April 2009

It will be day to remember

Junior home run.JPG

There are certain games that are a “must-see” and today’s home opener against the Angels is one of them.

Safeco Field will be packed and thousands of television sets around the Northwest will be tuned to FSN for the home opener, which features the return of Ken Griffey, Jr.

When I asked him the other day in Oakland if he would discuss today’s game, he politely said he wouldn’t, and when I asked him if it was because he didn’t want this day to be all about him and not so much about his 24 teammates, he smiled.

That would be a “yes”.

In the 21 years that I have known him, Junior never has been all that excited about talking about himself. He would be more available to the media after tough losses than big wins, especially if a teammate played a big role in the win. He would take on the tougher questions following a loss.

The photo at the top of this blog shows Griffey approaching home plate and then-Reds teammate Adam Dunn after hitting a home run against Mariners right-hander Miguel Batista in the finale of a three-game Interleague Play series in June 2007.

That was his most recent home run at Safeco Field, but this much you can probably count on: there surely will be more, perhaps even one today, which would be the 400th of his career while wearing a Mariners uniform.

This should be quite and afternoon and early evening at Safeco Field.

Enjoy.

— Jim Street

Balentien sits, but hes OK

Right fielder Wladimir Balentien is not in the starting lineup for today’s series finale against the Athletics, but it has nothing to do with his left wrist.

Balentien suffered a slight sprain trying to make a diving catch on a ball Athletics shortstop Orlando Cabrera hit in the first inning on Saturday.

The wrist was still a little sore this morning, but Balentien said he was available for pinch-running and defensive duty if needed.

He was reminded by several teammates that he came out of the play fortunate. He could have been injured the same way Mike Morse was a year ago when he tried to making a diving catch in right field, injured his shoulder so bad that he needed surgery that caused him to miss the remainder of the season.

“I was lucky,” Balentien said.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre told me during the final week of Spring Training that this team would be better than many expected and he’s right on so far. More than anything, the attitude inside the clubhouse and dugout are 180 degrees different than a year ago.

If it’s possible for players from so many countries to mesh, this could be the team.

Third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo mentioned the other day in Minneapolis that the difference between this April and last September is amazing. “Everyone is pulling for each other in the dugout and you never saw that (last year),” he said.

“If a guy has a great inning, guys on the bench are patting him on the back, and if he had a tough inning, he might get the same – with a hug thrown in,” Tuiasosop said. “On the bench, we’re talking about the game. That didn’t happen last September, either.”

The Mariners, who entered the season on a 13-game road losing streak, are assured of coming back to Seattle with a winning record.

— Jim Street

Triunfel breaks leg

Minor League infielder Carlos Triunfel, rated in the top of five among Mariners prospects, is expected to miss about eight weeks of the regular season with a broken tibia in his left leg.

The 19-year-old from Puerto Rico was injured while sliding into second base on Friday night trying to break up a double play in Double-A West Tennessee’s Southern League game against Montgomery.

He was taken from the stadium to a hospital and listed in “good condition” according to the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser.

Triunfel, the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League last year, was signed by the Mariners in 2006 as a non-drafted player.

— Jim Street

Joh sits, Johnson plays

Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima was out of the lineup for today’s series finale against the Twins, but it had nothing to do with the two changeups he called for during Wednesday night’s one-run loss. The game plan all along was to start Rob Johnson.

Even so, manager Don Wakamatsu was not pleased with his first-string catcher calling for a Carlos Silva’s “third-best” pitch in the 6-5 loss.

The manager had a post-game meeting with Johjima and Silva to discuss the pitches that turned into a pair of two-run home runs.

“Believe me, as a former catcher, I don’t sit back there and say ‘that was a stupid call’,” Wakamatsu said this morning. “I was not trying to single anybody out, but it was getting down to what we need to do. We’re not pointing fingers. What we’re saying is what happened is not acceptable.”

While it might hurt a player’s ego to have his manager offer some critical comments, the Mariners new regime, including Wakamatsu and general manager Jack Zduriencik, seems to undertand that accountability is important — something the most recent regime never understood, or practiced.

To that, I say, “It’s about time.”

Wakamatsu had other things to say on the subject, which should be available any moment at mariners.com.

— Jim Street

Cedeno gets first start

The lineups for tonight’s game have been posted and there is one change for the Mariners.

Ronny Cedeno, who had a solid Spring Training and earned a spot on the 25-man roster as a utility infielder, will start in left field. Endy Chavez moves to right field.

“As we go forward and guys step up, or have some struggles, maybe a set lineup will emerge,” manager Don Wakamatsu said, “but right now, it’s important to give everyone an opportunity and not have them sit for four days.

Backup catcher Rob Johnson and third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo are the only position players that have not appeared in this series.

 

It will be interesting to see how the team reacts to Tuesday night’s stunning loss. Just one out away from a 5-3 victory, the Mariners ended up losing the game, 6-5, on three walks, an infield single and solid single to center field.

Manager Don Wakamatsu says he has confidence in closer Brandon Morrow, who retired the first two batters he faced and then walked the next three. The Twins sent up a bevy of left-handed hitters, including pinch-hitters Jason Kubel and Brian Buscher, and the Mariners couldn’t bring in a lefty reliever because there aren’t any.

The Mariners lineup:

1. Endy Chavez, RF.

2. Franklin Gutierrez, CF.

3. Ken Griffey Jr., DH.

4. Adrian Beltre, 3B.

5. Russell Branyan, 1B.

6. Jose Lopez, 2B.

7. Kenji Johjima, C.

8. Ronny Cedeno, LF.

9. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

— Jim Street

Mailbag coming back with new name

I probably mentioned this a few weeks ago — the brain is a bit fuzzy — but the Mariners Mailbag is making a comeback, but under a different name.

It is now being called the Inbox and all you blog readers can email your source for Mariners information to my MLB account, which is: Jim.Street@mlb.com.

I am not sure how often the Inbox will run, but it probably depends on how many really good questions are submitted. Make sure you include your name and the city you live in.

Venting is not recommended, but if you must….

So send in the questions and I will do my best to answer them.

— Jim Street

Rookie tradition returns

The pink backpacks are  back.

Rookie relievers Chris Jakubauskas and Shawn Kelley are toting them around, keeping them filled with snacks and things.

Kelley said he keeps his backpack filled with healthy foods, while Jakubauskas has a backpack full of candy or other high-sugar snacks.

The pink backpacks have become something of a tradition, starting several years ago, I believe, when cluhouse prankster Eddie Guardado was around.

Speaking of Kelley and Jakubauskas, they have changed numbers. Jak, who was No. 71 during Spring Training, is now wearing No. 41. “It worked well for Tom Seaver”, he said.

Kelley, No. 66 in camp, now has No. 23 on the back of his jersey.

“They wouldn’t give me No. 24,” he said, smiling.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him No. 23 was worn a few years ago by Scott Speizio.

— Jim Street

A tad chilly in Twin Cities

target field.JPG

It is Opening Day here in the Twin Cities, although Opening Night is more like it.

As you can see from the above picture, taken from my really high hotel room, the Twins’ new, outdoor stadium is moving right along. It is supposed to be finished well before the Twins open the 2010 season.

Not that cold weather is a bad thing, but I just came back from a brisk little walk to and from Target (also the name of the new ballyard) to pick up some things. It is very sunny, but my bottom teeth were colliding with my upper teeth. Yes, it is a little chilly here and I can only imagine what it will be like next season when the Twins open their new facility sometime in April. It figures to be a wonderful facility when it is finished and I’m looking forward to seeing my first game there.

In the meantime, the Metrodome will be packed and warm for tonight’s regular season opener between the Mariners and Twins.

It will be the first time left fielder Endy Chavez has played here and he practiced a lot on catching fly balls during yesterday’s workout.

Asked how it went, he said, “You can’t take your eye off the ball once you see it leave the bat or you will lose sight of it.”

The teflon roof happens to be about the same color as a baseball so total concentration is necessary and sometimes even that isn’t enough. It is worse during a day game with a cloudless sky. Maybe it will be cloudy for Thursday afternoon’s series finale.

My most vivid memory of the Metrodome — other than the incredible noise made by the fans during the 1991 World Series — was being in the press box covering the Athletics when Dave Kingman hit a towering popup straight up. The ball went up, up, up — and never came down. It amazingly went into one of the holes in the roof. The Twins catcher and infielders covered their heads with their gloves, not wanting to get hit by a ball they couldn’t see.

The ball was found the following day and as part of the pre-game festivities, was dropped from the roof. Can’t remember if it was actually caught.

Another memory is watching a ball Mark Whiten hit fly, fly away so far that it reached the wall above the football press box in right field, slamming against a curtain that covers the outer wall of the place. I guessed the ball must have traveled at least 500 feet, and I had good eyes back then.

Got off to a bad start yesterday during the workout.

Working on just a few hours of sleep because of my early flight from Las Vegas, On my way to the press box following manager Don Wakamatsu’s pre-workout media session, Outside the  visiting clubhouse I asked the clubhouse attendant if there was any coffee available. He said he had just dumped it out. He went one way, I thought, and I went the other. I walked into the clubhouse to ask for a Diet Coke to sip on while I wrote my stories in the press box — there was nothing available up there except some electricity for my computer, thank goodness. As I started to say, in a kidding way, to another clubhouse attendant, ‘so you dumped the coffee…would it be possible to get a Diet Coke?’…the dude I had just talked to walked through the door behind me and chastised me for “not believing him.” Yikes!

Perhaps the hospitality will be better in the new stadium.

— Jim Street

Ichiro is here — in spirit, at least

As you know, when the Mariners begin the season on Monday night, Ichiro Suzuki won’t be in the lineup. He remains in Peoria recovering from the severe fatigue caused by a bleeding ulcer.

He’s not here, but his jersey is and it will be hanging in the visiting dugout at the Metrodome in every game the right fielder misses — starting on Monday night.

It was something the “team decided”, manager Don Wakamatsu said prior to Sunday afternoon’s workout at the indoor facility.

Ichiro is still expected to rejoin the Mariners in Oakland on Friday, work out with the team during the three-game series, return to Seattle and hopefully miss just the first game of the three-game home series against the Angels.

Also, Wakamatsu announced his starting linuep for Opening Night.

And here it is:

1. Endy Chavez, LF.

2. Franklin Gutierrez, CF.

3. Mike Sweeney, DH.

4. Adrian Beltre, 3B.

5. Ken Griffey Jr., RF.

6. Jose Lopez, 2B.

7. Russell Branyan, 1B.

8. Kenji Johjima, C.

9. Yuniesky Betancourt, SS

P. Felix Hernandez.

— Jim Street

Tui lands spot on Opening Day roster

The Mariners Opening Day roster is set.

There are a couple of surprises, but none bigger than Woodinville’s own Matt Tuiasosopo being on it.

His terrific camp, which actually ended with the Mariners last week in Peoria when he was sent down to Triple-A, had a happy ending as he basically replaces Ichiro Suzuki on the roster.

Without further adieu (I am on a strict deadline) here it is:

Pitchers (12): RH David Aardsma, RH Miguel Batista, LH Erik Bedard, RH Roy Corcoran, RH Felix Hernandez, RH Chris Jakubauskas, RH Shawn Kelley, RH Mark Lowe, RH Brandon Webb, LH Ryan Rowland-Smith, RH Carlos Silva, LH Jarrod Washburn.

Catchers (2): Kenji Johjima, Rob Johnson.

Infielders (7): Adrian Beltre, Yuniesky Betancourt, Russell Branyan, Ronny Cedeno, Jose Lopez, Mike Sweeney, Tuiasosopo.

Outfielders (4): Wladimir Balentien, Endy Chavez, Ken Griffey Jr., Franklin Gutierrez.

The Mariners outrighted pitcher Jesus Delgado to Triple-A Tacoma and re-assigned to the Minor League camp, LH Tyler Johnson, RH Chad Cordero, C Jamie Burke, infielders Chris Burke and Chris Woodward and outfielder Mike Wilson.

The team also officially put Ichiro on the 15-day disabled list.

— Jim Street