PEORIA, Ariz. – The Mariners are now a week away from opening day against the Indians at Safeco Field, and I’m already wrong about two things with this team and not far from three things.
James Paxton should start opening day, but he won’t
Since James Paxton has become the Mariners’ best pitcher, I thought he should start on opening day, but the way the schedule’s laid out this weekend with Felix Hernandez pitching on Saturday and Paxton on Sunday, it’s not going to happen. Felix is set up for four days off. So unless he’s awful on Saturday, he will get the nod.
I don’t get it. He hasn’t been the Felix we knew in his prime for the better part of two years. And then when you factor in that this Saturday’s start will be only his second start this spring against major-league competition because of the forearm bruise he suffered on a line drive in his first start three weeks ago, how does this make sense?
Wait, I know, I’ll answer my own question. Felix is a legend, the face of Mariners’ baseball for the past 10-plus years, and it is desperately important to him and his ego to start opening day for some strange reason. There’s also the fear that his attitude will go south if he doesn’t start on opening day, and you can’t lose Felix if you expect to make the playoffs this year.
I’d argue that if he’s that fragile emotionally, you’re not going to get the best from him anyway. What about giving the ball to Paxton and see if it would light a fire under Felix like it would if he were one of the Seahawks. Pete Carroll’s players concoct reasons to put a chip on their shoulder, and maybe it would motivate Felix if someone once and for all told him that Paxton is better than he is until he proves otherwise.
But I’m not sure why I’m even presenting that case anymore when it’s apparent the King will get the opening day start unless he falls on his face on Saturday.
Daniel Vogelbach has earned a shot
Daniel Vogelbach should be the opening day starter at first base and get the chance to platoon with Ryon Healy this season. Vogelbach is averaging over .400 this spring and has five home runs. Healy has just recently been in the field after having hand surgery, delaying his start to spring training.
Manager Scott Servais said Healy was acquired from Oakland to be the every-day first baseman. That’s fine, but things have changed. He just as easily could have said something along the lines of: “Well, you know, we want to be cautious with Ryon, and the way Vogey has been hitting, we want to give him a chance, and we’ll see how it goes and take it from there.”
But he didn’t. Servais basically said that Healy will be the guy at first base, and if I’m Vogey, I’m thinking: “What more do I have to do to avoid another trip to Tacoma?” I’m also thinking: “Have the Mariners looked at Healy’s stats? Man, he strikes out a lot. I know when you add up his numbers, it looks like he had a pretty good season. But aside from the month of June, he wasn’t good enough to automatically earn that first base job.”
Mariners should have added a younger backup outfielder than Ichiro
I haven’t been a fan of the Ichiro move from day one, and maybe it will still work out. The Mariners needed outfield help after Ben Gamel strained his oblique, and we learned that he’ll be out six to eight weeks. There was good news on the Gamel front Wednesday – he was hitting pain-free off a tee, so maybe he’ll be back sooner than we think.
In the meantime, Servais said Ichiro will play four to five times a week in left field, but I’d rather see Guillermo Heredia out there four to five times a week and Ichiro two to three times a week. Or heck, to be truly honest, I’d rather see Heredia out there six days a week if not seven, and when Guillermo needs a break, give him one with Taylor Motter or Andrew Romine, whichever utility player you keep. I still think the Mariners should have brought in a younger outfielder than Ichiro, who at 44 is a stopgap solution.
Ichiro had to come out of a game last week with a tight calf and returned this week. I saw him doing some stretching exercises pretty close to where we’re doing our show outside the Mariners’ clubhouse, and he looks the same as he did 10 years ago in Seattle aside from the gray head of hair. But Wednesday night against the Brewers, he looked terrible, striking out twice and having a hard time catching up to 87 mph fastballs.
Granted, this is Ichiro we’re talking about, and he hasn’t had much in the way of game action this spring. Servais believe he’ll get his timing down, and there’s reason to believe he will – in his last 100 at-bats last year with the Marlins, he hit close to .300. Still, I just want to leave the past in the past and move on to the future. If I had to bet, I’d bet that Ichiro won’t be on the team by the first of May.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS FROM THREE DAYS IN PEORIA
• It was a pretty big day on Monday when Felix pitched against minor leaguers, making his first start since getting hit by that line drive. But while everyone was gathered around the backstop micro-analyzing Felix, I was talking to Mike Zunino’s wife, Alyssa, and petting their new Australian Shepherd pup, Sadie.
— Jim Moore (@cougsgo) March 19, 2018
Alyssa’s as nice as her husband, who hit three homers against the Brewers Wednesday night and also cranked one in that minor league game on Monday.
“I like dogs more than people,” I told Alyssa.
“Me too,” she said.
• Everyone seems to have some sort of food intolerance or food allergy these days. I know this for a fact because my wife is allergic to bell peppers, and if any of those things show up unannounced on her plate, she has to send it back. I bring this up because Paxton made a change in his diet over the offseason and no longer drinks or eats anything with cow’s milk. He believes it has helped him and hopes it will help contribute to an injury-free season. I asked him if he missed ice cream, and he said he doesn’t because he found a cashew milk ice cream that’s available at QFC.
• I gave Robinson Cano some smoky barbecue sunflower seeds and peppermint-flavored bubble gum on Wednesday when he sat down for an interview. I did the same thing last year and wanted to make it an annual tradition. He thanked me but wondered where the CD was. Last year he said he likes listening to all kinds of music and is open to listening to bands he’s never heard before. So I told him I really liked Skillet, a Christian rock band, and said I’d hand-deliver one of their CDs last season but I never did. I don’t know how he remembered that, but he did, and after we were done with the interview, I went to Amazon.com and ordered Skillet’s “Comatose” CD, and it will get to my house next week, hopefully in time to give it to him on opening day.
• Thank you to the listeners in Vancouver, Wash., who brought me a shot of tequila Wednesday night at Headquarters, a bar across the street from the Mariners’ facility. Didn’t need it, didn’t want it, but wasn’t about to turn it down either. Go Cougs.
• I think I’m going to like backup catcher Mike Marjama. In my first glimpse of him, he was racing around the bases for an inside-the-park homer two weeks ago. Now I learn from T.J. Cotterill’s story in the News Tribune that he’s a substitute teacher in Sacramento in the offseason.
• Servais really does think it’s time to ditch the trident caps the Mariners are wearing this spring. Our digital editor Brent Stecker wrote a story earlier this month about the Curse of the Trident, suggesting that it could be the reason why the Mariners have suffered so many injuries this spring and blaming the trident for other bad things in the past. Servais admits that baseball players are superstitious, and there might be something to this trident curse. He said this stuff BEFORE learning that reliever David Phelps tore his UCL and is out for the season. Don’t automatically dismiss the possibility of a ceremonial trident cap bonfire before the Mariners break camp.