By Shannon Drayer
As the Mariners hit the road, I think they will be happy to have the Oakland A's in their rearview mirror for at least a couple of weeks. Six out of their first 11 games have come against last year's division winner, and while the Mariners showed that they can stay with the A's, they haven't quite taken the next step and come up with the W's.
While it is not particularly disturbing to see them lose challenging games against the reigning AL West champs, it would be nice to see them win a few of the games that are supposed to be tough matchups, especially games that their pitchers give them a chance to win.
This week the Mariners have the opportunity to regain some ground, though. While I am not one to make too much out of any series (particularly this time of the year), this next series is an opportunity I would like to see them take advantage of and hit Texas while they are down. The Rangers rotation is in shambles right now and Adrian Beltre was put on the DL Sunday morning. The Mariners will face their ace Yu Darvish, but they will counter with Felix that day. With any luck the Mariners will face Hector Noesi at some point, who Seattle traded to Texas Saturday for cash or a player to be named later. Let's see how the bats fare against a pitching staff that is not wearing green.
I am not panicked about what we saw, or more precisely what we didn't see from the offense this weekend. It is still too early to worry much. A few bad games in April are magnified by lack of total at-bats – for example, Justin Smoak went from hitting .300/.600/.1000 to .220/.304/.742 in four days. We've seen good, we've seen bad, now let's wait and see what we see over the next couple of weeks.
One concern I have about the upcoming road trip is the bullpen. Felix will give you innings, but with James Paxton on the DL there is uncertainty with the rest of the rotation. Erasmo Ramirez has struggled in his last two outings. Roenis Elias has been held to five innings in each of his first two starts. Chris Young got through six scoreless innings and thankfully will not pitch in Texas, where his fly-ball outs would have the potential to go for runs. Recent call-up Blake Beavan is a huge question mark – he was not good against Texas last year but has had some success against the Rangers before that. He has a comfort level pitching in Texas just miles away from where he grew up, but does that add up to more than five innings pitched on Tuesday? Let's hope so, because with no off day until a week from Thursday they really can't afford too many short starts. We should see a good amount of bullpen this week but hopefully it will be in managed situations and not mop up duty. Something to keep an eye on.
• Taijuan Walker will get the start Tuesday for the Rainiers in Tacoma.
• Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to throw another bullpen on Tuesday and most likely will face hitters this week in a simulated game situation.
• Plenty of talk about the catch-transfer rule in the clubhouse and coaches rooms, and I have yet to find a fan of it. Willie Bloomquist talked about the confusion they are now facing with the new rule.
"How do you know whether or not to take the chance and go to the next base if he drops it like that or not?" he asked. "You don't know if you do take the chance and go and they say, 'No, rule it a catch,' and they double you up at first. If you go back to first and they rule it a catch you are out at second. Hopefully we change it back to the way it was. Right now it is one of those sticky situations. You really don't know what to do. There's really no right thing to do."
Lloyd McClendon is also not a fan and has the same concerns for his base runners that Bloomquist described. McClendon and the coaches have instructed the players to watch the umpire, which is an adjustment as they have always watched the play in front of them. The play is nothing until it is called by the umpire, and according to McClendon they have been about 50/50 in the timeliness of making those calls. This is pretty much a huge mess. While the intent has been to play the season out with the new rules and then review, I have to wonder if an adjustment will be made sooner.
• McClendon is also beginning to sour on replay in general.
"I'm as frustrated as the next person," he said in his pregame media session Sunday morning. "You try to be politically correct with your statements but I'm really worried about where we're headed with replay and the effect it is having on the games and the effect it is having on the fans. Hell, I don't even know what to celebrate anymore. You don't know what's going to be challenged. For me, I think it is slowing down the game a little. I've been trying to be a fan of it. I initially thought it was going to be good for the game but I'm not so sure. I'm really not."
• Last but not least, I asked McClendon why he didn't pinch hit Corey Hart in the ninth inning Saturday night. He said he debated using him but decided against it because it was a cold night and Hart had battled back problems in spring training.
"If it were summer I would have had no problem going to him in that situation," he said.