Mike Marjama — injured hand and all — saves opening day for the Mariners
Nelson Cruz hit a two-run home run, Felix Hernandez threw a scoreless outing and Edwin Diaz held off of a veteran Cleveland team in the ninth inning for the save.
But if you ask Mariners manager Scott Servais who stood out to him the most in Seattle’s 2-1 opening night win over the defending AL Central champs, his choice might surprise you. That’s because his choice was probably the last person on the roster anybody expected to make an impact in the first game of the season for the Mariners.
“For what happened before the game today, with Mike Marjama stepping up, second career start – he might have been the MVP of the game for me,” Servais said.
Marjama is the Mariners’ backup catcher, a player who at 28 years old had just five games of MLB experience under his belt and had just made his first opening day roster in the big leagues. He wasn’t originally scheduled to play Thursday night, either, but starting backstop Mike Zunino turned out to be a late scratch due to soreness on his right side that popped up in batting practice the day before.
So in front of a sellout crowd ready to see the return of Ichiro Suzuki and Felix Hernandez’s 10th straight opening day start, it was Marjama who was suddenly thrust into duty to handle Seattle’s pitching staff.
Everything was going right, too – until the second inning, that is, when a swing by Indians slugger Edwin Encarnacion connected not with the ball but with Marjama’s glove hand. Just like that, the Mariners were in a situation no MLB team would envy – their starting catcher unavailable and their backup in noticeable pain on the field.
Marjama collected himself and toughed it out following that catcher’s interference, remaining in the game through the final out. That means he caught all 5 1/3 scoreless innings pitched by Felix, plus the 2 2/3 frames five different pitchers out of the bullpen threw, with fastballs pounding his already bruised left hand over and over.
“I didn’t have an option. We don’t really have anybody else right now,” Marjama said, adding that he figured utility man Andrew Romine wasn’t in the mood to put on catcher’s gear for just the second time in his career. “If it’s dislocated or broken, we’ll tape it to another finger and just get going. Really it was no option, so suck it up and it’s part of the game and we’ll get going. Won’t be as close next time.”
Scooting back in the catcher’s box seems like a reasonable reaction after a 230-pound, three-time All-Star with 348 career home runs hits your hand with the full swing of a bat.
“Apparently Encarnacion told Felix that he got me pretty good,” Marjama said, “so seeing some of the balls that he’s hit in the past – yeah, my hand got hit pretty good.”
Marjama earned a fan in Hernandez, who was pitching to him in a game for the first time.
“He was good, he did a great job,” Hernandez said. “When he got back behind the plate I was like, ‘He’s a tough guy.’ I was happy for him. But at the beginning I was like, ‘Whoa, we don’t have any more catchers. What’s gonna happen here?’ And then he was fine, and like I said, he did a great job.”
Marjama didn’t do much at the plate, going 0 for 3 with a strikeout against reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (who took a rare complete game loss). But his toughness and performance behind it – not to mention a well-timed visit to the mound to calm down closer Diaz after he hit two batters in the ninth – was much more important than anything he could have done with a bat in his hands.
“Just throwing him right out there and handling Felix the way he did, really all of the guys out of the bullpen – it was a great, great night for our pitching staff, and I gotta give Marjama a ton of credit,” Servais said. “Especially after he got hit with the catcher’s interference, a little scared where we were gonna go at that point, but he really gutted it out for us. Outstanding effort.”
The Mariners have an extra day before they need to figure out their catching situation since both Marjama and Zunino are nursing injuries, but for now Marjama will get to soak in the feeling that comes with a big showing on opening day.
“I’ve been training 28 years of my life for this opportunity, so my mind, there’s no pressure, there’s none of that,” Marjama said. “It’s really just excitement and something that will go down, as of now, really the best day of my baseball career.”