By Brady Henderson

Highlights from Shannon Drayer's first live Mariners chat of the 2014 season:

Mark H. asked how long the Mariners would need to sustain their hot start for fans to believe in their chances of contending.

Drayer: Obviously we need more time. Guys are going to have ups and downs. One of the biggest things we are seeing, however, isn't just numbers but good situational hitting and that is something that was sorely missing last year and not always dependent on hits.

Ted B asked whether the Mariners are finally seeing a breakthrough with Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley or if it's too early to tell.

Drayer: Small sample but I liked what I saw from Ackley in particular this spring. The goofy swing that he brought to camp last year is gone, his confidence is back, and he appears stronger, too. I think Smoak will continue to be a work in progress but I think they will get more out of him than in years past. Those swings at his size are tough to maintain.

Mike asked the Mariners might call up infielder Nick Franklin from Triple-A Tacoma if Logan Morrison and/or Kyle Seager continue to struggle offensively.

Drayer: Both players will be given a good amount of time to settle in. Seager probably more so than Morrison, and he will get more at-bats anyway because he isn't currently sharing a position. Keep an eye on where they play Franklin, however. That will be a good indicator of what we could see.

Ryan H asked whether trading Franklin is still a possibility for the Mariners and which position they would look to improve if they did.

Drayer: Sure, but they are not going to give him up for anything less than what they want. I think if he is traded it will be as a part of a bigger deal, not a one-for-one. I am not so worried about the bullpen. Dominic Leone and Carson Smith are good depth (even though Leone is up now). Area of need is still outfield.

Ross asked whether James Paxton or Taijuan Walker will have a better season.

Shannon Drayer: Two different players completely. I have written quite often that Paxton appears to be more a finished product at this point. It's all come together for him. Walker reminds me more of Felix Hernandez when he was first called up. Crazy talent but work to be done and continued learning at the Major-League level that needs to happen.

Will L. asked what the Mariners have in store for Jesus Montero, who is currently playing first base in Tacoma.

Drayer: Montero has one job right now and that is to be a big right-handed bat. If he can do that he can hit his way back onto this club assuming they still need one. If not I would think we see them try to further develop him as a first baseman and trade him.

Bob asked whether Corey Hart can recover from his slow start.

Drayer: I think you just have to give him time. He's not completely comfortable at the plate yet. He knows how the swing should feel and what he should be feeling. Manager Lloyd McClendon believes he is getting close and we have seen a few decent swings. It's a process, especially when you have missed a year and then had your spring training interrupted multiple times by dings and dents. The knees do not appear to be a problem.

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The Mariners are 4-2 and alone in first place in the division after their first road trip of the season. (AP)

By Shannon Drayer

SEATTLE, Wash. – Yes. Seattle. It is great to be home after being away for all but three days since Feb. 17. I am not complaining by any means. Covering spring training is a great, if not exhausting assignment with long days and few days off. It is where you learn the most about the team you cover.

Despite the time spent in Arizona we still leave with a ton of questions every year. The first being: what did it all mean? What did a month and a half of what we saw day-in and day-out in Arizona actually mean in relation to what we will see the next six months? You you simply don't know at that point. There are some general assessments you can make but until you get into regular-season games – games that count, games where the focus for each one isn't working on something or taking a look at somebody or trying something out, but winning – you just don't know.

That's what makes the first week so interesting. You have ideas of what they could be as individuals or a team but you don't know. Whereas in June you may be able to predict with a good level of certainty what is going to happen in certain situations, the first weeks bring surprises. This year was no different. Some quick thoughts:

The Mariners should be 5-1. Okay, we don't know that for sure. The Mariners did not play flawless baseball Thursday in Oakland but I am fairly confident that they played better baseball than the A's and far better baseball than what home-plate umpire Sean Barber was seeing in his little world behind the plate that night. It is what it is. It happens in the sport of baseball, which is far from perfect. You have to move on from it. What I take away from it, however, is the Mariners were really only outperformed by their opponent in one game this trip. It doesn't count as a "W", but it is still a good thing.

The starting pitching has the ability to keep them afloat until Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker return. This is actually not a revelation to me. I have been saying it all spring but I will say it again. I don't think most realized how good James Paxton was or that he even had a spot in the rotation locked up coming into camp. Everyone else not named Felix Hernandez is a question mark but question marks with the ability to do good things. We know what Erasmo Ramirez is at his best and we know what he is at his worst. We saw both in a span of a week. We know that Roenis Elias has good stuff. We saw him battle a patient lineup with a umpire having a bad night and keep his cool enough to show that stuff for five innings. I feel confident that Chris Young has the ability to keep this team in games on most days. There most likely is more upside but we haven't had a good chance to see it yet.

The fear heading into the season was that the rotation was a disaster. The closest thing to a disaster we saw came Sunday in Oakland where Ramirez had to be lifted from the game in the fifth inning. One week in and the bullpen has yet to be taxed. Never mind the 1.62 ERA the starters took into Sunday's game. Will we see that next week? Probably not, but if you split the difference between that and complete disaster I think they will be okay until the reinforcements arrive. Which brings up something else of interest to watch. Who gets the permanent No. 3 spot in the rotation? We will be watching a month long audition until Hisashi Iwakuma comes back between Ramirez, Elias and Young. The rest will be depth. Hey! Where did that come from?

They brought the bats with them from Arizona. This is the biggest surprise for me. Not because I didn't think they would but because I knew there was a good possibility they wouldn't. I know better than to put any faith in spring numbers for hitters. You can get an idea of what they could do by focusing on the final 10 days of spring training, but there are still no guarantees. It is just a different ballgame once the season begins.

Put aside the individual performances and I think we see something even more encouraging. This team is putting up good at-bat after good at-bat. They are making pitchers work with no starter going more than 6 1/3 innings against them so far. Their walk rate is a healthy 9.1 percent, which is top 10, and they are fourth in swinging at strikes in the strike zone, 24th at swinging outside the strike zone. Now the bad news here is their contact rates aren't great but when they don't miss their pitch they have been doing damage with some of the best power numbers in baseball.

McClendon's in charge. There is probably no one I watched closer than the skipper this spring and first week. While the manager can't go out and get a hit for the team I do believe that with a young group at such a pivotal time for both the franchise and a number of individuals, the manager takes a bigger role. He has set a tone and an interesting one at that. One of the most curious things for me this spring was to watch the workouts, which started earlier and were more intense than anything I can remember, and to have a competitive camp with positions to be earned or lost, yet have every player I talked to tell me it was a loose camp. For some reason the players were more relaxed. McClendon said on a number of occasions heading into the camp that he thought the players needed to relax a bit and this was accomplished, but not at the expense of work or intensity. He achieved a good balance and I think he did it by establishing individual relationships early, being clear in his direction and then getting out of the way and letting them do their work and come together in the clubhouse.

Now that the season has started we have seen McClendon's impact in a number of ways. We have seen hit and runs. We have seen steals called from the bench (not a lot of green lights with this group) we saw a pickoff move called and executed beautifully by Joe Beimel. I have seen conversations with Abraham Almonte, whose talent needs to be harnessed carefully. We have seen McClendon make trips to the mound to focus pitchers, not take them out.

McClendon has come into the season with his ideas of what roles and lineups will be and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts. We have already seen one move with Hector Noesi designated for assignment. It will be interesting to see how he balances the right field/designated hitter mix and bullpen roles.

This group has come together. This is pure observation, I can't put any numbers on this but this group is together. The mix feels right. Robinson Cano is a huge part of this and no doubt you saw it on TV in the first week. Justin Smoak running to him after his first home run and Cano playfully telling him he was done teaching him anything. Cano making trips to the mound in tough situations, grabbing the rosin bag, uttering a quick word and running back to his spot. Cano in the dugout talking with Elias during his first start and taking him to dinner two nights before that start.

I saw a hitter talking to a pitcher about what he saw on a pitch that got hit and following each game in Oakland I saw pretty much the entire team sitting around two tables eating their postgame meals and talking about the game. You don't seem to have different corners of the clubhouse that might be a concern. Everybody seems to be on the same page. No one seems to be wrapped up in an individual struggle. For lack of a better word they just seem together as a group. This is how McClendon has them.

"Commitment, accountability and responsibility. That encompasses a lot of things," he said. "From being early instead of being on time to taking care of your teammates and being responsible for each other. If you try to live inside that circle, I think it takes care of everything."

By 710Sports.com staff

With the Mariners' home opener tonight, Shannon Drayer will host a live chat at 12:30.

By Shannon Drayer

OAKLAND, Calif. – Michael Saunders is making his second start in right field. I have received a number of emails, tweets and comments asking why we haven't seen more Saunders early on. If you were paying attention in spring training this shouldn't be a surprise. Abraham Almonte is clearly the center fielder for now and with Corey Hart not ready to play in the outfield, the Mariners were taking good looks at others during the spring. Saunders, Stefen Romero and Logan Morrison have all received two starts in right so far. It has been a juggling act for manager Lloyd McClendon.

"Michael's a tremendous defensive outfielder who can play all three," McClendon said Sunday morning. "There's a certain comfort with having him in the outfield. I would be lying to you if I said if I had a chance to DH Morrison or Hart and play Michael in the outfield I would rather do it the other way around. Obviously it gives us the best defensive outfield to have him out there. To this point everything has worked pretty nicely for us."

McClendon is basically sacrificing defense for offense when Saunders is not out there and he knows it. It is not uncommon to see teams do this with one of the corner outfield positions. The commitments have been made to keep Dustin Ackley in left and Almonte in center unless they show they can't handle it. So far so good with both. Almonte I think has shown he is better in center than expected and Ackley is improving. So the sacrifice is made in right when Saunders sits and so far the team has yet to be burned by it. It should be pointed out that McClendon has been quick to go to Saunders as a defensive replacement in games he did not start. This has worked out well for everyone, including Morrison, who saw Saunders make a tough play in right on the first ball put in play after he replaced him.

"He did great," McClendon said of Morrison's play in right. "He was excited to come out, too. When Saunders caught that ball he said, 'That was one hell of a move, Skip.' "

Lineup!

Abraham Almonte, 8
Brad Miller, 6
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, 3
Logan Morrison, DH
Kyle Seager, 5
Dustin Ackley, 7
Michael Saunders, 9
Mike Zunino, 2

Erasmo Ramirez

McClendon is still taking things slow with Hart, who is not in the lineup today. Hart is still experiencing pain in his biceps when he swings the bat and with the off day Monday this was a good opportunity give him extra time to help quiet the issue. McClendon is encouraged by what he has seen at the plate from Hart.

"I think the light is starting to flick a little bit," he said. "I can see the hands start to quicken up, he's starting to recognize breaking balls better."

Notes

• Tuesday's Mariners home opener is a virtual sellout with only scattered single tickets remaining. Any tickets that are returned to the box office will be available at Mariners.com.

• Big day for DJ Peterson, who picked up Baseball America Prospect Hitter of the Day honors Saturday as he went 4 for 4 with two doubles and three RBIs for the High Desert Mavericks.

• Heading into today's game, the Mariners were tied for second in the Majors with 22 extra-base hits. Justin Smoak is tied for the American-League lead in RBIs with seven.

By Shannon Drayer

Oakland, Calif. – The Mariners game against the A's has been postponed due to poor field conditions that were due to the A's failing to tarp the field overnight. We can't make these things up.

Lloyd McClendon and Jack Zduriencik took a walk out to inspect the field along with the umpires and Oakland manager Bob Melvin at about 6:45 p.m. Shortly after 7 word began to circulate that the game had been canceled.

"It was very soft. That's probably the worst conditions I've seen in all my years in baseball. It was not safe for the players," McClendon said.

Apparently it wasn't safe for the manager either.

"I was walking toward shortstop and my ankle turned and went down I'd say probably two inches," he said.

No doubt you wouldn't want to see your new $240 million second baseman play on that.

Per union rules the decision on whether or not to play one or two games Saturday was made by the players. The teams will stick to the original schedule and make up Friday's game later this season, most likely in May. Felix Hernandez will start Saturday's game as originally scheduled.

One of the reasons I heard that they did not want to play the double header is there was concern the field conditions could worsen if they played back to back games. According to both McClendon and Jack Zduriencik there is a chance that the field may not be ready for Saturday's game. I would be very surprised if this were the case but we shall see.

By Shannon Drayer

OAKLAND, Calif. – There was a new face in the Mariners clubhouse Friday afternoon, as Dominc Leone joined the club. He takes the place of Hector Noesi, who was DFA'd earlier in the day.

Leone and Carson Smith both impressed the coaches this spring, and it was little surprise that it was one of the two who got the call when Noesi was cut. Leone arrived in the clubhouse from Tacoma at about 4:30 p.m. and said that he would be available if needed tonight. He won't be – the game was postponed due to field conditions.

Leone has an interesting story that I never got to during the spring. Drafted in the 16th round of the 2012 draft out of Clemson (where he was a teammate of Brad Miller), he came to the organization as a starter and was quickly converted to reliever. In the pen he saw his velocity take a dramatic jump. The fastball now clocks at 96-97 MPH and he possess a vicious cutter that has topped out at 94. Surprising velocity from a guy who is listed at 5-foot-11 and a generous 210 pounds.

Leone credits coaching and better mechanics with the increased velocity. As for the cutter, well, YouTube is responsible for that.

"After a few rough starts my junior year I thought I needed to change things up. I need to get these hitters off-balance," he said. "I was watching YouTube and saw a couple of cutter videos, you know Mariano Rivera. I always knew it was a good pitch. I kept trying to develop it on my own and when I got to Everett it really took off."

In two minor league seasons Leone has combined to go 4-3 with 21 saves and a 1.95 ERA. Last fall he led the Arizona Fall League with six saves, along with a 3.00 ERA, 15 strikeouts and one walk.

While he is replacing Noesi on the roster, he will not necessarily be assuming his role. Lloyd McClendon said he would not be afraid to use him in "impactful situations."

Lineup

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

Young

Notes

Hisashi Iwakuma threw from flat ground again today and should throw next on Sunday. He is still on schedule to throw his first bullpen sometime next week.

Taijuan Walker gets his first rehab start tonight with High Desert.

• While the line for Stephen Pryor's first appearance did not look good (0.2 IP, 2H, R, HR, BB, K), McClendon said reports were that he threw well with the fastball topping out at 95 MPH.

By Shannon Drayer

OAKLAND, Calif. – Before the Mariners game against Oakland Thursday night, manager Lloyd McClendon was asked for his thoughts on the team's "hot" three-game start. McClendon shrugged and said: "Like I told the players, you gotta turn the page. I don't think Oakland gives a (expletive) what we did."

He then added: "At some point we are going to have to win a game 3-2."

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M's catcher Mike Zunino was visibly frustrated with home-plate umpire Sean Barber's strike zone. (AP)
And they are still going to have to win a 3-2 game at some point as it didn't happen last night. No, the A's came out on top of a frustrating, 12-inning contest at the lovely O.co Coliseum.

I don't think I would be going out on a limb to say that was the worst called game I have ever seen in the big leagues. Perfect pitches were being called balls. No part of the zone was exempt from being called a ball. Top of the zone, left, right, bottom, middle – all was fair game. It was ridiculous to the point of one fateful curveball to Nick Punto being so obvious that the pitcher, catcher and hitter all started to head for their dugouts only to have to return after a ball was called. It was unbelievably bad, but no excuse, according to McClendon.

"The fact is we didn't execute on several fronts and we walked guys. I don't use that type of stuff as an excuse. We just didn't play good," he said.

True, there were miscues, an episode of bad base running, Abraham Almonte getting caught in between on a ball that led to a run, and 10 walks. That said, some of those walks were far from deserved. For catcher Mike Zunino, it was a long night as he tried to keep his pitchers focused while dealing with an unpredictable strike zone.

"Obviously I think there was a couple of really good pitches that he didn't think were strikes," Zunino said. "I'm protecting our pitchers and I wanted to get every pitch we could from our relievers and I thought it was a decent pitch, but he thought otherwise. I'm just protecting my guys and I just want to get all of the strike calls I can get."

Zunino knew better than to talk about the curve to Punto, but it was clear he was still bothered by that call after the game. It was even more clear during the game as Zunino could be seen having words with umpire Sean Barber, who is a fill-in ump from Triple-A. At one point he even turned and faced the umpire while addressing a call, a no-no in baseball. Zunino knows this and usually has a great relationship with the umpires from what I have heard. He knows the importance of the catcher's communication with the umpires and it no doubt would take a lot for him to show that kind of breach of etiquette.

The ball and strike calls were not the only issue with the umpiring. A lengthy, umpire-called review of a play at the plate – not to judge if the runner was out or safe but whether Zunino was blocking the plate, which he clearly wasn't – cost the Mariners an inning from their starter Roenis Elias, who after a nervous start had settled down and retired 10 in a row before the awful Punto call.

"It was unfortunate his pitch count got up and we got that big delay and he couldn't go back out there. It baffled me because my catcher was in fair territory the whole time until he got the ball," McClendon said. "I was not going to send him back out there at that point. That was a very unfortunate incident in a lot of different ways. One that I felt was not supposed to happen, where the team was supposed to stay on the field and you have got your pitcher sitting over there for almost 5 minutes. To me, that is not acceptable, and we have got to get that straight."

A tough, frustrating loss for the team from which McClendon will want to see lessons learned but quickly put behind them. We have seen this group win and we have now seen them lose. On Friday we will see how they bounce back.

By Shannon Drayer

OAKLAND, Calif. – Greetings from the O.co Coliseum, otherwise known as the "Jewel of the American League." The elevators are working and the sewage is staying where it is supposed to stay, so I guess you could say we are off to a great start here.

Roenis Elias makes his big-league debut tonight, having bypassed Triple-A. I have heard some criticize the Mariners for the move, citing Brandon Maurer's lack of success making the jump last year. I think it is ridiculous to lump all pitchers together like that. Each is different. Each reacts differently. You never know what will happen the first time under the big lights. It is different. The field is the same, the batter is the same distance away, but the quality of hitter you are facing is obviously better and the stakes are higher. It is an adjustment and how a young pitcher handles it plays into their chances for success.

Along those lines I think Elias will be fine. Manager Lloyd McClendon has pointed out that to live through what Elias has lived through – escaping Cuba and basically hiding out in Mexico for the chance to play baseball – big-league pressure should pale in comparison. Elias has appeared calm and confident the entire spring and has had his eyes wide open. I have seen him asking Felix Hernandez questions and running stairs and warning tracks with Yoervis Medina, who was taken under Oliver Perez's wing last year.

For him I think the biggest hurdle will be the pitches. Is the curveball as big league as it appeared in spring? Can he keep his command and walks down with hitters that will be more selective? We will get our first look soon.

Lineup!

Abraham Almonte, 8
Brad Miller, 6
Robinson Cano, 4
Justin Smoak, 3
Corey Hart, DH
Kyle Seager, 5
Logan Morrison, 9
Dustin Ackley, 7
Mike Zunino, 2

Roenis Elias

Logan Morrison is making his first start in right tonight. Ever. Or at least in the big leagues. I talked to him briefly before the game and he said he wasn't too worried about it. He actually did play left here at O.co in interleague play and said it reminded him of Sun Life Stadium in Miami, also a football stadium. During batting practice he received a little extra work as outfield coach Andy Van Slyke stood at second base and hit balls to him in right for about 15 minutes. Good to see.

Note

• How good has James Paxton been? Well, according to Elias (the stat company, not Roenis), Paxton is only the second pitcher in MLB history to go 4-0 or 5-0 in his first five games, all starts, with an ERA under 1.25. In 1946 Boo Ferriss of the Red Sox won his first five starts while putting up a 0.60 ERA.

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