By Shannon Drayer

MIAMI – Greetings from a very odd house for baseball. Marlins Park has bright colors, fish swimming around behind home plate and a color of green that I don't believe is in the Crayola box throughout the stadium. It's kind of like the Trop in St. Petersburg with more windows and colors which in retrospect, adds a lot.

There is also a nightclub in left field, which I was told caused problems in the adjacent bullpen until it was moved. Apparently they had to put a flashing light on the phone because no one could hear it. Very different but it makes sense. Safeco Field wouldn't really be a good fit here.

Plenty of news and notes to get to with the big news of the day being that Hisashi Iwakuma had his sim game. He pitched two "innings" and faced Logan Morrison, Stefan Romero and James Jones, who was the only one to get a hit off of him. He threw all of his pitches, including the curve, which he would like to throw more this year. After his 35 pitches and full warmup through on the mound he looked pleased with the effort.

"I'm happy that I am in my shoes right now," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki.

"I felt good in general, first time facing hitters. I was kind of nervous trying to find my balance but I was able to throw strikes so that was good."

Logan Morrison had three at-bats against him and after the first turned to teammates and called the splitter "nasty." He gave the full rundown once he was out of the game.

"His split was pretty good, fastball has life. He threw me one curveball that was really slow and good," he said. "He could probably pitch today in the rotation from what I saw. Just has to continue to build up strength."

If Iwakuma checks out OK tomorrow his next throwing session will be a bullpen here in Miami, and he could then start in a rehab game for Tacoma as soon as Tuesday. After that they will take it game by game, according to manager Lloyd McClendon.

"We have to make sure he is ready to compete with all of his pitches," McClendon said.

As for how many innings he needs to throw, McClendon was not putting a number on that, although he did say that he will need to be able to throw 90 pitches before he rejoins the big club.

On to the game at hand.

Lineup

Almonte 8
Miller 6
Cano 4
Hart 3
Saunders 9
Seager 5
Ackley 7
Zunino 2

Young 1

National League park so Chris Young gets to hit, or hopefully lay down a successful bunt. Talk about a long swing. Corey Hart is in the field on back to back days, not back in right but at first today. This is Justin Smoak's first day off this season.

Notes

• McClendon announced the starter for Sunday and it is indeed Brandon Maurer.

"I think he deserves the opportunity," he said. "He was in consideration in spring training to make this club and I think he deserves the opportunity."

Maurer, who threw 49 pitches in his one and only start in Tacoma, will obviously be on a pitch count, but McClendon wouldn't say how many he would be allowed to throw.

• I asked head trainer Rick Griffin for an update on James Paxton and learned that he isn't throwing yet.

"He's doing everything he needs to do prior to throwing back in Seattle. He won't throw until after the team doctor examines him which will be when we get back on this next home stand and then he will examine him and determine when he can start throwing."

Paxton was placed on the 15-day DL April 9 with the strained lat.

• Last but not least, I ran into a familiar face in the team hotel lobby this morning. Franklin Gutierrez, who lives in the area, was there waiting to see his good friend Felix Hernandez. Franklin said that he was confident he made the right decision in taking the year off, because he realized that he needed both the physical and mental break after fighting to find out what was causing all of his health troubles for almost four years. Now that he's found the right treatment, he said that he is feeling much better and that he hopes to play again some day.

By Shannon Drayer

ARLINGTON, Texas – Major League Baseball announced that Mariners minor-league first baseman Ji-Man Choi has received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for methandienone, a performance-enhancing substance.

The Mariners have released the following statement:

"The Seattle Mariners are disappointed to learn of today's suspension of AAA infielder Ji-Man Choi. The organization fully supports Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program and its efforts to eliminate performance-enhancing substances from our game. Per the Basic Agreement, the Mariners will have no further comment."

Choi will be placed on the restricted list for the duration of the suspension which will open a spot on the Mariners 40-man roster.

By Shannon Drayer

ARLINGTON, Texas – Day games after night games often produce interesting lineups, and today is no exception. In fact, there is a surprise in the lineup.

Just two days after Lloyd McClendon said that he couldn't see putting Corey Hart in the outfield for some time, Hart is in right field. According to McClendon it was Hart's idea to play there, as his two surgically repaired knees have fared well so far. The forearm stiffness is still an issue but it has not affected him at the plate, and Hart would like to get those consistent at-bats. Today the at-bats will come as the right fielder and we shall see what happens.

Lineup

Almonte 8
Miller 6
Cano DH
Hart RF
Seager 5
Franklin 4
Smoak 3
Ackley 7
Buck 2

Ramirez

Robinson Cano is the DH. Why would you take that glove out of the field? Well it gives him a break without having to give him a day off. The preparation is a little less than it would be if he were playing in the field, and then he has the opportunity to get off his feet a bit during the game. Full days off for Cano are a rare thing – he's missed just nine games his entire career. I would imagine we would see a few others get a day off soon. Brad Miller, Abraham Almonte and Justin Smoak have started every game along with Cano.

Notes

• The Mariners still haven't named a starter for Sunday's game in Miami but should do so tomorrow. Brandon Maurer and Anthony Fernandez are the only starters on the 40-man roster that are healthy, and with Fernandez starting for the Rainiers Wednesday night I would have to think that Maurer gets the call. It most likely would be a short outing for Maurer, who has thrown just 8 1/3 innings in four games for the Rainiers. He started the game Tuesday for the Rainiers and went a scheduled two innings, giving up one run on two hits with one walk and three strikeouts. He threw 49 pitches.

• If Maurer gets the start in Miami he most likely will get an at-bat, as pitchers hit in National League parks. That means we will also get to see Chris Young and Roenis Elias swing the bat. At 6-foot-10, Young should be particularly entertaining, although playing the majority of his career in the NL he has swung a bat a few times and owns a .144/.188/.199 line with one home run. Dare to dream, we could see it again.

• A little Felix appreciation here – with last night's performance, Felix now not only leads the league in strikeouts with 39 but is second on the all-time Mariners list to Randy Johnson, who once had 41 in his first four games. Want more? Felix has not allowed a hit to an opponent with a runner in scoring position this season. Not bad.

James Jones is with the club. He was called up yesterday but didn't get into Dallas until 9:30 p.m., so he is at the ballpark for the first time today. He is getting a crash course on the ins and outs of traveling with a big league team. This morning he sent his bags down to the wrong bus so he didn't have his equipment when he got to the park. Mike Zunino lent him some warmup gear, including one of the Mariners "Fat Guys Rake" T-shirts. Kyle Seager wasn't sure Jones, who has one of the lowest body fat percentages in the organization, should be allowed to wear the shirt. His gear eventually arrived and he is available to play wearing jersey No. 99, which is the highest jersey number in club history. Mac Suzuki previously had the highest number with 96.

By Shannon Drayer

ARLINGTON, Texas – Taijuan Walker will be shut down for two weeks after an MRI revealed a right shoulder impingement. Walker was seen by team Dr. Edward Khalfayan. I spoke with general manager Jack Zdurineick Wednesday afternoon and he expressed hope that after two weeks of rehab and treatment Walker would be able to resume his throwing program.

"You have to take the big picture into account," he said. "It's a setback but it is also a part of it. We are hopeful we get him back 100 percent, and it sounds like we will in due time, but we just can't take chances."

Zduriencik went on to say that pulling Walker from his start for Triple-A Tacoma was the right thing to do, and that the 40-man roster will be taken into consideration when choosing a starter for the Mariners on Sunday.

That starter will not be Blake Beavan, as he was put on the 15-day DL with right shoulder tendinitis. James Jones was called up to take his place on the roster, but obviously he will not be making the start Sunday – although he did pitch in college so maybe it is a possibility (no, they are not to that point yet). More likely we will see Brandon Maurer or Anthony Fernandez get the start.

Jones wasn't the only new face in the clubhouse today as Nick Franklin was also called up and in the lineup tonight.

Lineup

Almonte 8
Miller 6
Cano 4
Seager 5
Saunders 9
Franklin DH
Smoak 3
Ackley 7
Zunino 2

Felix

This is a new one. Notice anything? Six of the starting nine (seven of 10 if you count Felix) are completely home grown signed or drafted by the Mariners. Eight of nine have spend time in the Mariners minors. Franklin is at DH tonight and most likely will flip positions with Robinson Cano tomorrow. We may not see Franklin every day, but we most likely will see quite a bit of him. Lloyd McClendon said that he will play some short, third and outfield. Franklin did not play any outfield while with Tacoma and told me that he still doesn't have an outfield glove. He used Michael Saunders' in spring training and will use whatever is available tonight.

"I will go out there with a catcher's glove if it means I get to play," he said.

Notes

• The make-up date for the no-rain rainout in Oakland has been set " it will be made up as part of a doubleheader May 7. The first game will start at 12:37 p.m., and the second will be played 30 minutes after the first ends. According to union rep Charlie Furbush, the Mariners wanted to play the doubleheader on May 6, but the A's, who are off on May 8, wanted a day/night doubleheader. With the doubleheader, the Mariners will now play 17 straight games over a stretch in May.

By Shannon Drayer

Update: It would appear we have a new player in the mix and it will be very interesting to see how he is used. Nick Franklin is on his way to join the team with the corresponding move expected to be Logan Morrison to the DL.

ARLINGTON, Texas – There was no new news about Taijuan Walker after Tuesday's game, and I generally operate under the assumption that no news is no news. We should know more on Wednesday.

To add to the bad shoulder news day, Blake Beavan was not able to get loose during the Mariners' 5-0 loss to the Rangers and had to exit after the fourth inning. Again, we should know more about his condition Wednesday but he was hopeful that with some treatment over the next few days he will be able to make the Sunday start. Let's hope so because the Mariners don't seem to have any other options on the 40-man roster and few who are not on it.

My best guess would be if Beavan can't go we could see James Gillheeney added to the roster for the start. Gillheeney got the emergency start in Tacoma tonight and threw five innings of one-run ball.

Moving on from the pitching update. During Lloyd McClendon's pre-game meeting with the media I asked him a number of questions about the lineup, starting with why Dustin Ackley was sitting for the second time in three days. With Ackley actually hitting lefties better than righties so far this season, I didn't think this was a match-up thing. I'm not convinced it was despite the answer McClendon gave me.

"I just woke up and said I'm not going to play him against this guy, that's all," he answered.

He then went on to point out that the Mariners were in a long stretch of games and that he saw this as the only opportunity to get him a break. Still odd considering that he didn't play Sunday. It turns out we could see this a little more than we are accustomed to. On Monday, McClendon said that he believed one of the reasons why Kyle Seager struggled in the second half of last year was because he played too much. He started in 160 games that year. This year McClendon would like to see him in around 150. Ackley falls into the same category.

"If we're going to be a productive team, we'd like to see those guys go 150, 155, until they get to the point where they've matured physically and they got those man muscles. I think that's just the smart thing to do," McClendon said.

There is something else McClendon would like to do to help take care of some of his younger players. With Ackley and Mike Zunino – who he said he believes will be a run producer for this club – he plans to keep them low in the batting order.

"I don't foresee that (moving Zunino up) happening this year, and I think the same for Ackley as well," he said. "I think both of those guys will be real, real good players in the big leagues and I think both of them are going to be capable of producing runs, but I like where they are right now. We just need to let them mature, let them play a little bit and have some success."

I am going to guess a lot of you are not going to like this approach, but think about it. Think about what we have seen the last three years. We have seen lineups so devoid of any dependable run producers that the manager at the time would feel forced to go with the hot hand regardless of experience.

McClendon is a hitting coach at heart. That hat was not left in Detroit. He still thinks like a hitting coach and in his mind it would appear that the right thing to do with some of his young hitters is put them in one place and let them worry about that and that only.

It's kind of like telling Ackley at the beginning of spring that he would play only left field. He could have been an option in center but McClendon wanted him to have one focus and to know that is all he would have to worry about this year.

With Zunino, he has so much on his plate in handling the pitching staff and learning the league, so why not take the pressure off and keep him low? Especially since you have older young players and veterans who were brought in to handle the middle of the order.

You may wonder why are Abraham Almonte and Brad Miller at the top of the order then, since they have less experience than Ackley. I think the simple answer is they profile better in those roles.

Almonte has the skills to be a leadoff hitter – can he step up in the role? He's being given the opportunity. Miller has speed and is more of an aggressive hitter who should be able to handle the demands at two. I think McClendon ultimately believes that Ackley will perform better in a role where he doesn't have to execute situationally as much. I think he would rather see him swing the bat.

The Ackley at the top of the order in 2012 experiment didn't go well. In 440 PA's he hit .233/.296/.355 as the leadoff hitter and .215/.284/.289 hitting second in 148 PAs. The success that he had last year came with the majority of his at bats coming at 7,8,9 in the order. One thing to keep in mind is there are no guarantees that Ackley and Zunino will hit the same in different spots in the order.

The hitter in the lineup with the least experience is carrying some of the loftier expectations from the skipper. Stefen Romero has all of 16 big league plate appearances yet McClendon has hit him fifth. How is he different from the others?

"I look at his numbers in the minor leagues, and he's proven that he can drive in runs and I think when he's given ample opportunities, I think he's going to be a big-time run producer," McClendon said. "And I think he's more than just a utility player. As we sit now, the way our club is designed right now, people are going to have to pick and choose their spots and I think this guy has got a very high ceiling, and I think he's got a great chance at being a really good player."

Not the easiest thing to do – be a rookie who is thrust into an important part of the lineup – but McClendon has been keeping a close eye on Romero and believes he can handle it.

"It's the hardest job in baseball. It's hard from a mental standpoint. And I'm constantly talking to him and encouraging him, making sure he understands where he is and why he's where he is right now and just to keep grinding it out," he said.

McClendon was very clear on his thinking behind the lineups we have seen and could see in the future. That doesn't mean that we absolutely won't see a hitter moved up or down. In the end it is his lineup to do with what he feels is right for both the game at hand and the long-term future or development of the players in that lineup. If he makes changes it will be because he's the manager.

Or as he put it, "Because I have got the pencil."

By Shannon Drayer

ARLINGTON, Texas – This is not the word we wanted to hear from Tacoma: Taijuan Walker was scratched from his start after not being able to get loose in his warm-up. He complained of stiffness in his right shoulder and will be re-evaluated tomorrow.

The Mariners shut Walker down for a week after an episode of shoulder soreness during spring training. An MRI revealed inflammation in the bursa but no structural damage. Until today he had reported no soreness or setbacks since resuming throwing, and he had shown his regular velocity in rehab starts.

While the immediate reaction will be to say that this is exactly what happened with Danny Hultzen last year, I would refrain from making any such assessments until we hear what the actual diagnosis is. There is no telling exactly what this is at this point.

Before today's game in Texas, Lloyd McClendon would not fully commit to Blake Beavan getting another start, but he did say that if all went well he most likely would get one more. I think this had more to do with wanting to keep Walker out of a National League park where he would have to hit than perhaps knowing that there could be a problem with Walker.

So Beavan is on the hill tonight where hopefully we will see something that looks a little more like the Beavan we saw two years ago and less like the Beavan we saw last year, who somehow managed to incorporate a Texas two-step into his delivery. He has focused on getting back to his original delivery and adding a cutter and gave up just three runs in his two starts with Tacoma.

Lineup

Almonte 8
Miller 6
Cano 4
Hart DH
Romero 9
Seager 5
Smoak 3
Bloomquist 7
Zunino 2

Beavan

Note

Hisashi Iwakuma threw a 52-pitch bullpen today and mixed in his splitter. Pitching coach Rick Waits was pleased with what he saw.

"He's ready for a game," he said, meaning a sim game.

That sim game will take place Friday in Miami. He is scheduled to throw a full warm-up and then 50-55 pitches to hitters.

By Shannon Drayer

Arlington, Texas – Mariners open a four-game series here in Texas where it is unseasonably cold and ridiculously windy. We will see if that has an impact on tonight's game. Wind is blowing out to right on top of the stadium but the wind tends to circle in the stadium so it is tough to tell how that will play tonight. Let's get straight to the lineups because they are interesting.

Mariners

Almonte 8
Miller 6
Cano 4
Hart DH
Morrison 9
Seager 5
Smoak 3
Ackley 7
Zunino 2

Rangers

Choo 7
Andrus 6
Rios 9
Fielder 3
Kouzmanoff 5
Choice DH
Arencibia 2
Martin 8
Wilson 4

Start with the Rangers lineup. Really? Sure, Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder are in it, but does that look like a Texas lineup to you? Not quite the top to bottom firepower they have had in the past. With Colby Lewis making his season debut the Mariners could have an opportunity to do some damage. Let's see if the bats break out away from Oakland pitching.

Lloyd McClendon has moved Justin Smoak down in the order and moved Corey Hart to the position he originally envisioned him residing at behind Robinson Cano. Hart has battled different aches and pains as well as his swing, but McClendon believes he is ready to be put back into the cleanup spot.

"I think he's probably there now," he said in his pregame meeting with the media. "From a physical standpoint I think he's feeling pretty good."

Now that doesn't mean we will see him paroling right field on an everyday basis anytime soon. McClendon said that his main goal with Hart was to keep him healthy and his concern was how his knees would react to the stopping and starting required of an outfielder.

As for the other moves in the lineup McClendon said it was time to shake things up.

"Maybe get a little bit more power down low in the lineup. Try to get a little bit more balance. Just tinkering a little bit. We got shutout, we scored one run two days ago," he said.

One question that has been asked quite a bit on Twitter and in the comment section of the blog is why not move Dustin Ackley (.308 average) up in the order? McClendon hasn't been asked that question but it is a topic that we addressed on the roundtable segment of the pregame show. Mike Blowers had some insight on why you wouldn't move Ackley quite yet.

"I think it's a couple things," he said. "One, it takes pressure off of him. For example, if he were hitting second like Miller is, maybe Dustin would try to do things differently because of that. I think the other part of it is when you're down at the bottom of the order, there's a tendency for the pitcher to let up a little bit, maybe make a few more mistakes. But I think the biggest change with Dustin is it's freed him up to just go and hack and I think that's when he's at his best. I think if he's not worried about moving a runner over, trying to work counts, do all these different things that are required in different parts of the lineup, and he's just free to go be himself, you're going to get the production.

"From talking to him, even in the spring, he made some comments that I thought were perfect, and that is just not worrying about the results anymore and getting your swings in. I think being at the bottom of the lineup is probably a good idea. I don't think that's a place where he's going to stay, but I think for now it's a great idea. And it seems to be working great. Because with Brad hitting second, he's not going to change his game right now, he's going to be aggressive and he probably will be that way for his entire career – and that's okay. It works right now."

Notes

Hisashi Iwakuma is scheduled to throw his simulated game Saturday in Miami. He will throw 45 pitches to hitters and, if all goes well, will most likely be sent out on a rehab assignment when the team returns from its road trip.

• The Mariners are dodging Adrian Beltre, who is on the DL with a mild quad strain, on this trip, but will probably see him in the next home stand. Beltre is eligible to come off the DL April 21 and was on the field before the game running the stadium and doing agility drills.

• If you tune into the radio broadcasts for this series you will hear a new voice. With Dave Sims taking the series off, Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith will trade off calling the games with Mike Blowers on ROOT Sports, and former Mariner and current Rangers analyst Mark McClemore will join us on radio. He will pair with Goldsmith today and tomorrow and Rizzs on Wednesday and Thursday.

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.

Notes

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.

Next »


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