After a seven-game road trip to open the season, the Mariners (3-4) will play their next 10 in Seattle, giving them plenty of opportunity to test out their remodeled ballpark.
“We’re excited to get home after being on the road for two months,” said Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik on KIRO Radio Seattle’s Morning News.
While there will be plenty of attention placed on the new video board that has been proclaimed to be the largest in baseball, most of the focus will be on the new dimensions of the playing field. Once considered one of the most unfriendly hitters’ parks in baseball, the Mariners made drastic changes to the outfield in an effort to make the park fair to both hitters and pitchers.
The fences were brought in between 4 and 17 feet depending on the area of the outfield. The right field wall was not touched, but the extensive changes begin in right center field and stretch all the way into the left field corner.
The changes would seem to certainly benefit Seattle’s offense. The Mariners hit an AL-worst 56 homers at home last season, but were tied for sixth in all of baseball with 93 homers on the road.
“The fences coming in doesn’t mean we’re going to hit more home runs than any other team,” Zduriencik said. “That wasn’t the reason for it. The reason for it was we felt was the psychological aspect of playing in a pitcher’s park 81 times a year. Watching our kids go through that, and talking to players who have been here in the past, and their feelings about the ballpark. We wanted to create a fair ballpark. It’s been well-publicized.”
In Monday night’s home opener, the Mariners face new AL West foe Houston and Philip Humber, who threw a perfect game in his last visit to Safeco Field a year ago.
Through the first week of the season, the Mariners have shown that their offseason moves to bolster the offense should be able to take advantage of the smaller dimensions.
No one has gotten off to a quicker start than Michael Morse, in his second stint with the organization. Morse has five homers, with four coming in Seattle’s opening series against Oakland. He became the first Mariner to have four homers through the first four games of a season since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997.
“I think guys are just playing their game. I don’t think anybody is playing over their abilities,” Morse said. “Guys are comfortable up there. We had a good spring, and I think it carried over. We’re just playing, and playing good baseball.”
The Mariners had no luck against Humber (0-1, 1.59 ERA) last April 21, as he retired all 27 batters he faced in a 4-0 victory for the Chicago White Sox. Little went right for Humber over the rest of 2012, but the right-hander pitched well in his season debut, allowing a run and five hits in 5 2-3 innings in Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to Texas.
The Mariners counter with Joe Saunders (0-1, 9.00), who will make his Seattle home debut and hopes to fare better than he did for most of the spring and in his first start Wednesday in Oakland. The left-hander was knocked around for four runs and seven hits in just four innings after a spring in which he gave up 20 hits and 15 earned runs in 11 2-3 innings.
“There’s a little excitement for sure. There’s only one home opener a year. It definitely will be exciting. Should be a good atmosphere. I’m looking forward to it,” Saunders said. “Anytime you have a sellout crowd it definitely jazzes you up.
“You get the adrenaline flowing and you want to go out there and show them what you can do with a good performance and give them something to cheer about. Hopefully we play well. It should be a lot of fun.”
Facing Houston should help Saunders bounce back.
The Astros (1-5) have plated nine runs and are batting .183 during a five-game losing streak. They’ve already totaled 74 strikeouts, the most through the first six games of a season since 1921.
“You’ve got to have a short-term memory,” said Chris Carter, who has accounted for 11 strikeouts. “Just play day-to-day and not dwell on what happened last game.”
Houston, which took two of three in its only trip to Seattle in 2004, embarks on a nine-game road trip against division opponents.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” first-year manager Bo Porter said. “This business is major league baseball. The schedule that we have is the schedule that we’re going to play.”
Zduriencik told Seattle’s Morning News regardless of the Astros’ record, they’re not counting on an easy game.
“Anytime you go on a field, the game is played between the white lines so that’s where the decisions and that’s where outcomes come from.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.