As a grumpy, cynical Mariners fan, I was excited for last night’s home opener, but worried that last weeks drubbing of the Angels was merely a mirage. It didn’t help much when the World Champion Seahawks were on the field flaunting their hardware, or that starting pitcher James Paxton barfed up three runs to the Halos in the first inning. All I could tell myself was that rookie pitchers will have rookie pitcher days, ones that don’t look so good.
Even as I thought it, Paxton settled down and retired the next 13 batters, striking out four. As good as Paxton began to look, there was still the matter of the three-run hole the team found itself in. When Brad Miller reached on a strikeout/wild pitch in the third inning, and Robinson Cano walked, I saw it as a sign. The Justin Smoak, who looked so good in Anaheim, but was 0 for Oakland, singled home Miller.
The big news of the game, however came in the form of the man who followed Smoak, Cory Hart. I confess I’ve been really down on Hart. Power right handers simply don’t do that well in Safeco Field. He’s seemed so busted up with the knee and arm problems he’s had. So when he planted Hector Santiago’s 0-2 pitch over the bullpen and into the left-field seats with a towering mortar shot, I was impressed. When he followed it in the seventh with a line drive over the center-field wall I was doubly impressed. Seattle hasn’t had a great right handed power hitter since the first couple years of Richie Sexson’s bloated contract. Maybe Hart can be that guy. Sexson was a big guy at 6’6″ 205 lbs., but Hart is even bigger at the same height and 25 lbs. heavier. It takes a big man to blast homers out to left with regularity. Just one game, but it was encouraging to see.
Equally impressive was the performance of the bullpen. Though Medina and Farquhar each walked one batter, there was no flirtation with disaster until Ferndando Rodney came in for the ninth inning. When he walked Pujols and Freese to start the ninth, Rodney seemed to kick it in to another gear, staying consistently in the strike zone to dispatch Stewart, Kendrick, and Ibanez.
Of course the bad news is the injury to James Paxton. Given the severity of Steven Pryor’s lat issues, they will doubtless be conservative and give him time to mend–assuming this isn’t a tear. With two big holes already in the rotation with Walker and Iwakuma out, it will be interesting to see what measures they have to take. Chris Young will doubtless fill one of the starts, and it’s possible Walker will return in time to take the next. Or we could see that Beaven guy again. Gulp.