O’Neil: Three things we learned from the Mariners’ opening series
It started with a strain.
It unfortunately included a sprain.
There were also two hit bats-men, three one-run games and a weekend with an awful lot to like for the Seattle Mariners as they won two of three games against a Cleveland team that finished with 102 victories last season, most in the American League.
Three things we learned
1. Robinson Cano has the quietest fast start in baseball.
Cano’s hitting tear to start the season has gone largely unrecognized, which is weird because he’s probably the most decorated Mariner and the highest-paid. He’s got six hits in his 10 at-bats, including two doubles. His leadoff double in the eighth inning of Saturday’s loss will be forgotten because he was left stranded, but it shouldn’t be. That was a double off Cleveland All-Star Andrew Miller, whose effectiveness against lefties is almost criminal. I don’t think there’s anybody in the game who can rival the number of different swings Cano is able to use, depending upon what he’s looking for, and he remains the smoothest man in baseball if not the world in general. Who else has a ground ball ricochet off the heel of his glove, pop up into the air so he can catch it bare-handed and fire a strike to first base? He’s even smooth when he complains, putting an arm around home-plate umpire Jim Wolf as he disputed a fifth-inning strikeout Sunday.
2. James Paxton can’t start in a hole.
The biggest disappointment from Seattle’s season-opening series – other than the injuries – was the six runs Paxton allowed in a start where he didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. The problem: Paxton didn’t throw a first-pitch strike to any of the first six batters he faced in the game. That helps explain the two walks he gave up to load the bases, and when he served up a middle-in fastball to Yonder Alonso after falling behind 1-0, well, Alonso crushed that pitch for a grand slam. To say that accuracy was the problem isn’t accurate. Of the 29 pitches Paxton threw in the first inning, 16 were for strikes (55.2 percent), which is not significantly different from the rest of the game. Of the 75 pitches he threw in the second through the fifth, 44 were for strikes (58.7 percent).
3. Never doubt Ichiro.
People were questioning his defense after a particularly difficult inning in spring training, and by people, I mean me. I was questioning him. Between his difficulty on two fly balls to left field and an alarmingly high number of strikeouts during the team’s final week in Peoria, I worried that his comeback would be over before it began. That was especially true once Seattle signed veteran slugger Jayson Werth to a minor league deal. Well all Ichiro did on Saturday was go and make the best catch of the weekend for Seattle, timing his leap perfectly to catch Jose Ramirez’s fly ball just before it cleared the left-field fence. He threw in a couple of singles for good measure on Saturday, showing that reports of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. By me. My bad.