Seattle Mariners

What did we learn from Mariners' first week?

Ichiro’s robbing catch just a routine play by his standards

Mariner's icon Ichiro Suzuki showed a bit of his old self Saturday when he pulled a Jose Ramirez home run back from over the fence. Highlights courtesy of Root Sports
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Mariner's icon Ichiro Suzuki showed a bit of his old self Saturday when he pulled a Jose Ramirez home run back from over the fence. Highlights courtesy of Root Sports

Going 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position is not going to fly for the Mariners.

Not like that bald eagle did before their game against the Twins at Target field, anyway, confusing James Paxton for an actual big maple during the pre-game national anthem.

“First time I’ve had one try to land on me,” Paxton said. “So that was interesting.”

Interesting day, indeed, for the left-hander.

Those pregame hijinks overshadowed the game that followed, especially with the Mariners succumbing to the Fernando Rodney experience in the ninth inning after leaving 11 runners on base and going 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position in the 4-2 loss – squandering a bounce-back start from Paxton.

That was after going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position in a 10-1 loss to the Giants on Wednesday.

“Some guys early in the season are trying to do too much and put too much pressure on themselves,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “The pressure is on the pitcher.

“We got good offense and for the most part guys are swinging the bat pretty well. We just got to execute with runners on.”

It started fine for the Mariners. They had a 2-0 lead through the first inning thanks to hot-hitting Daniel Vogelbach’s RBI single,

Then the game turned for their offense. Back-to-back singles to start the second inning, but no runs. One out, runners at first and second in the third inning – still no more runs. Same scenario in the fifth, but slow-starting Ryon Healy grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Then their best chance in the seventh inning: Jean Segura reached third on Robinson Cano’s single with no outs only for Mitch Haniger to strike out on a sick slider. Then Segura was caught on Kyle Seager’s ensuing fielder’s choice before Vogelbach grounded out. Still no more runs, only this time the Twins had tied it at 2-2.

And then they really made the Mariners pay with Mitch Garver hitting his first big-league home run in the bottom of the seventh against Dan Altavilla. Eddie Rosario followed with an insurance homer in the eighth.

So ended the Mariners’ wild first week of the season, closing it out at 3-3.

And with that, let’s get to three takeaways from the Mariners’ first seven days as they enter their Friday off day:

STAFF ACE?: Is it Felix Hernandez? James Paxton?

If we’re judging by results, Mike Leake and Marco Gonzales had the best outings so far.

There was five-inning shutout Felix on Opening Day, followed by Felix allowing eight runs in four innings in the Bay.

Felix Hernandez pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings in the Mariners' 2-1 win over the Indians. Highlights courtesy of the Mariners.

Paxton, meanwhile, was rocked for six runs in his opener last week (that happened to him only once in 2017), but he recovered mostly on Thursday to allow the two runs, on a two-run Twins home run from Miguel Sano in the sixth inning to chase Paxton after 98 pitches.

“I felt good today,” Paxton said. “The one pitch to Sano was the one that hurt. He hit a pretty good pitch (curveball). It wasn’t a great two-strike pitch but it was down in the zone and he put a good swing on it. He’s a good hitter.

“Today I found my delivery a little bit and some rhythm. … The ball was coming out a lot better, I was moving the fastball around much more and the cutter was a lot better. I started getting the curveball coming around in the fifth and that’s why I felt it was time to start using it as well. That’s why I threw that pitch to Sano because it was feeling good. It wasn’t a terrible pitch. He just hit it.”

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Seattle Mariners' Dee Gordon, right, heads to the dugout after warm ups prior to the Minnesota Twins home opener baseball game Thursday, April 5, 2018, in Minneapolis. Temperatures were in the mid-30's. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

WHO’S HOT?:Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon have hit safely in each of the Mariners’ six games so far, and Mitch Haniger’s five-game hit streak ended, but he still reached base twice in Thursday’s loss.

But there’s no denying Gordon’s impact since the Mariners’ acquired the former Gold Glove second baseman in an offseason trade from the Marlins. He hasn’t been perfect in his transition defensively to center field, but it feels like he’s about as close as you could get. Pretty impressive for someone who had never played a big-league game in the outfield before last week.

“I was excited. It was a 2-2 game against the Cleveland Indians. I was trying to win a ball game. If you’re not excited to win a ball game, you probably shouldn’t be playing.”

Oh, and at the plate he’s hitting .400 so far, with a go-ahead home run to beat the Indians.

The other add to this list is closer Edwin Diaz, who had three saves in the Mariners’ first four games and struck out the first eight batters he saw before a pop out. He’s averaging 24 strikeouts per nine innings. Not bad.

Losing Nelson Cruz (sprained ankle) to the 10-day disabled list was rough, especially with him opening the season with two-run home runs in the first two games. But Haniger has filled in well batting clean-up in his stead and Daniel Vogelbach has carried over the quality at-bats he put together in the spring into the season. He started at DH on Thursday and went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a walk.

The Mariners have said Ryon Healy is their first baseman. But it will be interesting to see how the Mariners handle that roster spot when Cruz returns and they have to add a fifth starting pitcher on Wednesday.

Healytwins.jpg
Seattle Mariners' Ryon Healy, right, kneels as Cleveland Indians catcher Yan Gomes, left, returns the ball after striking out swinging with two men on base to end the eighth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

WHO’S NOT?:Healy has struggled with his timing this first week. He has one hit in his first 18 at-bats and he’s had plenty of chances to drive runners in and not capitalized.

He’s 1-for-11 this season with a runner on base, including going 0-for-3 on Thursday.

But it’s way too early in the season to overreact. Healy hit .271 with 25 home runs for the Athletics last year and he missed much of spring training recovering from surgery on his hand, and defensively it’s clear he’s a plus at first base.

Kyle Seager hasn’t fared much better offensively, sticking true to his slow-start reputation. He’s 3-for-18 (.167) to start the year.

How slow are his starts? Seager is hitting .220 in the months of March/April combined over the past four seasons. But the past three years he has hit .305 in May.

And a third add to this list would be Felix Hernandez, who answered a lot of questions when he tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings on Opening Day before opening all those back up and more when the Giants tagged him for eight runs, though more alarming was his poor command and average fastball velocity of 88.8 mph.

Add Cruz’s bizarre slip in the dugout after his home run, Zunino’s last-swing injury the day before Opening Day, 44-year-old Ichiro' Suzuki's return to Safeco Field (and his incredible home-run robbing catch), freezing temperatures in Minneapolis and the Paxton eagle attack and you have the makings of a pretty wild first week of the season.

Mariner's icon Ichiro Suzuki showed a bit of his old self Saturday when he pulled a Jose Ramirez home run back from over the fence. Highlights courtesy of Root Sports

And over the next week they’ll have two more games against the Twins before a three-game series at Kansas City. They return to Safeco Field after that with a three-game series in their first American League West matchup of the season against the Athletics before hosing four games against the reigning World Series-champion Astros.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
Twitter: @TJCotterill
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