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Paxton says he doesn’t think lat strain too serious

Rookie southpaw James Paxton was removed from Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Angels on Opening Night at Safeco Field with no outs in the top of the sixth due to a slightly strained lat muscle behind his left shoulder.

Paxton will have an MRI test Wednesday to determine the severity of the injury. Mariners officials are concerned about the situation, but Paxton didn’t think it was too serious after initial tests during the game.

“It’s just a little strain,” said the 25-year-old Canadian. “I’m going to go get an MRI to see what exactly is going on in there, but I just want to be careful right now. My strength is still good, they said, so I just want to get it checked out.”

Mariners reliever Stephen Pryor missed almost all of 2013 after partially tearing his lat muscle and then having complications when he tried to return midseason, but Paxton’s preliminary diagnosis indicated a strain and not a tear.

Paxton was taken out after throwing just 60 pitches. After giving up back-to-back home runs in the first to Albert Pujols and David Freese, Paxton had retired 14 straight before a leadoff single in the sixth by Kole Calhoun.

Paxton departed with a 4-3 lead and the bullpen shut the Angels out to preserve his win. He’s 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA on the season and 5-0 with a 1.75 ERA in his six-game career.

Manager Lloyd McClendon and trainer Rob Nodine hustled to the mound after the youngster shook his left arm following a first-pitch ball to Mike Trout following Calhoun’s base hit. McClendon said they were watching carefully after Paxton had reacted to another pitch in the fifth.

“I saw him shaking his arm,” McClendon said. “I went out, that kind of alarmed me a little bit. I knew something was up, then he told us. I think it happened the inning before, because he shook his arm once in kind of a weird way. I talked to him on the bench and he said, ‘No, I’m ok.’ He went back out and I didn’t see that.”

“In the fifth inning there, the last batter, I just felt a little tweak,” Paxton said. “I felt fine between innings, so I didn’t think it was going to be anything. I threw those cutters to the first hitter Calhoun, and that was fine. I just felt it again when I threw the fastball to Trout.”

After a quick conversation, Paxton walked off the field with Nodine as reliever Yoervis Medina was called in from the bullpen. Paxton allowed four hits with no walks and four strikeouts in his five-plus innings.

Paxton came into the contest 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in five career starts, including four last year as a September callup. According to Elias, he was just the second pitcher in Major League history to go 4-0 or 5-0 in his first five games, all starts, with an ERA under 1.25. The other was Boo Ferriss of the Red Sox, who went 5-0 with a 0.60 ERA in 1945.

 

McClendon continues rotating DH and right fielders

Hart, CoreyDesignated hitter Corey Hart wasn’t in the Mariners lineup in Sunday’s series finale with the A’s as manager Lloyd McClendon looks to get the right-hander a quick two-day break to help a sore right bicep muscle continue to recover.

Hart didn’t play in the season opener, but was at designated hitter the next four games in a row until Sunday, when Logan Morrison got the start at DH and Michael Saunders opened in right field.

Hart missed a week toward the end of Spring Training due to soreness in his right arm, which didn’t help as he sought to regain his timing after missing all of 2013 following two knee surgeries. He’s hit .167 (3-for-18) with one home run and one RBI.

The Mariners are off Monday prior to Tuesday’s home debut against the Angels, so McClendon wanted to take advantage.

“It’s a great opportunity to get him two days off, get him freshened up and ready for the home opener,” said McClendon. “I think the light is starting flick a little bit for him. You can see the hands starting to quicken up, he’s starting to recognize breaking balls a little better. He’s still not quite over the hump with the tissue issue with his bicep, but he’s getting there. I just want to be careful with him and keep him moving forward. The opportunity to give him two days off just makes sense.”

McClendon said the sore arm doesn’t hinder Hart’s throwing, just his swing, so that isn’t an issue in when he might play right field. For now, McClendon has revolved Saunders, Morrison and rookie Stefen Romero in right, with Romero’s use limited so far because the club has faced only two left-handed starters.

McClendon likes having Morrison’s bat in the lineup against right-handers, bringing Saunders in for late-inning defense when both Morrison and Romero have started. Saunders replaced Morrison in the eighth inning of Saturday’s 3-1 win and immediately caught a tough, low-sinking line drive.

Morrison immediately turned to McClendon in the dugout and told him he’d made the right move.

“When Saunders caught that ball he said, ‘That was one heck of a move, Skip, getting me out of there,’” McClendon said with a laugh. “But he’s been fine. He plays the outfield a little better than I thought he would. I’ve been pleased with it. He’ll be back out there.”

As for Saunders?

“Michael is a tremendous defensive outfielder than can play all three positions,” McClendon said. “There’s a certain comfort with having him in the outfield. I’d be lying if I said if I had a chance to DH Morrison or Hart and play Michael in the outfield that I’d rather do it the other way around. He gives us the best defensive outfield to have him out there. But to this point, everything has worked pretty nicely for us.”

Walker will make one more Minor League start

TaijuanBulllpen

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said all went well with Taijuan Walker’s first Minor League rehab start Friday for Class-A High Desert and the club’s top pitching prospect will make at least one more rehab start this coming week.

Walker, 21, allowed four hits with two runs (one earned) while throwing 72 pitches in 4 1/3 innings in at 5-4 victory over Inland Empire. The Mariners top prospect had one walk with seven strikeouts as he returns from a sore shoulder that sidelined him earlier this spring.

“Everything went great,” McClendon said. “He was clean. No setbacks. We’ll continue to move forward.”

McClendon said it hasn’t been determined yet where Walker will make his next start, though he said it’ll be at a warm-weather site. If all goes well, Walker could potentially then return to the Mariners, but McClendon wasn’t committing to that yet.

“We’ll see,” McClendon said. “I would say he’ll throw 85-90 pitches next and we’ll see how he feels after that one.”

All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma hasn’t started throwing off a mound yet, but is scheduled for another long-toss session on flat ground Sunday. If all goes well, he’ll throw his first bullpen outing mid-week and begin building up his arm strength after missing all of spring with a sprained tendon in his right middle finger.

McClendon said Iwakuma likely will do his Minor League rehab stint in Triple-A once he’s ready, which will likely be toward the end of April.

“By the time he’s ready, I would think the weather will probably be pretty decent, for the most part,” McClendon said. “We will probably see him in Tacoma.”

Noesi DFA’d; Leone takes his place in bullpen

Leone, DominicHector Noesi was on a short leash with the Mariners this season. A two-game leash, it turns out, as the 27-year-old right-hander was designated for assignment Friday after giving up a walkoff home run to the A’s Coco Crisp in Seattle’s 3-2 loss on Thursday night.

The Mariners promoted rookie right-hander Dominic Leone (pictured above) from Triple-A Tacoma to take Noesi’s place in the bullpen. Leone, 22, had a strong spring with the Mariners and now will get his first shot with the Major League club after saving 16 games last year for Class-A Clinton and Double-A Jackson.

Noesi is out of Minor League options and the Mariners kept him on their original 25-man roster after a solid spring, hoping to harness his promising arm despite a difficult track record in Seattle. But he gave up two runs in his first inning of mop-up relief in the Mariners’ 8-2 victory in Anaheim on Wednesday, then surrendered Crisp’s game-winning home run when he left a fastball up over the plate on the second pitch he threw after being summoned into a tie game in the 12th inning Thursday.

Noesi is 0-1 with a 27.00 ERA in his two appearances this year and 2-14 with a 6.13 ERA in 36 games over three seasons with the Mariners, including 19 starts. He was 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA in 30 outings with the Yankees as a rookie in 2011 before being included in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade.

Leone was one of the final cuts this spring after putting up a 1.80 ERA in nine Cactus League games, allowing just two runs and six hits with three walks and 10 strikeouts in 10 innings.

The hard-throwing right-hander was a 16th-round Draft pick in 2012 out of Clemson, where he was a teammate of Mariners shortstop Brad Miller. Leone has spent just one full season in the Minors, but moved quickly from Class-A Clinton and High Desert to Jackson last year and then led the Arizona Fall League with six saves while posting a 3.00 ERA in 11 games with 15 strikeouts and one walk.

Leone has arrived in Oakland and will be available to pitch in tonight’s second game of the A’s series after the Mariners used six relievers in Thursday’s loss.

The Mariners have 10 days to trade, release or outright Noesi’s contract to the Minor Leagues.

Joe Beimel returns with the perfect pickoff

Beimel, Joe

When Joe Beimel stepped on the mound for the Mariners in the eighth inning on Tuesday at Angel Stadium, the veteran left-hander hadn’t thrown a pitch in a Major League game since Aug. 11, 2011 when he closed out an 8-1 loss for the Pirates against the Brewers.

And when Beimel walked off the mound moments later, he still hadn’t thrown a Major League pitch in a 951-day span. Yet he recorded an out and got the Mariners out of a jam while preserving a 6-3 lead.

How to get an out without throwing a pitch isn’t a riddle or a trick question, but merely a tricky pickoff maneuver by the 36-year-old southpaw. Called in to face the left-handed Raul Ibanez, Beimel instead threw over to first and nailed Angels third baseman David Freese with a sudden maneuver that left the Angel Stadium crowd stunned and helped preserve the Mariners second straight victory over their American League West rivals.

Beimel had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2012 and spent last year in the Braves’ Minor League system. He earned a roster spot this spring from new Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon, who was his manager from 2001-03 when Beimel first came up with the Pirates at the start of a career that later saw him as a key member of the Dodgers and Rockies bullpens from 2006-10.

Beimel was taking a ribbing from teammates as he stood in the Mariners clubhouse Tuesday after his ultra-efficient outing.

“You better ice that arm,” catcher John Buck yelled over.

“He gets outs without throwing pitches,” said fellow reliever Tom Wilhelmsen. “That’s how good he is.”

Beimel was enjoying it all, happy just to be back in the game again.

“I have no problems with getting the best result out of the least amount of work possible,” he said. “I think I was out just long enough for them to forget I have a pretty good move to first. I’ll take it. It’s one of those things where I can’t teach myself to throw 95, but I am left-handed and there’s really no excuse for me not to have a good pickoff move. That’s something you can work at. I’ve used it over the years.”

Beimel was in fact icing his arm, having gotten up twice in the bullpen and throwing enough warmup pitches to warrant a day’s work, even if his actual game time was all of about two seconds.

He said the call to throw over on the first pitch actually came from the bench, where McClendon and the Mariners staff are well aware of his excellent move, which nailed a runner in one of his Spring Training appearances as well.

“I probably would have thrown over anyway,” he said. “If there’s a chance you can get somebody out and not throw a pitch, why not? I’m sure I’m going to face Raul a few times this year, so the less pitches  I have to show him, the better.”

Getting an out without throwing a pitch figures to make Beimel the answer to a trivia question somewhere and he’ll take that as well.

“Sweet. That’s always good,” he said. “Or usually it’s good anyway.”

In this case, it was perfect. 

Here’s some Opening Day lineup history

Lloyd McClendon has posted his Opening Day lineup for tonight’s Mariners game against the Angels, who’ll throw right-hander Jered Weaver. First pitch is 7:12 p.m. at Angel Stadium.

Abraham Almonte CF
Brad Miller SS
Robinson Cano 3B
Justin Smoak 1B
Logan Morrison DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Michael Saunders RF
Dustin Ackley LF
Mike Zunino C

Felix Hernandez RHP

No surprises there as McClendon indicated yesterday that Corey Hart wouldn’t start against the right-hander, but will play the next two games against lefties. Almonte has been the leadoff hitter all spring and will get the chance now to show he’s better than the .178 batting average he put up in Cactus League play.

If you’re curious, here’s the Opening Day lineup from last year, with only Saunders, Smoak, Seager and Ackley back, along with Felix, of course. And just for fun, I’ll roll it back to 2008, which is the last time Felix wasn’t the Opening Day starter.

2013 OPENING DAY LINEUP
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

2012 OPENING DAY LINEUP
Chone Figgins 3B
Dustin Ackley 2B
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Justin Smoak 1B
Jesus Montero DH
Mike Carp LF
Miguel Olivo C
Michael Saunders RF
Brendon Ryan SS
Felix Hernandez RHP

2011 OPENING DAY LINEUP
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 3B
Milton Bradley LF
Jack Cust DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Miguel Olivo C
Ryan Langerhans CF
Brendan Ryan SS
Jack Wilson 2B
Felix Hernandez RHP

2010 OPENING DAY LINEUP
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Chone Figgins 2B
Casey Kotchman 1B
Milton Bradley LF
Ken Griffey Jr. DH
Jose Lopez 3B
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Rob Johnson C
Jack Wilson SS
Felix Hernandez RHP

2009 OPENING DAY LINEUP
Endy Chavez LF
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Mike Sweeney DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
Ken Griffey Jr. RF
Jose Lopez 2B
Russell Branyan 1B
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Felix Hernandez RHP

2008 OPENING DAY LINEUP
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jose Lopez 2B
Raul Ibanez LF
Richie Sexson 1B
Adrian Beltre 3B
Brad Wilkerson RF
Jose Vidro DH
Kenji Johjima C
Yuniesky Betancourt SS
Erik Bedard LHP

Are you ready for some baseball?

Minnesota Twins v Seattle MarinersAfter seven weeks in the sun in Peoria, the Mariners take their act to Anaheim today for Opening Day. It’s nice to have a new foe for the debut game after opening in Oakland the previous four years.

The Mariners won all those games. In fact, they’ve won seven straight Opening Day games, the longest current streak in the Majors now that the D-backs had their own seven-year streak snapped by the Dodgers in Australia.

No MLB team has won eight or more Opening Day games in a row since the Reds took nine straight from 1983-91, so this is pretty good stuff. Not coincidentally, Felix Hernandez has started six of those last seven openers, with Erik Bedard getting the other start in 2008.

Felix hasn’t been the winning pitcher every time out, but he’s put the club in position to win every time with a 4-0 record and 1.33 ERA. A great stat — courtesy of the Mariners baseball information folks — Felix will become the first pitcher in MLB history to start seven Opening Day games before he turns 28.

Bert Blyleven, Dennis Eckersley, Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden all started six openers before turning 28. Felix doesn’t turn 28 until April 8, so he’ll not only break Randy Johnson’s club record for most Opening Day starts ever tonight, he’ll make some MLB history as well.

This one won’t be easy though, as the Angels counter with a pretty fair pitcher of their own in Jered Weaver, who has won his last three Opening Day decisions and has a 1.93 ERA in five Opening-Day starts.

Felix also has had troubles at times with the Angels in the past. He’s 8-13 with a 3.92 ERA in 35 career starts against the Halos and 2-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 17 starts at Angel Stadium.

Seattle was 2-7 in Anaheim last year and hasn’t won a season series against the Angels since 2003, so getting off to a good start against their AL West rivals would be nice.

Robinson Cano can help. He hit .375 (12-for-32) against Weaver in his career with the Yankees and will now anchor a Mariners lineup that brings a lot of lefties against the lanky right-hander, who is 13-8 with a 3.22 ERA in 27 career starts against Seattle.

Those are the numbers. But Opening Day is about a lot more than numbers. This is the day everyone gets excited, nervous, eager. It’s the start of the long haul, the first step in the 162-game marathon. For some players, like Mariners rookies Stefen Romero and Roenis Elias, it’s the beginning of their Major League dream.

Romero told me how his first thought when he found out he’d made it to the Majors went to his grandfather, who he wished could be here now to see him. You can read that story here. To me, that’s the kind of stuff that makes Opening Day great.

The Mariners have eight players making their first Opening Day appearances in the big leagues tonight. Romero and Elias are putting on a Major League uniform for the first time ever. Six others – Brad Miller, Abraham Almonte, Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Danny Farquhar and Yoervis Medina – have never been on an Opening Day roster, but came up in mid-season last year.

Miller talked yesterday about his anticipation and you can read that here. Even new skipper Lloyd McClendon talked about the emotion of returning to the manager’s seat and how he and Jim Leyland exchanged emotional text messages yesterday.

It’s all good stuff. It’s all Opening Day emotion. It’s all about getting another season started and seeing where it leads.

First pitch is 7:12 p.m. PT tonight at Angel Stadium. You can watch on ESPN2, ROOT Sports, MLB.TV or in person at Safeco Field, where they’ll show the game live on the big screen.

Or if you’re lucky enough, like me, you’ll be at Angel Stadium. That’s a privilege I don’t take for granted. Opening Days are awesome, for players, coaches, managers, fans and media alike. So let’s get after it.

It’s time to play ball.

Saturday’s Game 33 recap: Rockies 2, Mariners 1

2013 Baltimore Orioles Photo DayPlayer of the Game: New starter Chris Young threw 4 2/3 shutout innings with four hits, no walks and two strikeouts in his Mariners debut, a nice introduction for the veteran who will slide immediately into the fifth-starter role to open the regular season. Young just signed a one-year deal Thursday after being released by the Nationals.

Stat of the Game: Robinson Cano went 0-for-2 in the spring finale, but still finished Cactus League playing hitting .412. He just nudged out Brad Miller for the team’s spring batting title, with Miller going 0-for-1 with a walk to finish at .410.

Storyline: This Cactus League finale was all about getting Young ready as he never pitched more than four innings for the Nationals this spring, that coming in a 75-pitch Minor  League outing almost two weeks ago. He threw 63 pitches in his 4 2/3 innings and appeared to be tiring a bit in the fourth, but righted himself and got a pair of outs in the fifth before giving up a two-out single and being replaced. Young then threw another 15-20 pitches in the bullpen. He’ll get the start Friday in Oakland in the fifth game of the regular season.

Worth noting: Corey Hart saw his first Cactus League action in nine days as he returns from a sore forearm. He went 0-for-3 at designated hitter, finishing the spring with a .132 average. Manager Lloyd McClendon said the big man swung better on Saturday and didn’t sound concerned about his tough camp while coming back from a year layoff following two knee surgeries. But it’ll be interesting to see how much Hart plays initially. It appears he’ll split time at DH with Logan Morrison, who likely will get the Opening Day start against Angels right-hander Jered Weaver.

Quote of the Day: “He did a great job today. He learned what I wanted to do, we got on the same page very quickly. I couldn’t have been more impressed with how easy he made it for me today.” – Young on working with catcher Mike Zunino for the first time.

Next: The Mariners open their regular season on Monday in Anaheim with Felix Hernandez making his club-record seventh Opening Day start. First pitch will be at 7:12 p.m. PT and the game will be televised by ESPN2 and ROOT Sports and also be available to MLB.TV subscribers. The Mariners have won a franchise-record seven straight openers. The last Major League team to win eight straight or more Opening Day games was the Reds with a nine-game streak from 1983-91. Hernandez has much to do with that streak as he’s 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA in six Opening Day outings.

Here’s today’s boxscore.

And here’s today’s notebook with all the news from camp.

My favorite photos from Peoria this spring

The Mariners are breaking camp today, headed for one last game against the Rockies at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale before flying to Anaheim to start the season on Monday night.

Before we go, just wanted to share a few of my favorite photos from the spring. If a picture truly is worth a thousand words, this will at least save me a lot of writing today. Enjoy!

Fernando Rodney and his crooked cap became a familiar sight this spring in Peoria.
Rodney, Fernando
Erasmo Ramirez never seems to go anywhere without his friendly smile.
Ramirez, Erasmo
Roenis Elias turned out to be the biggest surprise of camp, jumping from Double-A ball to a starting rotation berth.
Elias, Roenis

New skipper Lloyd McClendon enjoyed being back in the manager’s role.
McClendon Lloyd
McClendon will enjoy things even more if he can get improvement from Justin Smoak and some of the other key youngsters in the lineup.
Smoak, McClendon

Kyle Seager imparted his wisdom on young shortstop Brad Miller: “Yup, this is a baseball.”
Seager-Miller

Dustin Ackley and his beard had a big spring. Ackley hit over .400.  The beard batted 1.000.
Ackley, Dustin (2)

Things are looking up for catcher Mike Zunino, who looked comfortable from the start both at the plate and behind it.
Zunino, Mike

Outfield coach Andy Van Slyke was a looming presence with his energetic approach.
VanSlykeBat

Robinson Cano fit in immediately with his easy-going style. It didn’t hurt that he hit .500 much of the spring as well.
Cano, Robinson

And if everything comes together, you’ll see a lot more of Happy Felix this season.
Felix smiling

Friday’s Game 32 recap: Mariners 3, Rockies 2

Medina, YoervisPlayer of the Game: I’ll toss this one to Yoervis Medina, who threw two perfect innings with three strikeouts in the sixth and seventh to continue his strong spring in the bullpen. Medina has a 1.50 ERA with just six hits allowed in 12 innings and looks to be building on his strong rookie season last year.

Stat of the Game: The Mariners rallied late with three runs in the ninth, with Minor League shortstop Tyler Smith driving in the tying runs with a two-run double and then scoring the winning run on Nate Tenbrink’s single. Smith has hit .517 (8-for-14) to make the most of his late-inning appearances. Smith is a 22-year-old who was the MVP of the Appalachian Rookie League last year after getting drafted in the eighth round out of Oregon State last June and has done a great job with his opportunities when called up to help fill out the roster. He’ll likely be playing Class A ball this year, but certainly he’s introduced himself now to the new Mariners staff.

Storyline: Roenis Elias found out he’d made the team and would be the fourth starter in the rotation earlier in the day, then did his best to control damage in his first semi-rocky outing of the spring. The 25-year-old lefty allowed two triples and a double among his seven hits, but kept the Rockies off the scoreboard outside of two runs in the third. He finished spring with a 2.38 ERA and a surprise promotion from Double-A ball to the big leagues.

Worth noting: Outfielder Stefen Romero again got some late-inning work at first base as McClendon continues working the youngster some at that position to increase his options for playing time. Romero, who also found out he’d made the team on Friday, played some first and third base at Oregon State in his college days, but has mostly been at second in the Mariners’ system before moving to the outfield last year. Willie Bloomquist saw his first outfield duty this spring in the final three innings as well as he’s another who’ll need to be versatile in his super utility role.

Quote of the Day: “I didn’t understand everything he said because most of it was in Spanish, but I think in the end he tried to kiss me. I figured he was happy at that point.” – McClendon after informing Elias he’d made the team on Friday.

Next: Newly signed right-hander Chris Young gets the start in Saturday’s Cactus League finale against the Rockies at 12:10 p.m. PT at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale. The 34-year-old Young plans to throw about five innings or 75 pitches as he prepares to slot in as Seattle’s fifth starter for the regular season. Designated hitter Corey Hart, who hasn’t played in a Cactus League game since March 20, is expected to get some at-bats after hitting in Minor League games the past three days as he works back from a sore forearm. The Mariners will fly to Anaheim after the game, which will be available for free on MLB.TV and ROOT Sports.

Here’s today’s boxscore.

Here’s today’s notebook with all the news from camp.

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