Edwin Diaz looked more like Fernando Rodney Thursday night, but he managed to get a strange save to cap an almost-perfect 2-1 Mariners’ victory in their first game of the season.
I thought James Paxton should have been the opening night starter. I didn’t think Felix Hernandez would be ready after throwing only five innings in Cactus League play. And even if he had thrown more innings, I still would have thought Paxton deserved the first start because he’s the best starter on the team.
But I was clearly wrong about that. I went from hoping that Felix wouldn’t be knocked out in the first inning to seeing him dominate, limiting a good Indians lineup to just two hits in 5 1/3 innings. If he can keep this up, the Mariners just might have four reliable starters, and then you can have your pick of a fifth starter, Ariel Miranda or Erasmo Ramirez. Later this season you might be able to throw Hisashi Iwakuma in the mix too.
You saw it – Felix was fantastic, and it was even more surprising since he was working with backup catcher Mike Marjama, pressed into action when Mike Zunino came down with a sore side from practice on Thursday. I would have thought that might have thrown Felix off, but it didn’t. Marjama hung in there after getting whacked on his glove hand by Edwin Encarnacion, who was awarded first base after catcher’s interference. For a minute there, Andrew Romine must have thought he was about to be summoned as the emergency catcher.
I didn’t see any negatives in the season opener, just quibbles, such as Dee Gordon getting a late jump on a pop-up that resulted in Cleveland’s only run. But that was his first regular season game as a center fielder, and I don’t think it’s a sign of things to come. I have a feeling that by next month, he won’t be getting bad jumps on balls anymore.
And there was Diaz with his Rodney-like ninth, featuring two hit batters, a balk and three strikeouts. I think we’ll see more outings like this – he’s an emotional kid with wild tendencies but electric stuff to compensate.
Pitching-wise, this was the kind of game we’ll see a lot of this year – relatively short outings by the starters followed by a parade of relievers. Thursday night Dan Altavilla, Mark Rzepczynski, Nick Vincent, Juan Nicasio and Diaz came through the way they were supposed to. Next to Diaz, Vincent was the shakiest, allowing one run, but he was the most consistent pitcher out of the pen last year until overuse reduced his effectiveness.
Hitting-wise, you couldn’t expect more than you got against 2017 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. The Mariners made a two-run homer in the first by Nelson Cruz hold up against a formidable lineup. I told my kids this morning that the Mariners might have a better lineup than the Indians, and Mikey said, “You’re trippin’,” while Stevie agreed. It’s at least debatable, which is encouraging.
I forgot to mention another possible quibble and that’s Ichiro. He went 0 for 2, bouncing out to first and striking out before being replaced for defensive purposes by Guillermo Heredia in the eighth. Ever think you’d see the day that Ichiro would be replaced for defensive purposes? Me neither, but he’s 44 and looks it to me.
I think he’s done, and you know what that means given my track record on opinions and predictions? He’ll go on to hit .330 this year and lead the Mariners to the playoffs while returning to the All-Star Game.
In the meantime, I want to see more of Heredia and less of Ichiro in left field, even if Guillermo had a bad at-bat Thursday night, striking out on three pitches.
As weird as it is to have a day off in the middle of a series, at least we’ll get more time than usual to enjoy what happened in the opener. We saw enough to make us think this season could be different than the last 17.