Felix Hernandez has bigger goals than Opening Day — Seattle deserves to be in the playoffs
No, the Mariners’ 25-man roster still isn’t quite set, yet, even with Thursday’s Opening Day at Safeco Field against the Indians fast approaching.
They made one move Tuesday, re-assigning outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis to minor-league camp, meaning they’re left to decide the final outfield and utility spots between Ichiro Suzuki and Taylor Motter.
It will all depend on Ichiro’s health, which Mariners manager Scott Servais said they will re-examine during his workouts on Wednesday as he recovers from a sore calf that limited him to an 0-for-10 experience at the plate during five Cactus League games.
If Ichiro’s ready, he’ll play on Opening Day and Motter will start the season with Triple-A Tacoma. If not, then Ichiro would likely head to the disabled list while Motter starts the season in Seattle.
The deadline to have the roster completed is 9 a.m. Thursday, with the Mariners playing the Indians at 7:10 p.m.
It’s not official, but here’s how that would look:
Their starting pitching rotation would go Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales until they needed to add a fifth starter on April 11 (they open the season with three off days in the first eight days of the season).
The Mariners’ bullpen seems set with Edwin Diaz as the closer, Juan Nicasio and Nick Vincent in setup roles followed by Dan Altavilla, Casey Lawrence and left-handers Marc Rzepczynski, James Pazos and Wade LeBlanc.
The rest of the outfield would include Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger and Guillermo Heredia until the Mariners figure out what to do with either Ichiro or using a combination of Taylor Motter and/or Andrew Romine in the outfield. Servais seemed to suggest Romine is their regular utility player to backup an infield of Kyle Seager, Jean Segura, Robinson Cano and Ryon Healy. And Daniel Vogelbach earned his way into a sort-of platoon role, at least until April 11, with Healy. He could even spell designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who has been dealing with a quad injury.
The catchers would be Mike Zunino and Mike Marjama.
Impressions have to start with first baseman Daniel Vogelbach.
Call spring training stats what you will, but he by all measures raked over the past month and that’s why he went from roster longshot to earning a spot, at least temporarily, on the Mariners’ Opening Day 25-man roster.
He ended his spring with a .407 batting average in 22 games. Yes, .407 – that was the best among all qualified spring training hitters from all teams.
He had an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of 1.455, which is the third-highest OBP among all qualifiers over the past 10 spring training seasons, trailing the 2017 spring the Yankees Greg Bird had (1.654) and the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado in 2016 (1.596).
How did those two fare? Well, Bird batted .190 in 48 games with the Yankees last year … and Arenado went on to be an All-Star and Silver Slugger after that 2016 spring. So who really knows what this means.
Vogelbach ended his spring going 2-for-4 with a home run – his seventh of the spring – against the Rockies on Tuesday.
“Vogelbomb ended his spring the right way,” Servais said. “Danny had an awesome spring. It’s nice to see him complete it that way. You figured he was going to hit the ball hard somewhere. I’m hoping it continues. He’ll get a few starts here early in the season and hopefully he stays hot.”
But there were certainly others who pleaded their cases for 2018 playing time. Gonzaga University graduate and left-hander Marco Gonzales had the best stats among the Mariners’ starting pitchers this spring, going 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in seven starts and 26 innings, allowing six runs and striking out 21.
Second baseman Robinson Cano hit .406 (13-for-32) in 12 games when he wasn’t sidelined by a strained hamstring and shortstop Jean Segura hit .405 (17-for-42) in 16 games, though he sat a few games with a sprained thumb.
And the most heart-warming story of spring training was outfield prospect and University of Washington graduate Braden Bishop, who was surprised during a team meeting last week when the Mariners made T-shirts with the name of Bishop’s foundation, 4Mom, written across the chest. It is all to raise awareness and support his mother, Suzy, who was diagnosed almost four years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
And Bishop impressed on the field, too, hitting .370 with a .400 on-base percentage in 16 games.
But there was plenty of not-good this spring – none bigger than the Mariners losing setup reliever David Phelps to a season-ending torn ulnar collateral ligament. Then there’s Gamel straining his oblique and Erasmo Ramirez might not be ready until May as he recovers from a lat strain.
“What I didn’t like is obviously we had a lot of knick-knack injuries, some leg injuries and guys missing some time,” Servais said. “I was anticipating our core group would have more at-bats than they’ve had. But I thought the guys (with the Mariners at somewhat full strength) played well here the last four or five games. They look ready to go and we got a tough foe right out of the chute in Cleveland. This should be a good test for us.”
The Mariners ended spring with a record of 16-14-2.
The Mariners open the 2018 season with Felix Hernandez making an Opening Day start for the 10th consecutive season – which only six other pitchers in MLB history have done before. It’s his 11th Opening Day start of his career, tied for the most among active pitchers with C.C. Sabathia. He is 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA with 74 strikeouts on Opening Day.
The Indians will star Corey Kluber (4-0, 2.29 ERA in spring training), who won 18 games last season and his second Cy Young award in the past four years. Game will start at 7:10 p.m.
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