Seattle Mariners

A's, Astros and Rangers await: Mariners return home to begin no-joke AL West play

Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki warms up before a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki warms up before a baseball game against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner) AP Photo

Out of the first 10 games and into the fire.

The Mariners on Friday began their foray into the American League West Division starting with a three-game series against the Oakland Athletics, which begins a streak of 10 games against division foes. They finish the homestand with four games against the reigning World Series-champion Houston Astros before heading out to Texas for a three-game series against the Rangers.

It's a reminder that at 6-4, which is the Mariners' best 10-game start since 2013, a bigger test is coming.

“Our division is very competitive,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Friday, not wanting to take the bait on where it ranks among the most competitive divisions in baseball.

“I haven’t really changed my thoughts any different right now than it was when I came into spring training. I knew it was going to be a good division this year.”

But since spring training there’s been a Shohei Ohtani craze around the Angels. And for good reason: The Babe Ruth of Japan went from looking like a player bound for the minor leagues because of his spring struggles to looking like a frontrunner to AL MVP.

He’s 2-0 with 18 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched (2.08 ERA) as a pitcher and in seven games at the plate he had hit three home runs, was batting .346 (9-for-26) and had the speed to cruise into a triple on Thursday.

The Angels are No. 1 as a team in baseball in runs scored, home runs and RBIs after 14 games. The Mariners do catch a break; they won't face the Angels until May 4.

Of more current concern are the Astros, who've started 9-4. The Mariners aren’t considering this series with the Athletics to be any sort of warm-up, though they’ve won the season series against Oakland each of the past five seasons.

Servais pointed to the A’s young talent, specifically referencing third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson – and strong finish to the 2017 season. The A's went 36-37 in the second half of last season.

“Oakland is much better,” Servais said. “They have some young players that really did some things offensively. Certainly in the second half of last season. They’re a different team than what we’ve seen in the past. We saw that a little bit in spring training.

“So right now we’re just going to focus on Oakland and we’ll worry about Houston here a little bit later.”

Cruz ready?

Nelson Cruz called Servais’ at home on Friday before Servais had a chance to submit his lineup for the day.

Cruz has been on the 10-day disabled list after spraining his ankle after slipping on the dugout step. But he's feeling better, if that call is any indication.

“Very sternly he said he was ready to go,” Servais said. “I said, ‘Let’s see you get out here today and let you run around a little bit.’ … I wanted to see him run the bases a little.”

Cruz did so fairly gingerly, but Servais said they expect to insert him back into their lineup at designated hitter on Saturday. Cruz hit two home runs in his two games played.

“He’s not at 100 percent yet, but we need him in the lineup,” Servais said. “So as soon as we can we’ll get him in there.”

And to account for that slick dugout step, Servais said the Mariners added a long-time coming tacky surface to the top of it. So no more slipping and turning ankles, he hopes.

"Hopefully that doesn’t happen again," he said.

The Mariners have backed off some on outfielder Ben Gamel (strained oblique). They gave him a day off in his rehab assignment on Wednesday before he was Triple-A Tacoma’s DH in Fresno on Thursday. The optimistic outlook was to have him available Friday (for Ben Gamel cap night at Safeco Field, no less).

“We’re optimistic he might be back with us during the weekend series here,” Servais said. “Gamel physically is ready to go. We just want to give him at-bats. He did not have a spring training.”

And first baseman Ryon Healy (ankle) is progressing faster than the original 2-3 week timeline on him, Servais said. Healy was placed on the DL on April 8.

Catcher Mike Zunino (oblique) took batting practice at Safeco on Friday and Servais said they’d like to get him a couple of rehab starts in the minor leagues before bringing him back to Seattle – optimistically before the end of this seven-game homestand.

On tap

Left-hander Marco Gonzales (1-1, 7.27 ERA) hopes to bounce back from a rough start in Kansas City. The Gonzaga University graduate will be opposed by Athletics RHP Kendall Graveman (0-2, 9.45 ERA) in the 6:10 p.m. game Saturday.

The game will be televised on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677