A man out of position at first

Backup catcher Jamie Burke was hardly prepared for what Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu threw at him two hours before Thursday’s game. The manager need Burke to play first base because three infielders — Russell Branyan, Mike Sweeney and Ronny Cedeno — were out with injuries.

Burke gamely made his first career start at first, although it was neither easy nor pretty.

It was neither easy nor pretty for Burke.

The first ball hit to him was a second-inning bouncer by Ben Zobrist to his right that began as an opportunity to start a double play with Pat Burrell on first base. Instead, the ball glanced off the heel of Burke’s glove as he tried to back-hand it. Burke scrambled to retrieve the ball but his throw to first, where pitcher Felix Hernandez was covering, was well off the bag and sailed to the dugout railing.

“I just had that feeling I was going to have to try and turn a double play,” Burke said. “I guess you’ve got to catch the ball first.”

Later in the game, Yuniesky Betancourt made a wide throw to first, causing Burke to dive to his right without success. When Burke successfully fielded a grounder and beat Carlos Pena to the bag in the fourth, the crowd gave him a mock cheer.

“I think I was more pumped up than nervous,” said Burke, who had played parts of only six games at first base in his big league career, the last being Sept. 18, 2008 for the Mariners at Kansas City.

Burke was hardly prepared for this. He didn’t get any time at first base during spring training and didn’t even have his first baseman’s glove with him. Burke borrowed one belonging to Sweeney, and it wasn’t a great fit.

“I made some adjustments and put my fingers in some different holes, which could be construed in a lot of different ways,” Burke said.

Loophole in the tie rule

Leave it to Ken Griffey Jr., who immediately barked at spring training about manager Don Wakamatsu’s requirement that players wear ties on team flights, to get revenge.

When the Mariners’ manager walked onto the plane Thursday night for the flight to Los Angeles, he found everyone wearing a tie as required.

Then he took a closer look.

All of the Mariners were wearing identical ties — with a photo of Wakamatsu prominent on them. Everyone had a good laugh.

Griffey had the ties printed with a photo of Wakamatsu in his Mariners uniform.

Wakamatsu requires the players to wear sportcoats and ties on all trips into an opposing city. When Griffey good-naturedly complained about it at spring training, saying he didn’t even have a tie, Wakamatsu said he would have extras available.

Running against the book

Ichiro Suzuki stirred a lot of what-was-he-thinking comments Wednesday night when he tried to steal second base, even though the Mariners were behind by five runs. He was thrown out easily by Rays catcher Dioner Navarro.

It was a move that goes against baseball’s so-called book of strategy — there’s no need to risk running into an out when there are so many runs to make up.

So what was Ichiro thinking?

“In that situation, he has the green light,” Wakamatsu said. “It was one of those things where the pitcher was extremely slow and then he slide stepped and (Suzuki) got thrown out. I’ve always said, even in spring training, that we’ll make some mistakes aggressively. It might not always look like the smartest thing. But if he gets there, maybe we get a base hit, we score a run and some things start happening.”

Of note

Rob Johnson, who started most of the homestand after Kenji Johjima went on the disabled list, has the lowest catcher’s ERA in the major leagues at 2.45. “He’s done a phenomenal job,” Wakamatsu said. “It’s nice to be able to catch those arms, too.” … The FSN telecast of Thursday’s game went dark for about a half-hour because of a lightning strike at the network’s technical operations facility in Atlanta. FSN replayed the game twice Thursday night. … Pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith will continue his therapy until early next week, then begin a throwing program if there are no complications. He has been on the DL since April 15 because of triceps tendinitis.

Kirby Arnold, Herald Writer

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