and newcomer Eric Thames delivered a big two-run bomb on Thursday.

Thames more accurately can be viewed as Ichiro’s lineup replacement for the rest of this season, along with Trayvon Robinson (who has gone 4-for-10 since being called up) as it appears they’ll be filling the left-field duties with Wells simply switching from left to right. Thames definitely adds more potential thump at one of the corner outfield spots, though his defense isn’t in Ichiro’s class, so it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out these final two months.

As for the potential of Yankee retaliation, we’ll wait and see on that as well. Hernandez hit three batters in the game when he broke Rodriguez’s hand, also plunking Ichiro and Derek Jeter. Hernandez clearly was struggling with his control that game and the pitch that got A-Rod was a changeup — though Felix’s changeup isn’t exactly a Jamie Moyer soft toss.

After rookie reliever Lucas Luetge had Raul Ibanez diving out of the way of a high pitch up near his head, there was some question whether the Yankees would retaliate in the final game of the series. Instead, Jeter got hit again by Seattle reliever Josh Kinney in the seventh inning, while the Yankees never responded.

So that one bears watching as well, though my guess is the Yankees have great respect for Felix and understood he just had a rough day in his particular case. He’ll be on the hill Saturday afternoon.

Here’s the full pitching matchups for the series at Yankee Stadium:

Friday (4:05 p.m. PT): Kevin Millwood (4-8, 3.90 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (10-3, 3.57)
Saturday (10:05 a.m. PT): Felix Hernandez (9-5, 2.79) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (10-7, 3.28)
Sunday (10:05 a.m. PT): Hisashi Iwakuma (2-2, 4.10) vs. Freddy Garcia (4-5, 5.10)