Mariners catcher Mike Marjama grimaced in pain after taking a wallop of an Edwin Encarnacion swing off of his left glove hand.
With Mike Zunino already sitting because of stiffness in his side, there was no way Marjama was leaving that game.
“Oh, heck no,” Marjama said. “No. Not at all.
“If it’s dislocated, broken – we’ll tape it to another finger and just get going. So really there was no option, so had to suck it up. It’s part of the game.”
He’s certainly overcome far more than that. Marjama recently opened up about his battle with eating disorders during high school and his path of overcoming that. Now he’s entering his second season in the big leagues after starting one game for the Mariners last year.
The former third baseman, who didn’t start catching until entering the White Sox organization, had been notified just a few hours earlier before Thursday’s game that he’d be starting his first Opening Day of his career. And all Marjama would have to do was catch for Felix Hernandez in front of a regular-season record crowd of 47,149 at Safeco Field against the Cleveland Indians, who won 102 games last season.
The Mariners left with a 2-1 victory thanks to his handling of the pitching staff. Marjama was their unsung hero.
“MVP of the game for me,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Just throwing him out there and handling Felix the way he did and really all the guys out of the bullpen – it was a great night for our pitching staff and I have to give Marjama a ton of credit, especially after he got hit.”
That was in the top of the second inning when his catcher’s interference allowed Encarnacion to take first base.
“Apparently Encarnacion told Felix that he got me pretty good,” Marjama said. “So seeing some of the balls he’s hit in the past … yeah, my hand got hit pretty good.”
Servais said they could have used Zunino in an emergency situation, but they later learned he would need to head to the 10-day disabled list with a strained left oblique, meaning Marjama will be the go-to catcher for a while. Obliques can take from 4-8 weeks typically to recover.
Zunino was orignally in the Mariners’ starting Opening Day lineup until he was scratched late because of that issue with his side, which he first felt during batting practice at Safeco Field on Wednesday. That allowed Marjama to start.
The Mariners also could have called on utility player Andrew Romine on Thursday, who played all nine positions in one game for the Tigers last season.
But there was Marjama, catching for Hernandez after having only previously caught a couple of bullpen sessions for him. And then he caught hard-throwing right-hander Dan Altavilla in the sixth before lefty Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent, Juan Nicasio and finally 99-mph throwing closer Edwin Diaz.
So if that hand wasn’t hurting much after taking that Encarnacion swing, it had to be feeling something on the Mariners’ off day on Friday.
“No, I was not the third catcher,” dead-panned Servais, a former big-league catcher. “I was a little scared of where we were going to go at that point. But he really gutted it out for us.”
The Mariners’ concern with Marjama during the spring was being able to adjust to their different pitchers with different styles. He seemed to handle that well on Thursday.
“That is extremely difficult,” Zunino said. “What it does is speak to his work ethic he put in during the spring. Obviously, he’s – in the realm of catchers he’s relatively new to this. We had this conversation in the spring that it’s only been a few years for him. So for him to be able to do that … his willingness to learn is his biggest asset.”
But in all the pomp and circumstance and electricity of Opening Day, Marjama said he was never nervous, even after Servais informed him he’d start while Marjama was working in the bullpen with Mike Leake and Hisashi Iwakuma.
Maybe most telling of that was when Marjama approached the mound in the ninth inning to calm Diaz down after he hit back-to-back batters with one out. Never mind some of the nerves Marjama had to have been feeling, himself.
“You grow up watching Felix pitch on TV and do his opening games,” Marjama said. “And for me to be a part of that and have the best seat in the house and really be a part of history and watch him – he threw the ball so well tonight. I am truly honored to have this opportunity, and I’ve been training 28 years of my life for this opportunity.
“So in my mind there was no pressure. None of that. Really just excitement. And this will go down, at least for now, as the best day of my baseball career.”
And that’s a long way from junior high, when he said he first began to develop an eating disorder.
He wanted to look good for girls, so he said he figured he needed six-pack abs and the best way to accomplish that was eating less and working out more.
Then eating even less and working out even more. Marjama said that during on Thanksgiving dinner he ate just a few baby carrots and almonds, avoiding the rest of the elaborate spread of food. He said he had to leave on a stretcher once and be taken to the emergency room in an ambulance after losing 14 pounds in three days.
“That was going to get me really, really jacked,” he said in a short documentary for LeBron James’ “Uninterrupted.” “I was going to have no fat, be really muscular. I was going to be a man.”
He has since said he wants to use his platform to raise awareness for eating disorders, especially fighting the stigma that it’s not masculine for men who struggle with it to talk about it.
And he said he began to change once he started thinking more positively.
“For the longest time I was like, ‘If I don’t get to the big leagues, I’m a failure,’ ” Marjama said. “Finally I got to the point where it was like, ‘If I never get to the big leagues, that’s fine. I gave it my best shot.’ ”
And Thursday he got to finally live out that big-league Opening Day dream – while also making the most of it.
“I don’t know if I would say I ever imagined that, ever,” Marjama said. “But now that it’s something that I’m very blessed and fortunate to be in this position – and I guess that maybe some of the games coming up wont’ be as stressful as this one.
“But it was a lot of fun, and I’ve been training my whole life for this opportunity.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677