SEATTLE — When Hall of Fame-inductee Ken Griffey Jr. threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday at Safeco Field — to a thunderous ovation from the sellout crowd — he chose not to do so from the mound.
Instead, Griffey delivered the ball from the grass area in front of the mound.
“I wouldn’t want a pitcher coming in and tearing up my batter’s box,” he explained. “So I feel the starting pitcher should have the first toe on the rubber, especially at the start of the year.”
The first-pitch ceremony was Griffey’s first major appearance in Seattle since his Jan. 6 election to the Hall of Fame by the highest plurality in history. He was cited on 99.3 percent (437 of 440) of the returned ballots.
He will be inducted July 24 in ceremonies near the museum in Cooperstown, New York. The Mariners unveiled a “Countdown to Cooperstown” sign in right field. It was at 107 days on Friday.
While Griffey also played for Cincinnati and the Chicago White Sox in his 22-year career, he will be the first player to enter the Hall of Fame primarily because of his achievements while playing for the Mariners.
The club previously announced plans to retire Griffey’s No. 24 in a ceremony prior to its Aug. 6 game against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. That will be part of a weekend celebration that will include other Griffey-related events.
BULLPEN STARTS STRONG
One pleasant and somewhat overlooked element from the Mariners’ season-opening series in Texas was a bullpen that worked nine scoreless innings over three games.
Small sample size? Sure, but it’s encouraging nonetheless. The Mariners might have no bigger question mark entering the season than their overhauled relief corps.
“We’ve talked about it all offseason and during spring training,” manager Scott Servais said, “we do have guys with track records. Some of them maybe came off a rough year last year, didn’t perform the way they were capable of.”
The Mariners used six of their seven relievers against the Rangers. Combined they permitted just one hit in limiting Texas batters to an .037 average while striking out 14 and walking five.
“It’s an interesting group,” Servais said. “Different looks. It’s not that everybody throws 95, 98 miles an hour. Some guys do it with a breaking ball. Some guys do it (by) changing eye levels up and down in the zone. Some righties get lefties out.”
Veteran right-hander Joel Peralta, an 11-year veteran at age 40, has limited left-handed batters to a .226 average over the course of his career. Righties have batted .235 against him.
“What Peralta brings to the table is a good fit for us,” Servais said. “You can’t just right-left-right-left and line it up perfectly every night. You’ve going to have a righty out there against some lefties.”
Last year’s bullpen compiled a 4.15 ERA that ranked 25th among the 30 clubs. Opponents batted .258 against the Mariners’ bullpen, which also ranked 25th.
“I like the diversity of our bullpen,” Servais said. “Are we going to go scoreless all year? No. We’re going to give up a run. It’s going to happen. But it really helps to get off to a good start.”
Some perspective on Robinson Cano’s sizzling three games in Texas:
*** He is the first second baseman to hit a homer in the first three games of the season in 75 years. Hall of Famer Bobby Doerr did it for Boston in 1941 and, like Cano, had one homer in his first two games and two in his third game.
Doerr then went 26 games without a homer before getting his next one.
*** Cano is the only Mariner ever to hit homers in his first three games and to have four total through three games.
*** While hitting streaks don’t (officially) carry over from the previous season, Cano entered Friday with a 19-game streak. He also had reached base safely in 28 consecutive games.
It was 26 years ago Saturday — April 9, 1990 — that Ken Griffey Jr. went 4-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs as the Mariners opened the season with a 7-4 victory at the California Angels.
The homer was a three-run shot in a five-run fifth inning against future Hall of Fame right-hander Bert Blyleven.
Nelson Cruz received his Silver Slugger award as designated hitter prior to the game. The award is given by Louisville Slugger to recognize the best offensive performer at each position in both leagues. ... Jesse Bailey, a 13-year-old from Spanaway, made the Mariners’ traditional first run around the bases as part of the Make-A-Wish program. Jesse is being treated for a brain tumor. ... Right-hander Felix Hernandez and catcher Chris Iannetta each marked birthdays on Friday. Hernandez turned 30, while Iannetta is now 33. The Mariners’ other catcher, Steve Clevenger, turned 30 on April 5. ... The Mariners had lost 80 consecutive games when trailing after eight innings before rallying in the ninth Wednesday for a 9-5 victory at Texas.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners