Happ helps stabilize Mariners early rotation

Seattle Mariners v Oakland AthleticsA Mariners rotation expected to be one of baseball’s best had some rough times in its first turn, but veteran J.A. Happ helped solidify things with a strong outing in Saturday’s 5-4 victory over the A’s.

Even with Happ throwing a quality start with 6 1/3 innings of two-run ball, Seattle’s starters had the fifth-worst ERA among Major League Baseball’s 30 teams with their 5.45 ERA after the first outing for each of the five hurlers.

That number was hiked by Taijuan Walker’s rugged debut and a shaky start by Hisashi Iwakuma after Felix Hernandez and James Paxton opened the season with strong showings. Both Iwakuma and Walker aloewd five runs in their first two innings alone, so Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon was relieved when Happ – his fifth starter – threw six scoreless frames with just three hits and had retired 13 in a row until the A’s pieced together four singles and a pair of runs in the seventh.

“That was a much-needed start, I can tell you that,” McClendon said. “Our bullpen had been a little bit overworked to that point. For him to come out and give us those innings was special for us.”

Happ didn’t have a very good Cactus League showing in his first impression with Seattle since being acquired from the Blue Jays, but as evident by Walker’s rough start after a fabulous spring, those things don’t much matter once the regular season begins. And Happ was extremely effective when it counted.

“I thought his secondary stuff was very good,” McClendon said. “He threw some good changeups, good breaking balls. His fastball was 92-93. He did a nice job. I think they found holes [in the seventh]. His velocity didn’t fade. He made quality pitches. That’s just baseball.”

• McClendon said he hasn’t decided – or at least wasn’t prepared to say – who will sit out on Monday through Wednesday when the Mariners play an Interleague series at Dodger Stadium. But don’t expect Nelson Cruz to miss playing time. Though Cruz was expected to play primarily at designated hitter, he’s started four of Seattle’s first six games in right field because of Seth Smith’s sore groin muscle and will likely be there against the Dodgers as well.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say Cruz will be in the lineup,” McClendon said.

• McClendon wasn’t pleased with reliever Danny Farquhar’s pitch selection on Saturday when he gave up two runs on two hits in the eighth to cough up Seattle’s lead after Cruz’s three-run homer provided a 4-2 advantage. But the skipper said part of that was on catcher Mike Zunino and said he’d talk to both players about their approach against some of the A’s hitters.

“Yesterday was not Danny-like,” McClendon said on Sunday. “He’s much better than that. That’s why he was in there in that situation and I expect more. And he’ll give me more. He’s a better pitcher than he showed yesterday.”

• Smith was back at DH in Sunday’s series finale with the A’s as McClendon continues to be careful with the 32-year-old as he returns from the sore groin. Smith hasn’t had any trouble swinging the bat though as he’s hit .833 (5-for-6) in his two healthy games so far. Here’s the full lineups for Sunday:


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