The two-week odyssey of the Seattle Mariners prior to their April 13 home-opener has been a traveling act with some pretty exotic sideshows. If commencing with a pair against Oakland in Tokyo was the featured attraction of the early 2012 road show, another act from Japan promised to take center stage when the M’s met the Rangers in Texas Monday (April 9).
The game was supposed to be mostly about Yu Darvish, the lanky pitcher Texas brought over from Japan. During the first inning, when the M’s picked up four runs and, with a single swing, could’ve had four more on the way to losing 11-5, instead of a hurling Darvish they saw something more akin, control-wise, to a whirling dervish.
With seemingly half of North Texas gathered to worship the purported mound marvel, Darvish repeatedly missed the strike zone. He needed 42 pitches just to get out of the first inning. Indeed, before the first frame came to a close, the Rangers actually had back-up workers bustling in the bullpen.
These, of course, are the Texas Rangers, as potent a power contingent as the, well, ’97 M’s. During their half of the first, the Rangers exploited a Brendan Ryan throwing error to pick up a pair of small-ball runs. They took an 8-5 lead in the fourth. In the end, they had four home runs (one more than Seattle has amassed during the first five games) and would’ve triumphed 12-5 had the home-plate umpire not missed a call.
The M’s had strutted into Arlington with a 3-1 record. With another three in Texas before their, er, Friday the 13th arrival at Safeco Field, members of the Mariners organization must be aware that the realities of the new campaign are setting in.
Hector Noesi knows. The righty who came to Seattle in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade himself required 32 serves to get out of the first inning. He left in the third with a Jeff Weaver-like earned-run average of 21.
To their credit, the M’s continue to hit much better than they did last year. Five games isn’t much of a sampling for extrapolating through September. It’s worth observing so far, though, that Kyle Seager could be the team’s most promising pure hitter since the arrival of Ichiro in 2001. Seager, who stormed through the M’s minor-league organization last season, finished up 2011 hitting .258 in 53 games. The average may not seem like much but, within the context of the weak-hitting team around him, Seager looked like a star.
“Look” is the key word. At 24, Seager comes to the plate with the poise of a grizzled veteran. He seems to see the ball with great clarity, lashing line drives to all fields and, this season, nearly always putting the ball in play. Through April 9 he’d only whiffed once in 16 at-bats.
It’s also apparent that he plays third base like a seasoned pro. His tosses across the diamond have the velocity of throws by the Rangers’ defensive great Adrian Beltre, an ex-Mariner.
Seager hasn’t yet shown the power to be a traditional five-hole hitter. Field boss Eric Wedge might be advised to try moving Dustin Ackley to the five position and have Seager bat second.
The M’s, in any case, were to be tested during the second and third games of the Rangers series if only by sending pitchers Blake Beavan and Kevin Millwood out against the Texas power lineup for their first starts of the season. Jason Vargas’s gets his third try of the year on Thursday.
The Friday home opener features Felix Hernandez facing the Oakland A’s, a team that, while overly familiar after Seattle’s early four games with the division rival, might be considered a welcome opponent after what could be a messy set with Texas.