ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Just before the regular season starts, when pitchers find themselves thinking ahead and players lose their focus, big-league teams play games like Seattle’s tie game with Colorado on Friday.
It was played in a biting spring wind that was blowing out to right field, giving aid to four home runs hit in that direction. It may have had something to do with five Rockies errors, too.
Hitters, however, seemed just fine with the weather – and with the pitches they got – combining for 36 hits in what became an 11-11 tie.
“I played here and had good numbers,” manager Don Wakamatsu deadpanned. “Now I know why.”
Catchable pop flies were blown into the stands, there were funky hops and pitches left up and over the plate.
The Mariners broke out first, going ahead 11-3 at one point, then couldn’t stop the Rockies.
Ryan Rowland-Smith wasn’t particularly sharp, giving up five runs in 4 innings. And when Rowland-Smith left with a man on base in the fifth inning, rookie sensation Kanekoa Texeira came on in relief and gave up his first home run of the spring – a monster shot to straightaway center field.
It didn’t get any better for the Seattle bullpen: closer David Aardsma gave up three runs in two-thirds of an inning, including Brad Eldred’s tying home run in the eighth that got the Rockies even at 11-11.
“You just can’t evaluate on a night like tonight,” Wakamatsu said.
The King and his … shoes
Even an ace can have trouble packing.
Felix Hernandez showed up in the Albuquerque clubhouse having somehow misplaced his game shoes. Bad packing, poor planning, pure forgetfulness, whatever.
Hernandez will turn 24 next week, and to show he hadn’t changed since signing his big contract, he didn’t pull rank and sit in the clubhouse during stretching.
Instead, he suited up in full uniform and took the field – wearing cream-colored loafers. Yes, he took abuse. And, yes, eventually a pair of cleats were found in his size and he took the outfield to shag.
Money and fame has not changed young Mr. Hernandez.
Go with Plan B, for now
For every plan going into the regular season, the Mariners have at least a Plan B – including most of their lineup.
Going in, Casey Kotchman will bat third against right-handed pitching, Franklin Gutierrez against lefties.
If, after a fair test, Kotchman struggles in that spot, Wakamatsu is prepared to let Gutierrez try it full time.
Minor league mentor
Texeira made the team out of camp with spectacular numbers, and credits catcher Josh Bard – headed for the minors – for making him a better pitcher.
“I probably threw my change-up more this spring than in my whole career,” Texeira said. “Josh was my mentor. He kept calling it, I kept throwing it and it just got better and better. Wak told me the other day, ‘That’s your out pitch, now.’ ”
After faking a bunt, Chone Figgins hit his first home run of the spring in the first inning, with Ichiro Suzuki aboard. It was his 13th hit, still behind his 15 walks. … Sweeney has played in 13 games this spring and hit safely in 10 of them. He singled Friday, then left the game as a precaution after taking a glancing blow on his arm from the barrel of a broken bat. He’s fine. … Veterans Ken Griffey Jr. and Sweeney have decided to speak to the team as a group before the Mariners’ opening-night game to talk about the team goal of a postseason. “It’s a good time to talk about how special seasons like that are, how much effort goes into it,” Sweeney said. …
The Mariners brought 33 players to Albuquerque, and aside from starting pitchers, might use most of them. Wakamatsu has told all the players in question who is on the 25-man roster and who isn’t. … Former Seattle batting coach Don Baylor has the same job with Colorado and was talking about one tough aspect of spring training. “With about two weeks to go, I had three hitters locked in and ready,” Baylor said. “I had to talk to them about not getting bored those final two weeks, about working just as hard even though they felt great. Guys all like to think you can let it go a little, then turn it on again. You can’t.” … Ah, rookies. Young outfielder James Jones got into the game in the fourth inning, singled in the fifth and hustled into second base on a throw toward the plate. With Jack Wilson at third base, Figgins hit a fly ball to left field. Wilson faked going home but stayed at third – and Jones bought the fake, then was caught between bases for the second out of the inning.
The Mariners play the Rockies today in Albuquerque at 11:05 p.m. (PDT) on FSN and 710-AM. Probable starting pitchers: Doug Fister vs. Jorge De La Rosa.