April 2013

Maurer gets started … and Morse bombs again

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsYou never know quite what to expect when a 22-year-old makes his first Major League start, particularly one who has never pitched above Double-A ball.

So not surprisingly, the Mariners got a little of everything from Brandon Maurer in Thursday’s 8-2 loss to the A’s.

They got a kid who missed on a couple critical pitches and paid for it with a pair of two-run bombs by two quality Major League hitters in Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.

They also got a guy who settled in nicely and retired nine in a row from the second through fourth innings and had his team in the game, trailing 3-2, until the wheels started wobbling a bit in a three-run sixth.

Veteran catcher Kelly Shoppach said Maurer was impressive in the way he handled his first start and expects he’ll be just fine going forward.

Maurer acknowledged it wasn’t quite so smooth inside, however.

“I actually felt okay going out there the first inning,” he said. “Then the second inning I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I got a little nervous. But that’s just something I’ve got to fight through, I guess.”

It’s always wise to remember that it takes time to adjust to a new level of competition, to learn what works and what doesn’t against Major League hitters. For a guy like Maurer, who has four different quality pitches, finding what and when to throw different offerings and when to bury a pitch in the dirt instead of nibbling at the corner is a learning process.

“I’m sure he learned a lot today and he’ll continue to learn,” said managerEric Wedge. “That’s just part of it. But he threw the ball well overall, once he got settled in there. He got into a little groove, then they got to him quick there in the sixth. But I wanted him to finish that inning and walk off the field. Overall, he’ll be able to take a lot from that.

“Just getting that first one under his belt and knowing he’s into his routine and has something to work off now is important. He went through some initial feelings that I’m sure he hasn’t had before. Those are all good things. You get a lot of firsts out of the way when you go out and make that first start.”

The Mariners wound up splitting the series 2-2 and now head to Chicago, where they’re 2-14 over the last three seasons. The White Sox have been trouble for Seattle recently, 24-4 overall since 2010, so this will be an interesting series to see where they’re at early. Here’s the pitching matchups for that one.

One thing that’s pretty clear. Michael Morse is coming out firing. The big man hit his fourth home run in four games, equaling the best start in club history set by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997. You can watch his latest dinger here.

Bay, Andino make first starts tonight

As promised, Eric Wedge is working to get all his guys into the lineup in the first few days to keep them sharp coming out of Spring Training. Yesterday it was Raul Ibanez getting the start, today Jason Bay and Robert Andino make their Mariners debuts.

Bay replaces Michael Saunders and Andino will play second instead of Dustin Ackley, both providing right-handed bats against A’s lefty Tommy Milone in the 7:10 p.m. PT game.

Oakland skipper Bob Melvin is doing the same thing, starting four players today who haven’t been in the lineup the first two games as the Mariners are going with Joe Saunders, their only lefty starter.

It’ll be interesting to see how Saunders fares today. He hasn’t had a good spring, but that is nothing new. He’s had bad springs in the past, but then come out and pitched very well early. Some guys don’t throw well in Arizona and Saunders appears to be one of those.

He’ll have a tough time matching Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, who have gone 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA and one walk with 15 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings. The Mariners have given up just six hits and one run in the first two games and are the first MLB team since the 1970 Reds to allow three hits or less in the first two games of the year.

Nobody carries that pace for long, but if Saunders can provide a decent start tonight, it’ll certainly be a good sign moving forward.

The Mariners are seeking their first 3-0 start sinc 1995. They’ve only opened a season 3-0 twice in their previous 36 years, 1985 (when they started 6-0) and ’95.

Here’s today’s full lineups:

Franklin Gutierrez CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero C
Jason Bay LF
Robert Andino 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Joe Saunders LHP

OAKLAND A’S

Coco Crisp DH
Jed Lowrie SS
Chris Young CF
Yoenis Cespedes LF
Josh Donaldson 3B
Derek Norris C
Josh Reddick RF
Nate Freiman 1B
Scott Sizemore 2B

Tommy Milone LHP

Mariners set Minor League rosters

The Minor League rosters were set Wednesday. Erasmo Ramirez will begin the year on the disabled list, apparently not fully recovered yet from his arm issue that flared up late in Spring Training.

Top pitching prospect Taijuan Walker will begin the year again in Double-A Jackson, along with infielder Brad Miller and catcher John Hicks, two other youngsters who impressed this spring.

Tacoma’s starting rotation looks like an interesting mix of prospects and veterans with Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Jeremy Bonderman, D.J. Mitchell and Brian Sweeney in the mix. Catcher Mike Zunino, last year’s first-round Draft pick, will work with that group after splitting last year between A and AA ball.

Hector Noesi and Chance Ruffin, two guys with Major League experience, will begin the year in Jackson, with Ruffin being converted to a starter after struggling in relief last year in Tacoma. Noesi started 18 games for Seattle last year, but has been a disappointment since being acquired the Yankees and will be asked to figure things out at the Double-A level to start.

Here’s the full rosters for all four of the full-season Mariners clubs.

TRIPLE-A TACOMA

Pitchers: Logan Bawcom, Jeremy Bonderman, Andrew Carraway, Danny Farquhar, Steven Hensley, Danny Hultzen, Bobby LaFromboise, Yoervis Medina, D.J. Mitchell, Brian Moran, Jhonny Nunez, James Paxton, Brian Sweeney.

Catchers: Jesus Sucre, Mike Zunino.

Infielders: Nick Franklin, Alex Liddi, Scott Savastano, Nate Tenbrink, Carlos Triunfel, Rich Poythress.

Outfield: Denny Almonte, Endy Chavez, Carlos Peguero, Eric Thames.

Disabled list: OF Joe Dunigan, P Erasmo Ramirez, INF Stefen Romero, P Anthony Vasquez.

DOUBLE-A JACKSON

Pitchers: Jonathan Arias, Tyler Burgoon, Roenis Elias, James Gillheeney, Nick Hill, Andrew Kittredge, Stepehen Kohlscheen, Hector Noesi, Chance Ruffin, Carson Smith, Forrest Snow, Taijuan Walker

Catchers: Brandon Bantz, John Hicks.

Infielders: Leury Bonilla, Vinnie Catricala, Jack Marder, Brad Miller, Gabriel Noriega, Steven Proscia.

Outfielders: Abraham Almonte, James Jones, Leon Landry, Francisco Martinez, Julio Morban.

Disabled list: P Anthony Fernandez, P Moises Hernandez, P Jandy Senda, OF Mickey Wiswall.

CLASS-A HIGH DESERT

Pitchers: Matt Brazis, David Colvin, Mayckol Guaipe, Cameron Hobson, Kyle Hunter, Seon Kim, George Mieses, Trevor Miller, Jordan Pries, Stephen Shackleford, Brett Shakin, Jordan Shipers, Robert Shore.

Catchers: Steve Baron, Michael Dowd.

Infielders: Patrick Brady, Nathan Melendres, Ramon Morla, Anthony Phillips, Chris Taylor.

Outfielders: Jamal Austin, Jabari Blash, Daniel Paolini, Kevin Rivers.

Disabled list: P Tyler Blandford, OF Dillon Hazlett, OF Mike McGee.

CLASS-A CLINTON

Pitchers: Matt Anderson, Scott DeCecco, Jeremy Dobbs, Oliver Garcia, Blake Hauser, David Holman, Stephen Landazuri, Dominic Leone, Tyler Pike, Dylan Unsworth, Matt Yedo, Grady Wood.

Catchers: Tyler Marlette, Carlton Tanabe.

Infielders: Taylor Ard, Brock Hebert, Pat Kivlehan, Jordy Lara, Timmy Lopes, Ketel Marte, Keith Werman.

Outfielders: Gabriel Guerrero, Jabara Henry, Guillermo Pimentel, Dario Pizzano.

All four teams begin the 2013 season on the road Thursday The Rainiers open the season at Fresno and will return home after an eight- game road trip on Friday, April 12.  The Generals start with a five-game road series at Jacksonville before returning home on Wednesday, April 10. The Mavericks open with a seven-game road trip beginning with Lancaster before returning home, while the LumberKings begin the season on the road with a four-game series at Burlington.

Morse code: Mariners show new power dimension

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsWe saw it all spring in Arizona, but Tuesday night Michael Morse put his massive power on display for all to witness in the Mariners’ 7-1 win over the A’s in Oakland.

This was exactly what Jack Zduriencik hoped to add when he traded John Jaso away in a three-team swap that brought the big outfielder back to Seattle.

A three-run opposite field shot in the third inning changed the game, then a towering solo shot in the ninth put the exclamation mark on it.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsHere’s video of the second bomb, though it was hit so high and far that the ROOT Sports cameras didn’t track its final landing spot. The ball hit high off the massive center field wall behind the center-field fence at the Oakland Coliseum,  then deflected almost straight down onto the field.

We got a better view of the first shot here in this video on a ball that was just laced the opposite way.

Impressive stuff on a night that showed what power can do. The pitching was there again, with Hisashi Iwakuma strong in six innings of two-hit ball. But this one became a no-doubter because of the offense on a night when Kyle Seager reached base five times (3-for-3 with two walks) and Morse did the big damage.

Here’s my game story, with thoughts from Morse, Seager, Iwakuma and Wedge on the impressive win. Here’s the boxscore. And here’s my notebook with the news of the day.

One fun thing. I asked Iwakuma afterward if he was aware of Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game, which Darvish lost with two out in the ninth in Houston. Iwakuma said he heard about that effort during the Mariners game.

“It’s always great to go that long, 8 2/3, so you’re always proud,” he said through translator Antony Suzuki. “That’s Japanese.”

But the Mariners had plenty to be proud of on their own end in this one as they improved to 2-0 for just the eighth time in franchise history. And Morse was a big reason why, with manager Eric Wedge noting how he changed the game with one swing with his three-run blow.

What is Wedge seeing from his big man?

“Tenacity,”Wedge said. “He’s up there hungry. He’s a hitter first. He’s a big strong guy, but he takes a lot of pride in being a good hitter first. You saw right there a great example of now having a veteran guy up there.”

Ibanez replaces Guti in Tuesday’s lineup

With the Mariners facing right-hander Jarrod Parker tonight in Game 2 of the season, Eric Wedge is starting lefty Raul Ibanez in the outfield tonight in place of Franklin Gutierrez.

That means Michael Saunders slides to center, Michael Morse will play right field and Ibanez in left. It’ll be interesting to see how that outfield plays defensively. Gutierrez obviously is a superior center fielder and the defense is better with him, but he’s been brought along slowly the last couple weeks because of some soreness in his legs and Wedge wants to keep him healthy for the long run.

So they’ll take it slowly with him early and this also gets Ibanez in the lineup against the righty.

Here’s the full order:

Michael Saunders CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse RF
Raul Ibanez LF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero C
Dustin Ackley 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Hisashi Iwakuma P

The game starts at 7:07 p.m. PT and will be televised on ROOT Sports and MLB.TV.

Felix is Felix … and Ryan carries the offense

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsIt wasn’t perfect, thanks to a John Jaso double in the fourth and two later hits by the A’s, but Felix Hernandez was as dominant as you can hope from a starting pitcher in his first outing in Monday’s 2-0 Opening Day win.

You can read my game story here, as well as my notebook with a ton of Opening Day news and even a look ahead already to Tuesday’s game with Hisashi iwakuma on the mound.

One thing I didn’t realize as I was writing my game story on deadline. Hernandez has actually had a better Opening Day start than this one. He shut out the A’s for eight innings on three hits with two walks and 12 strikeouts in a 4-0 win back in his first opener in ’07 at the ridiculous age of 21.

But Monday’s blanking of an A’s team that just won the AL West last year was pretty imposing. Remember when people were worried there was some issue with Hernandez’s elbow during his contract extension talks? Never mind those concerns.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsFelix is clearly still Felix and that’s a good thing for a Mariners team that could surprise people if it can get some consistent offense. But, yeah, about that. After slugging home runs in 32 of their 33 spring games and leading the world in long balls in Arizona, they managed five singles on Monday, two of those of the infield variety.

But with Felix, it doesn’t take a lot. He won four 1-0 shutouts a year ago, so two runs was reason to celebrate. Which he did when Brendan Ryan made a tremendous play at shortstop to save a run in the fourth after his old buddy Jaso had advanced to third.

Ryan, it turns out, was the Player of the Game (non-Felix division), as he reached base all three at-bats with a single and two walks and scored one of the runs. And yeah, he enjoys seeing his batting average at 1.000 after one game, given the .194 he finished with a year earlier after a year-long duel with the Mendoza Line.

“I’ll take that all year,” he said with a laugh.

There were lots of smiles in the clubhouse after this one, which is what happens when you win and get help from lots of places — Franklin Gutierrez with the winning two-run single, Dustin Ackley with the aggressive base-running to get he and Ryan into position to score those two runs, Stephen Pryor coming in and getting the groundout on a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, Tom Wilhelmsen dropping the hammer in the ninth, Jesus Montero getting kudos from Hernandez for working a strong game behind the plate.

So here they are, yup, tied with the Astros and Angels atop the AL West at 1-0. And we’ve only just begun.

Here’s your Opening Day lineups from Oakland

MARINERS
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Michael Saunders RF
Kendrys Morales DH
Michael Morse LF
Justin Smoak 1B
Kyle Seager 3B
Jesus Montero C
Dustin Ackley 2B
Brendan Ryan SS

Felix Hernandez RHP

ATHLETICS
Coco Crisp CF
John Jaso C
Josh Reddick RF
Yoenis Cespedes LF
Jed Lowrie SS
Brandon Moss 1B
Josh Donaldson 3B
Seth Smith DH
Eric Sogard 2B

Brett Anderson LHP

A little Niehaus, plus a party at Safeco

No better way to kick off Opening Day then with a little Dave Niehaus video. This sends a chill down my back, as I know it will for most long-time Mariners fans.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:07 p.m. here in Oakland, but Seattle fans can get together as well for an Opening Day party as Safeco Field will be open for free to anyone who wants to come watch on the enormous new video screen.

Gates open at 6 p.m. at Safeco and parking is free as long as it’s available at the Safeco and CenturyLink garages.

More than 20,000 fans signed up for free “True to the Blue” T-shirts by RSVPing that they’d come to tonight’s event at Safeco and the event is still open to anyone who shows up, though walk-ups won’t get the shirt.

Felix Hernandez was pretty pumped when told that many fans might be watching from Safeco.

“I gotta be good then,” said The King.

Should be fun.

Fan poll shows optimism for Mariners’ win total

Thought it would be interesting to take the temperature of fans this morning with a quick Twitter poll asking how many games they thought the Mariners would win this year as we await tonight’s opener against the A’s.

And, yes, hope springs eternal as 74 percent of the 107 responders predicted a winning season and another 13 percent weighed in with a .500 record.

The most popular choice was 85 wins (15 percent) and 66 percent fell between 81 and 88 wins.

That’s a pretty good indication that fans are hopeful the encouraging spring carries over to the regular season. Or that fans just like to think positively on Opening Day!

The Mariners went 75-87 last year, an improvement from 67-95 in 2011. I’ve said since before Spring Training that my prediction would be 82-80, so I’ll stick with that. Though I’ll admit, I feel better about the chance of taking that a little higher now if a lot of things go right, namely staying healthy.

The Vegas oddsmakers aren’t nearly that high on the Mariners, who have said all spring they like flying below the radar. That’s not always a bad thing, as the A’s and Orioles showed last year.

Bovada’s current odds for the AL West over-under wins: Angels 91 1/2, Rangers 86 1/2, A’s 84 1/2, Mariners 77 1/2, Astros 59 1/2. So we shall see.

Here’s the exact breakdown of the fan response on my Twitter account, where you should follow me here for all breaking Mariners news.

MARINERS PREDICTED WIN TOTAL

162 – 1
117 – 3
102 – 1
97 – 2
95 – 1
92 – 3
91 – 1
90 – 6
89 – 4
88 – 8
87 – 9
86 – 4
85 – 16
84 – 6
83 – 9
82 – 5
81 – 14
80 – 6
79 – 1
78 – 3
76 – 1
72 – 1
68 – 1
61 – 1

Thanks to those who weighed in. Should be fun tonight as we get rolling.

Felix’s Supreme Court back in session on April 11

New York Yankees v Seattle MarinersWelcome news from the Mariners this morning as the club announced it’s bringing back the “Supreme Court” at Safeco Field on Thursday, April 11, for Felix Hernandez’s first home start.

The “Supreme Court” is a stadium-wide version of the popular “King’s Court” section that is in attendance down the left-field line for all of Felix’s starts at Safeco, with fans in that area given a yellow King Felix T-shirt and a big “K” card, which have become quite a sight when the group stands and chants and every time Hernandez gets two strikes on a hitter.

The Supreme Court debuted last year in the first start after Hernandez threw a perfect his perfect game against the Rays and the result was a Safeco Field that looked like a sea of yellow supporters.

Hernandez will start twice on the opening road trip — tonight against the A’s in the season opener at 7:07 p.m. in Oakland and Saturday in Chicago against the White Sox. So his first home appearance will be April 11 against the Rangers.

The first 25,000 fans that night will receive a special t-shirt and the commemorative K card, courtesy of ROOT SPORTS. First pitch is 7:10 p.m.

Special ticket prices for the game are $10 for all View Level seats and $25 for select Main Level, Terrace Club and Outfield Reserved seats. Tickets for the game are on sale now without service charge at the Safeco Field Box Office and Mariners Team Stores. They can also be purchased online at mariners.com and by phone at 1-888-732-4487.

“The first Supreme Court on Aug. 21, to celebrate Felix’s perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays, created such a special atmosphere in the ballpark that we wanted to do it again to celebrate Felix’s first start of the season at Safeco Field, and to celebrate that he will be in a Mariners uniform for years to come,” said Kevin Martinez, the Mariners vice president of marketing.

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