It Has Been Decided (For Now): Karns To The Bullpen

It was only a matter of time.  You can’t keep running a guy out there who can’t get past the 5th inning.  Not when you’re already rolling with guys like Paxton, Walker, Miley, and Iwakuma, who can all fall apart at any time.  Karns has only been able to mask it to this point with his solid win/loss record, which is mostly due to the high run support he’s been getting.

In his place, Wade LeBlanc gets a shot.  Hard to kill the move given what Karns has given us this year.  In 15 starts, Karns has gone 5 innings or less nine times, including 7 of the last 8 outings.  And, oh yeah, Karns has yet to go beyond 7 innings in a start this season.

On the flipside, the Mariners have two soft-tossing lefties in the rotation named Wade.  While that is almost certainly a Major League record, it CAN’T be a recipe for successful baseball!

Oddly enough, Karns has Karns to thank for not being sent down to Tacoma.  All of his bungled starts have led to the bullpen being over-worked, which has exposed the flaws in that area of our pitching staff, which ultimately has led management to believe Karns is better served in a long relief type role.  If it were up to me, he’d be in AAA trying to figure out how to not walk so many guys the third time through the lineup, and to avoid The Big Inning in general, but beggars can’t be choosers.  The bullpen needs to be improved, and the Major League roster takes precedence over individual player development.

Ultimately, I don’t think Karns is going to hack it as a starter.  He doesn’t really have a change up to speak of, so he’s primarily a fastball/curveball guy.  That’s going to hurt him unless he figures out how to pitch with pinpoint control.  What I’m REALLY afraid of is that he’s not going to hack it as a reliever either.  One would hope he’d gain some velocity while being used in shorter bursts.  But, it’s not like he’s got an out-pitch that’s worth a damn.  He projects more as a Yoervis Medina type than anyone, and as you can plainly see, that’s not a compliment.

Is this the beginning of the end for ol’ Karnsyboy?  My guess is:  yes.

Will Wade LeBlanc be the man to right the ship?  My guess is:  HURRY BACK FELIX!

The Mariners Have Their Bullpen Set Too

This was always going to be the most interesting part of Spring Training this year (though, admittedly, not interesting enough to force me to actually pay attention day-in and day-out).  The way I had it, coming in, there were three surefire locks, and one of those locks – Charlie Furbush – came in as damaged goods and looks like he could miss weeks, if not months, of the season.  Beyond that, it was a wild fracas to lock down the back-end of the bullpen.

Steve Cishek looks to be the obvious closer, what with his 2-year, $10 million deal.  How married Scott Servais is to traditional closer roles is anyone’s guess, but let’s go out on a limb and say more often than not, when the Mariners are nursing a lead of 3 runs or less, Steve Cishek will be the last pitcher the Mariners use.

Joaquin Benoit was the other lock to make this team, he of the $7.5 million deal that we took off of the Padres’ hands in trade.  You like traditional 8th inning guys, who can close for you in a pinch?  Benoit is your man!  Think of him as your Farquhar replacement, or your Wilhelmsen replacement, or your Carson Smith replacement, or you Medina replacement, or your Maurer replacement, or your …

Then, there’s the rest of the pile.  Tony Zych came out of the woodwork late last season, putting in an awesome September in a handful of appearances.  I always had him pegged on the higher-end of the bubble guys, mostly because unlike most of the pitchers on this team, he can actually throw a fastball … you know, FAST.  One of the more confusing aspects of the new regime is how they value pitching, particularly bullpen pitching.  Maybe it’s old school, outdated thinking to want to have a bunch of fireballing hurlers in your bullpen, but I’ve seen a lot of mediocre guys come and go who’ve been forced out of this league because they couldn’t throw much faster than 90 miles per hour.  I guess location and movement are always a big help, but every now and again you just feel all warm and cozy when a guy can reach back and throw 98 mph.

Furbush wasn’t the only guy bit by the injury bug this spring.  Evan Scribner and Ryan Cook both looked like reclamation projects that had a better than 50% chance of making the team.  Instead, both will start the year on the DL.

A few of my other bubble guys ended up getting sent down to Tacoma, including Jonathan Aro (came over in the Carson Smith/Roenis Elias for Wade Miley deal), Justin De Fratus (who was waived, and then re-signed to a minor league deal, as his arm strength didn’t appear to be up to Major League snuff), and Joe Wieland among numerous others.

That opened the door for something of a longshot in Joel Peralta, who was brought in on a minor league deal with an invite to compete.  In hindsight, it might be unfair to think of him as being a longshot.  Indeed, he probably deserved better than a minor league deal in the first place.  He has a history of being wildly successful as recently as 2014!  He ended up hitting the DL last year and upon his return looked pretty mediocre.  Hard to fault teams for wondering if his nerve injury would be a career killer.  But, apparently he’s done enough in this Spring Training to earn himself a job with the Mariners, so he can’t be all bad.

Without Furbush, and without any younger options in the organization to make the jump, it was looking pretty grim as far as finding a left-handed option out of the bullpen was concerned.  Fortunately, the Mariners had a surplus of starters in camp, a couple of which were out of options and clinging for dear life to the big leagues.  Vidal Nuno was always going to make this team, but coming into Spring Training, you couldn’t be entirely sure if it would be as a starter or a reliever.  Odds were always in favor of the latter, and lo it has come to pass.  You like Nuno in the bullpen because he has starting experience.  Especially early in the season, when you’re likely to find starters struggling to get into a groove, you might have a need for a long reliever coming in and eating up innings.

The best thing that ever happened to Mike Montgomery, of course, is that very injury to Furbush.  Montgomery was always a longshot to make the rotation, and therefore a longshot to make this team.  If you asked knowledgeable Mariners fans, most of them would’ve pegged Montgomery to be a possible trade chip (barring injury, of course) at the end of Spring Training.  Well, it didn’t take long for Montgomery to abandon his starting ambitions for 2016.  And, given that he’s out of options, it only made sense to try him out in relief, to give us another experienced arm, and another arm we can use in long relief if need be.  Having Nuno and Montgomery gives us two lefties, two long relievers, and a ton of flexibility with how we mix and match at the end of games.

The seventh and final bullpen spot came way out of left field, as the Mariners traded for Nick Vincent this week, for a player to be named later.  Vincent is another guy who’s out of options, but he has tons of Major League relieving experience, and by his numbers looks like a guy who’s had a lot of success.  I don’t know what happened in San Diego to cause them to lose favor in this kid, but their loss would appear to be our gain in this sitch.

Like the rotation, and indeed the entire 25-man roster, the bullpen has a lot of possibilities.  It could be great, it could be the worst, or it could be anywhere in between.  Aside from Zych, there’s a lot of experience in these arms, and a lot of quality experience.  Guys like Cishek, Benoit, Peralta, and Vincent have had a lot of success in this league.  Best of all, it looks almost nothing like the bullpen we had last year, which was a collosal disappointment and one of the primary reasons why we failed to make the playoffs.

I don’t know what it’ll look like a month from now, but for the time being I’m going to go into this thing cautiously optimistic and see how that treats me.

The Mariners Traded Mark Lowe & J.A. Happ Also

It’s a Mariners fire sale, and everything must go!

Well, not really.  It WAS a Mariners fire sale, and in the end a couple more guys went.

Neither was a surprise.  Mark Lowe maybe a little bit, but when you consider how good he’s been, and how he’s on a small contract that expires at season’s end, you have to figure you’re getting some good value.  Maybe the best value of the three guys the Mariners sent away.  In return from the Blue Jays, the Mariners received three players:  Rob Rasmussen (lefty reliever the Mariners just called up to the Majors), Nick Wells (another lefty pitcher who has started and relieved, placed in the low minors), and Jake Brentz (yet another lefty pitcher who has started and relieved, placed in the low minors).  Rasmussen is obviously the major part of this trade – with the other two as long-term prospects – and we’ll see how he does.  I believe he’ll be in Seattle until Charlie Furbush returns from the DL, as he’s only made a grand total of 11 Major League appearances in the last two years.  He’s only 26 years old, with lots of team control, so hopefully he pans out.  And, if Mark Lowe should want to re-sign with the Mariners at the end of the season (considering he was looking to get a house in the northwest), this trade might even be a win-win.

A little later on in the day (obviously, both of these trades went down on Friday the 31st), we were mercifully rid of J.A. Happ, who was shipped off to Pittsburgh for Adrian Sampson, a 23 year old right-handed pitcher born in Redmond, WA, who went to high school at Skyline.  He made the jump to AAA last year and has already made a start for the Tacoma Rainiers over the weekend, going 8 innings and giving up 3 runs.  If he pitches well this month, he might be a guy the Mariners want to give a call-up to in September to get an up-close look at their new prospect.

Getting rid of Happ was a no-brainer; I’m just a little surprised the Mariners found a taker.  And as useful of a piece as this Sampson guy to boot!  If nothing else, he represents a little more depth at the upper-minors level, with the possibility of being yet another candidate to fight for a starting rotation job in 2016.

All in all, you have to be at least a little impressed with what the Mariners did last week.  They recognized this was a team going nowhere (a VERY difficult thing, as I still have a hard time wrapping my head around how much better this team was last year, with a lot of the same personnel) and they made the tough decision of going public with that knowledge in the form of three deadline deals.  Ackley had to go, for reasons I’ve gone over already, primarily because who could justify going through arbitration with him for the next two years and giving him raises for accomplishing nothing?  Happ had to go because he’s on the last year of his deal and he’s not someone you’d want to extend long term.  And while Lowe didn’t necessarily have to go, there’s not really much point in keeping him.  Even if we want to try to bring him back next year, I don’t see why we couldn’t still do that just because he spends a couple months playing in Toronto.

In return, we received the above-referenced four pitching prospects (ranging from the A-level, all the way to the upper minors & fringe Majors), as well as the two upper-level prospects we got from the Yankees in right-handed reliever Jose Ramirez and outfielder Ramon Flores.  That’s six prospects of varying talent levels (though, obviously, not super-highly ranked, given the scraps we gave up) for three guys who aren’t helping us much now and don’t factor much in our future (with the possible exception of Lowe, who may or may not come back as a quality middle reliever with past injury issues).  I figure if one of these guys pans out as a useful Major Leaguer at some point (or can be used as trade bait to eventually bring in a useful Major Leaguer), that’s a victory.

All that remains now is to wonder whether or not the Mariners shake things up organizationally at the end of the season.  Was Jackie Z allowed to make these deals because we’re going to give him one more year to try to do this thing?  Or, were these deals the final nail in the GM coffin; a directive to cut as much fat as we can prior to blowing everything up?

I still have to believe the Mariners are going to make a change, but I’m not nearly as confident as I was two weeks ago.  As annoying as it is to say, there really was a lot right with how this team was set up this year.  Obviously, that doesn’t apply to what we had planned defensively (especially in the outfield), but offensively, and pitchingwise, the Mariners should have been better.  The bummer of 2015, and how this season will ultimately be defined, is that nearly everything that could have gone wrong DID go wrong.  When it wasn’t our offense letting us down, it was our bullpen blowing saves.  When it wasn’t our bullpen blowing saves, it was our starting pitching getting rocked around.  Even Felix hasn’t been immune, as he obviously is well off of his near-Cy Young pace of 2014.  Between Felix being a little less Felixy, Paxton getting injured yet again, Iwakuma being injured and inconsistent, Walker just being inconsistent, and Happ being good for a bit and then a complete disaster, this rotation isn’t immune from criticism.  I know the fans have been all over the offense, and the organization has been down on the bullpen, but I would argue that every part of this team ended up failing, from the top of the organization (Trumbo trade) on down to the 25th man (Jesus Sucre) and through the minors (many of our prospects taking big steps back).

What I will say – as this might be the last chance I get – is that I think Lloyd McClendon has taken a big step forward in his managing style this year.  He’s been able to recognize where the problems are and he’s been remarkably efficient in eliminating these problems.  It didn’t take long to remove Fernando Rodney from the closer’s role.  It REALLY didn’t take him long to see the negative regression in guys like Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, and Dominic Leone.  I think his bullpen usage overall has been about as good as can be expected given how many of our guys have struggled.  And, furthermore, his everyday lineups have started to resemble the kind of outside-the-box thinking this team has DESPERATELY needed for the majority of the last decade.  Say what you will about lineup construction, but shifting Seager to the 2-hole, Cruz to the 3-hole, and Cano to cleanup (to take advantage of the lefty-righty-lefty dynamic that tends to pay dividends in the other teams’ bullpen usage) not only sets us up better as a lineup, but it also puts our best hitters closer to the top, where they belong.  Cruz is obviously this team’s MVP, so why not bump him up from 4 to 3 in the lineup?  Seager is one of our all-around best hitters, and he’s been MADE for the 2-hole since he came up here.  Why keep Seager down in the 5-hole where he’s going to receive fewer at-bats over the course of the season?  It took a while for LMC to get there (mainly because he had misguided affection for our lesser hitters like Ackley, LoMo, and Miller for most of the season), but he’s there now, and it’s been interesting to see his maturation as a field manager.

Mariners Tidbit 57: Mark Lowe Has Been A Godsend

There haven’t been many pleasant surprises in this disaster of a season.  The list of unpleasant surprises (or, maybe more accurately, “Unpleasant I Should Have Seen This Coming’s”) is seemingly endless:

  • Cano
  • Ackley
  • Ruggiano
  • Weeks
  • Trumbo
  • Sucre
  • Zunino
  • Iwakuma
  • Paxton
  • Farquhar
  • Leone
  • Wilhelmsen
  • Medina
  • Rodney

You can practically field a full team with all the guys who’ve sucked for us!  But, the real pleasant surprises have been few and far between.

  • Montgomery
  • Cruz through the first two months
  • Sucre the relief pitcher
  • Mark Lowe

Everyone else is pretty much as expected.  Maybe I should’ve expected worse out of guys like Ackley, Zunino, and the like, but I’m a foolish, foolish man.  Constantly suckered in by promise.

Mark Lowe, though, is one of the good ones.  He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training and I really didn’t have much hope for him sticking around.  Shows what I know.  He did make it onto the Tacoma roster, pitched well for a month, and was called up to Seattle in early May.  Since then, he’s merely pitched 26 innings across 26 games, giving up 2 earned runs, walking 10 and striking out 34.  He’s got that life on his fastball – throwing anywhere from 95-97 mph – and most importantly he’s got command.  He’s easily been one of the best – if not THE best – relievers on this team (he’s at least in the top 2 with Carson Smith), and it’s showing with how the team has used him.

Early on, he was being used in early innings, in blowouts, and in close losing efforts.  Now, he’s one of the main set-up guys with Smith and Rodney (depending on who’s closing that particular night).  With the likes of Furbush and Beimel locking things down from the left side, and with Rodney’s recent improvement (last night’s blown save notwithstanding), the Mariners ALMOST have a top notch bullpen.  Those last two spots are really up for grabs at this point, with a rotating cast of characters trying and failing to get the job done.  But, it’s nice to know we don’t have to worry about someone like Lowe.

In games we’re winning late, we shouldn’t have much problem locking down the save (again, depending on which version of Rodney we get).  A big reason behind that is Mark Lowe returning to form.  He might be pitching his way toward a raise next year – and as such, might be out of our price range for 2016 – but it’s nice to see SOMETHING go right in this year that has gone so wrong.

Mariners Tidbit 54: Bullpen Roster Moves

Five highly productive members of the 2014 bullpen are no longer in Seattle.  Brandon Maurer was traded in the offseason for Seth Smith.  Yoervis Medina was traded in May for Welington Castillo.  Dominic Leone was traded with Castillo and two minor leaguers for Mark Trumbo.  Danny Farquhar has been languishing in Tacoma due to ineffectiveness for much of the season, and he hasn’t been thriving in AAA.  Now, Tom Wilhelmsen is the latest to get the boot, being sent down to join Farquhar in the Minor League Ballclub of the Damned.

Wilhelmsen has been mostly awful this year, but he’s gotten away with it for longer than he probably should’ve thanks to the fact that the majority of the runs he’s given up have been inherited runners that counted against the pitchers he relieved.  Like most of our other underperforming bullpen pitchers, it’s all about command.  He doesn’t have it.  Seemingly no one in this year’s bullpen has it.  And as such, the Mariners have struggled.

David Rollins gets his shot, after missing half the season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.  He looked amazeballs in Spring Training, so we’ll see if there’s another diamond in the rough.  If he succeeds, then that’s swell, because he’s under team control for a good long while.  If he fails, then we may have to offer him back to his former team, as he’s a Rule 5 draft pick.  The last thing we need to be doing is helping the Astros stay great, so let’s just hope he pitches well for us.

The Mariners also sent down Vidal Nuno, presumably to give him more of a chance to pitch (and maybe stretch him out to be a starter).  It’d be nice to have a spot starter down there ready to go should disaster strike.  In his place, we called up Mayckol Guaipe, a right hander who you may recall made his first-ever Major League appearance on June 1st, pitching 2.1 shutout innings in a blowout loss to the Yankees.  That was one of Felix’s rare duds, and Guaipe really saved our ‘pen that day.  He would be sent back down immediately after, so it’s nice to see him get another crack at the bigs, given that this is his 9th year in our organization.

Other roster moves were made, but I’m splitting these posts up in the name of brevity.  And because I’ve got other shit I need to do.

Mariners Tidbit 37: M’s Trade For New Catcher, Unknowingly Help Me Win A Bet With My Brother

The Mariners traded Yoervis Medina this week to the Chicago Cubs for a catcher by the name of Welington Castillo.  For some reason, the Cubs had three catchers on their 25-man roster, so they’re probably happy to just get anything in return.  The Mariners, by comparison, had about half a catcher taking up two full roster spots on their 25-man, so this can only be an improvement.

Jesus Sucre is probably nothing more than a career minor leaguer.  His defense is rock solid, but he might as well be swinging one of those swimming pool noodles whenever he’s at the plate, because he’s fucking God awful.  Over the weekend, I bet my brother that Jesus Sucre would never hit a home run for the Seattle Mariners this year.  With this trade, and his subsequent demotion to Tacoma, it appears I’ve got one late-night pizza party coming my way courtesy of my brother’s wallet.

Welington “One L Whenever The Fuck I Feel Like It” Castillo should probably be a moderate upgrade at the plate over Sucre, in that he can do more than slap singles through the hole the other way.  He’s also bound to be a huge liability behind the plate, catching balls and strikes, because you don’t get to trade for fully formed Major Leaguers when all you give up is a Yoervis Medina.  Will all this turn out to be a wash then?  I suppose that depends on how frequently he plays, and what his presence means for the ongoing development of Mike Zunino.

It’s no secret that Zunino has been overworked.  He’s starting damn near every game, and when he’s not starting, he’s more likely than not going to come in late in the game as a pinch hitter, because all the Mariners do is be involved in close games and we can’t afford to throw outs away in the later innings just to give Sucre that elusive 4th at bat.  It might be different if, on occasion, the Mariners could rip off a blowout victory in those Sucre starts, but as the Rolling Stones once said, you can’t always get what you want, “We’re the Rolling Stones and we’re here to say, give us all your cocaine and get out of the way.”

Maybe Castillo comes in and gives us just enough production to give Zunino a second day off per week.  Maybe, with that extra rest to recharge and refocus, Zunino is better able to produce quality at bats.  Or, maybe Zunino goes right on struggling and Castillo continues to eat into his playing time until we’re involved with a 50/50 timeshare.  Or, maybe Zunino’s slide forces him to be the team’s backup, or forces him down to Tacoma to work things out.

Or, maybe Castillo comes here, gives us nothing out of the backup catcher position, and Zunino is forced to remain a catcher who plays nearly every day.  Limitless possibilities!

I like the move, because I don’t think much of Sucre, and I don’t think much of Medina.  It would’ve been nice if we could’ve gotten the Medina of the last two seasons – might have made it easier to demote Farquhar so he can work through whatever the fuck he’s working through now – but we didn’t get that Medina.  We got this all new Medina who’s striking out fewer batters and throwing fastballs with reduced velocity.  He might have lost it, or he might just need to tweak some things, but either way, he’s worth the cost to bring in someone better than Sucre.

Mariners Tidbit 31: Making Roster Moves

When you start your season this crappy, heads must roll.  Not important heads; minor heads.  Heads you won’t necessarily miss.

Yoervis Medina has been sent down to Tacoma, as has Tyler Olson.  Medina doesn’t strike me as being all that different than his last two seasons in the Majors, maybe a small uptick in wildness.  He’s got 7 walks to 9 strikeouts, so there’s probably your culprit considering his 3.00 ERA.  Honestly, I wouldn’t expect him to be gone for too long, as he’ll probably be the first one called up in the event of another injury to a bullpen arm.

Olson’s demotion makes a little more sense.  He has been wildly ineffective since making the club out of Spring Training.  Considering he’s yet to play any games in AAA, it would make some sense to keep him working regularly while at the same time taking some of the pressure off of his plate.

In their place, Joe Beimel and Mark Lowe return to the ballclub.  With Beimel, I suppose we’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice.  With Lowe, I have no idea.  His fastball is a shell of its former self, so he better have good control and he better have a decent out-pitch.  He’s given up 1 run in 9 innings (with 11 strikeouts) down in Tacoma, so at least that’s a good sign.

On the offensive side, Austin Jackson goes on the DL with an ankle sprain.  We’re all hopeful that he won’t be out too long.  In his place, Justin Ruggiano will get the bulk of the starts in center, so at least we’ll get a nice extended look at what he has to offer.  Let’s hope it’s something in the way of quality at bats, because things are looking ugly.

Chris Taylor gets the call up, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, except I guess it means he’s the starting short stop for now, while Brad Miller gets to play that “rover” we all anticipated would be a possibility.  I don’t totally know what that’s going to entail.  It’s not like you’re going to sit Seager or Cano all that often.  Doesn’t make much sense to play him at first base, since LoMo is also a lefty (and he’s also starting to heat up finally).  The only other place for him is in the outfield, which means we have to get him ready to play Major League outfield by giving him practice reps before games.  That sounds … frightening.  Then again, can he be any worse than Weeks?

I don’t see a lot in the way of improvement with this roster shakeup, but sometimes a shakeup for the sake of making a shakeup is exactly what a team needs.  What does that even mean?  I have no idea either.  The world doesn’t exactly make a whole lotta sense when the Astros are 7 games up in first place.

Mariners Tidbit 19: Huge Early Turnaround

That was some kind of memorable series down in Oakland, as far as first-week series go.  Kick it off with the drubbing to end all drubbings – and yet another example of the Mariners being totally inept against left-handed starting pitchers – to drop our record to 1-3.  If you weren’t freaking out after Friday, then you’re better than I am.

On Saturday, we got a surprising quality start out of J.A. Happ.  Yet, going into the 8th, we were down 2-1 and staring into the hopeless pitch-black maw of our crushing reality.  Then, with two outs and two runners on, Nelson Cruz did what we all expected him to do:  jack a 3-run bomb to change the course of the game.  And to think, it almost didn’t happen, but for an error by the short stop to keep the inning going.

Of course, that lead would be promptly given up in the bottom of the inning, making it 4-4.  Some nifty bullpen work and defense (including the winning run getting thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the 10th) got us to the 11th, where LoMo scored on a Brad Miller double, with Rodney locking down the save.

You have to like the scrappiness of this Mariners team after Saturday’s comeback victory, but they were back to their old tricks on Sunday.  With Felix on the mound, of course the Mariners were no-hit through five innings.  Felix was dealing with some lower body issues that sapped some of his ability, resulting in three runs scored in the bottom of the fourth.  It appeared to be another one of those games where Felix gets nothing from his offense (against a pitcher I’d never heard of before yesterday).

But, don’t forget, these aren’t your slightly older brother’s Mariners!  These guys are here to play, and frankly, no lead by the other team should be necessarily considered safe.

The Mariners knocked Jesse Hahn out of the game in the 6th thanks to 3 hits, 2 walks, a sac fly, and a crucial 2-out error on the right fielder.  The Mariners ultimately managed to score 4 to take the lead and put Felix in line for the win.  Three more were tacked on the very next inning thanks to a pinch-hit Rickie Weeks bomb to dead center, and all looked very right with the world.

That is, until we got to Fernando Rodney with a 4-run lead in the bottom of the 9th.  Never send a closer into the game in a non-save situation unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.  That’s one of those adages you hate to hear and hate even worse to say – because what is a “save” but a useless stat that has no meaning in the real baseball world?  But, there’s one thing about baseball you can’t deny, nor can you explain away with all the stats in the world:  it’s primarily a mental game played by individuals who are all out on their own little islands.  For whatever reason, a closer just isn’t going to be as invested in a non-save situation.  That doesn’t mean he’s out there not trying, but I would argue the sense of urgency isn’t there.  We’re talking about a guy who’s used to going in with a 2- or 1-run lead most of the time; to him, a 4-run lead must feel like a million.  So, once things start steamrolling, it’s hard to find that sense of urgency again.  By the time the lead’s been cut in half, you’re essentially in a sinking lifeboat trying to bail out the water with your hands.

Plus, you know, the A’s just have one of those annoying offenses that will give a guy like Rodney fits.  Patient, able to lay off the balls, and secure enough to take what the pitcher gives them, even if it’s dinking and dunking singles and doubles to the opposite field.  They’re not out there trying to hit a home run with every swing, which is what teams tend to do when confronted with a deficit and the other team’s hard-throwing closer.

Anyway, yeah, Rodney gave up the lead, pushing us into extras.  Would I have given the ball to Rodney with a 4-run lead?  Probably not.  If it’s me, I’m either letting Furbush go out there and pitch until he gives up a baserunner (and, essentially, turns the game into a save situation), or I’m going straight to Medina.  Either way, I probably get Rodney up so he can come in if we need him, but I’d be okay with him warming up and never pitching if that’s the way it shook out.

But, I can see why he was used.  The rest of the bullpen has been severely over-worked in the first week (as is usually the case, with starters still trying to build up their arms).  Before yesterday, Rodney had only made two appearances this year.  To the point where he entered the game, he’d pitched the fewest innings on the team.  It makes SOME sense to try to spread out the burden.  But, at the same time, he’d just pitched on Saturday, and you’ve gotta figure there will be opportunities in the Dodgers series.  Now, who knows if he’s ready to go tonight?  If he does, he’s almost surely not available tomorrow.  So, putting him in the game yesterday probably does more harm than good (but, who can predict how the next series is going to turn out?).

Then again, we would’ve missed out on more Nelson Cruz magic, with his 2-out solo homer to put us ahead in the top of the 10th.  Medina locked down the save, so ultimately it all worked out.

I’ll say this:  the 2014 Mariners almost certainly would’ve lost Sunday’s game.  And, I would argue they’d also lose Saturday’s!  I’ll also say this:  if I’d written this post after the top of the fifth inning yesterday, this would be one long diatribe with no end to my bitching in sight.  What a difference some timely hitting makes!

We made it through the first week with a 3-3 record.  It’s not ideal, but guess what:  we’re officially tied for first in the A.L. West with the Houston Astros.  Yeah, can you believe it?  The Angels went and got swept by the Royals over the weekend, while our series win dropped Oakland to a game behind us in the loss column.  The first week could’ve been a helluva lot worse, and ultimately I still think there’s more to like about this team than the other way around.

Of course, there’s almost nothing to like about what we’re all forced to read on Twitter each and every game.  If it’s not fans bitching about every little thing, it’s the local sports media bitching about all the bitching.  But, I suppose that’s a topic for another day.

Mariners Tidbit 16: Opening Day

And Seth Smith jumps out to a commanding lead for YOUR Favorite New Mariner!

Boy, that game was something, wasn’t it?  It had it all:  hits, strikeouts, leaving work before 11am, drinking during the day, incredibly long bathroom lines you had to time JUST right (meaning:  you had to step away with Cano at the plate, two outs, and a runner in scoring position, just to run up the aisle and see a man about a horse before 20 people jumped in line behind you).

I had seats right on the edge of the King’s Court, in section 147.  So, the energy was pretty jazzed up, but I got the feeling that the whole stadium was into it from the first pitch.  I don’t have a real coherent narrative, so I’ll just bust out with the random thoughts.

I thought the best at bat of the entire ballgame wasn’t anything by Seth Smith, it wasn’t Trout’s mammoth home run, and it wasn’t even Austin Jackson getting off to a great start.  For my money, you’re not going to beat Robbie Cano’s 2-out RBI single in the third to give us a 2-1 lead.  To that point, Jered Weaver was working his slow-pitch magic.  Sure, the preceding double & triple tied the game, but Weaver isn’t usually one to give up the Big Inning.  He tried to steal a cheap strike to get ahead in the count (where, I’m sure, he’s at his deadliest), and on a day where only one of his pitches surpassed 86 mph, Cano ripped the first pitch he saw in that at bat straight up the middle for the go-ahead score.  That’s what we call using the ol’ noodle.

As it has been noted everywhere, Seth Smith went 3 for 3 with 3 extra base hits (the first Mariner to ever do that on Opening Day).  They won’t all be days this great for Seth Smith, but you gotta like a guy who’s proven capable in pitcher-friendly parks in the past.  He’s put up decent numbers in Oakland and San Diego, which leads me to believe he’s ready to tangle with a place like Safeco.

The bottom two and top two spots in the order did the bulk of the damage.  Nice to see Ackley hit a bomb, nice to see Miller and Jackson get on base twice.  These are the players who will make the biggest difference between us merely contending and us grabbing the division by the horns.

What can you say about King Felix?  Another Opening Day victory, another 7-inning, 10-strikeout, 1-run performance.  You want easy money?  Put it down on the Mariners on Opening Day with Felix on the mound.

The Most Important At-Bat of the Game:  Carson Smith vs. Mike Trout.  2-on, 2-out, top of the 8th.  You might argue the previous at-bat – where Furbush struck out Kole Calhoun to get us to 2 outs – was the more important, because if he walks him there, who knows what happens after?  All I know is, Carson Smith had 9 appearances before yesterday’s game, and he was called in (over Tom Wilhelmsen, over Yoervis Medina) to face the best everyday player in the game of baseball.  And, he struck him out on four pitches.  Outstanding.

Hey!  We get to do this all over again tonight!  And tomorrow night, I’ll be back at Safeco for the second time in three days!  I think I finally understand why Dave Sims continues to be employed by Root Sports; his on-air presence compels people like me to attend more games in person just to grab a little peace of mind.

Mariners Tidbit 15: We Have A 25-Man Roster

UPDATE 4/3/2015:  And, forget almost nothing of what I said below; Dominic Leone will be starting the season in Tacoma while Carson Smith gets called back up …

Mostly, it’s who you’d think.  The rotation:

  1. King Felix
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma
  3. James Paxton
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Taijuan Walker

The bullpen:

  • Fernando Rodney
  • Danny Farquhar
  • Yoervis Medina
  • Tom Wilhelmsen
  • Charlie Furbush
  • Dominic Leone
  • Tyler Olson

The Starting Nine:

  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Seth Smith (RF)
  3. Robbie Cano (2B)
  4. Nelson Cruz (DH)
  5. Kyle Seager (3B)
  6. Logan Morrison (1B)
  7. Dustin Ackley (LF)
  8. Mike Zunino (C)
  9. Brad Miller (SS)

The Bench:

  • Jesus Sucre (C)
  • Rickie Weeks (INF/OF)
  • Willie Bloomquist (INF)
  • Justin Ruggiano (OF)

Considering Taijuan Walker was the favorite to make the rotation since before Spring Training even started, hard to find a surprise there.

There’s a moderate surprise with the bullpen.  We were all wondering if the team would go with an 8-man or 7-man bullpen.  Carson Smith made a huge splash in September of last year, leading us all to believe he’d be a shoo-in for the final 25 this year.  But, an underwhelming spring apparently did him in (even though you could argue Leone has been an absolute trainwreck in 9 appearances, giving up 10 earned runs in 7 innings).

The big surprise ends up being the seventh man in the bullpen, lefty Tyler Olson.  He has yet to give up an earned run in 10 appearances, striking out 15 in 12.2 innings.  He makes the jump from AA and gives us a little Furbush insurance (who has been his usual awful self this spring).

No shocks in the lineup; this thing was nailed down the minute we signed Rickie Weeks.  Once Bloomquist proved he’s back and 100% healthy, the only question was whether the team would go with Sucre or the veteran John Baker.  Considering this is Zunino’s team, and he’s ready to grab the bull by the ol’ horns, I don’t see any point in having a veteran backup just for the sake of having a veteran backup.  Sucre is the better defender, they’re probably both equally terrible with a bat in their hands, so when in doubt, go with the better defender.

Obviously, no 25-man roster is going to stay the same for the full season.  Players will get hurt, players will be sent down to Tacoma, players might even get cut.  But, the bulk of what you see above is what should lead this team to its first playoff appearance since 2001.

I may or may not do a proper season preview ahead of Monday’s opener, but I’ve yet to miss one in the last however many years and I’m not about to start missing them now.