A lot to like from Felix Hernandez, Mariners in opener
By Shannon Drayer
Anaheim, Calif. – A quick and friendly reminder: Now that the regular season has begun I have more radio duties and less time for writing. There will still be plenty of daily posts and news will always be updated, but what there won’t be is a lot of stories right after games. While the others who cover the team are writing after the game I am doing a postgame show. If you want my thoughts on a game right afterward that’s where they can be found, so tune in. Heck, give us a call and share your thoughts as well.
So with that all said, some quick thoughts from the Mariners’ opener:
After allowing an early home run, Felix Hernandez went into what the Angels’ Mike Trout called “nasty mode”. (AP)
It is so interesting how we watch a game these days. It used to be we actually watched the game. Like, really watched the game. No laptop with access to information about absolutely anything that might pop into our heads and distract us. No access to gameday and pitch trackers. And no Twitter.
I would like to say that I was amused by some of the early comments that came across like “Same old Mariners” and whatnot, but really I found it annoying. I am not saying I know what will happen with this team but I am fairly confident it can’t be forecast from three innings of one game. This is a different team from last year and the years before that and sure, there is an ugly history for the better part of a decade to contend with here, but I assure you that is not on the minds of the 25 in that dugout. They are fighting to separate themselves from that.
This spring I saw so many things that were different, both with new faces and their influences to those who have been around for a few years that I think there is a chance that we see something different. We have to give them time to settle in and show what they are in the regular season, however.
Will they score 10 runs every night like they did in the opener? Probably not. But it was sure fun to watch for one night. Some things worth noting as well. First and foremost, I like what we saw from Felix Hernandez. Never mind the home run he gave up to Mike Trout. It was Mike Trout. When you have best against best, sometimes the other guy is going to win. Appreciate the battle; Felix won most of them last night. The pitch was not terrible. It was in, a little up, but not terrible.
Don’t try telling that to Felix, however. For him it was not what he wanted and it got crushed. But after that something happened.
“He flipped the switch and went into nasty mode,” Trout told the media after the game.
That he did. And he wasn’t terrible before, but he took it to that other level. He was angry. He had been waiting for this moment all spring long. He wanted to set the tone and this was not the tone he wanted set. It was a wakeup call and he answered it. Pitches got nastier, so nasty they beat up his catcher, bruises Felix apologized for but Mike Zunino was more than happy to take.
His velocity was up. We saw 94 mph fastballs and 92 mph sinkers. Nasty. He allowed just two hits in the 23 at-bats after the Trout home run and despite a 30-pitch third inning appeared to come back for the fourth inning stronger. Felix pitched six innings, gave up just four hits and struck out 11, the most strikeouts ever against the Angels on opening day.
This was good Felix. Very good Felix. Felix to get excited about. He has said all spring that he feels stronger. His arm feels better than last year. He believes he is going to have a big year and last night was the start.
It was interesting to see what manager Lloyd McClendon did with the bullpen in his first game. He had a pen and he was going to use it, going with matchups as soon as Felix came out. A wrench was thrown into his plan courtesy of Trout, who hit a liner off the leg of Charlie Furbush that forced him out of the game. Runners on first and second and in comes Tom Wilhelmsen right into the fire to face Albert Pujols. With Wilhelmsen I am going to have to take it game to game, at least for a little while, but there was no sign of shaky Tom last night. He got a line drive from Pujols then pitched a clean eighth inning. More good.
And then there was the offense. Ten runs scored and not a single RBI for Robinson Cano. Crazy. They started slow with a Michael Saunders sacrifice fly scoring the first run and finished loud with a Dustin Ackley bases-clearing triple and three-run Justin Smoak bomb. Smoak and Ackley were responsible for six of the runs. The two guys the Mariners need to have breakthrough did for one night.
So much good. There was a handful of no so good, too. Ackley misplayed a ball in the outfield. Kyle Seager committed an error. Logan Morrison struck out three times and was thrown out at home after being waved around third by Rich Donnelly. Abraham Almonte was caught stealing. None of those miscues derailed the team for the rest of the game, however.
Strong Felix, steady Tom, Ackley and Smoak stepping up and one huge offensive two-out explosion in the sixth made for a very good night for the Mariners. Tonight they face a lefty. Let’s see if they have made progress in that department.