CHICAGO — There were no caribou roaming the outfield grass or penguins perched on the pitcher’s mound. So maybe it wasn’t that cold.
There was a Polar Bear appearing in the third base coach’s box, since it’s the longtime nickname of Mariners third base coach Jeff Datz.
The thermometer at U.S. Cellular Field dropped below 40 degrees an hour before batting practice Friday and continued to plummet into the evening.
For batting practice, players were clad in beanies, parkas and, for Seattle’s Michael Morse, even a ski mask of sorts.
The site of his players all bundled up made Mariners manager Eric Wedge chuckle. There would be no beanie for him.
Cold? He managed for years in Cleveland and before that in Buffalo.
“This is it right here,” he said. “It’s quite the drastic change. I lived it a lot of years. This time of the year, this part of the country, you are going have days like this.”
At the time of the first pitch, it was 34 degrees, tying the record for the coldest game time temperature the Mariners had faced since 1988.
“I’m one of those soft Canadians, a West Coaster,” outfielder Michael Saunders could be heard telling Root Sports’ Brad Adam when asked if Canadians embrace such conditions.
On the serious side, there are inherent risks about playing in such frigid temperatures. The risk of injuries, particular muscle pulls and strains, increase because players can’t stay loose.
“You just have to utilize the heaters, make sure guys work to stay loose throughout the course of the game, between innings, in their at-bats, whatever it may be,” Wedge said. “Just layer up, which you have to do.”
One of the players Wedge had to be concerned about in the chilly weather was Franklin Gutierrez, who started in center field. He’s been battling muscle tightness in his hamstrings. Cold weather doesn’t work well for that sort of tightness. One of the last things the Mariners need is for Gutierrez to get injured.
“He’s grown to be quite the student of his own body because he’s had so many issues,” Wedge said. “I do trust him to take care of himself. But we’ll do a flyby with a few of these guys and remind them what they need to do and pay attention. You have to stay within yourself on days like today.”
Mariners relievers were huddled in the bullpen next to the heater, but planned to also be active between innings to stay loose.
“For me as long as I keep my hands and feet warm, I’m good,” left-hander Charlie Furbush said. “You will see us jogging back and forth in the bullpen to keep the blood flowing. As soon as you get cold, it’s hard to get warm again.”
Temperatures were supposed to rise today. But there’s also a 20 percent chance of rain.
FELIX HERNANDEZ CLOSE TO MILESTONES
When Felix Hernandez steps on the mound today, he will be going for a few personal pitching milestones.
Hernandez will be trying to earn his 100th career win. Also, he is five strikeouts away from 1,500 in his career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, four players struck out more hitters before they were 27 (Hernandez turns 27 on Monday): Bert Blyleven (1,728), Walter Johnson (1,683), Sam McDowell (1,653) and Dwight Gooden (1,541).
There are two pitchers with at least 100 wins and 1,500 strikeouts before age 27 – Blyleven and Johnson. That’s some pretty good company.
The Mariners will send right-hander Hernandez (1-0, 0.00 ERA) against Chicago right-hander Dylan Axelrod (no appearances in 2013). First pitch is set for 10:10 a.m. (PDT). The game will be televised on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483