By Janie McCauley Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. — By the time Oakland gets through its first eight games, the Athletics already will have faced Mariners ace Felix Hernandez three times.
It’s a crazy schedule that began with these two clubs facing off in their first two games last week in Japan, with each winning once — including “King Felix’s” Game 1 victory at the Tokyo Dome.
Now, the AL West rivals resume their season-opening series stateside — albeit eight days later. It’s a nontraditional two-game series today and Saturday. Then, the two teams meet again in Seattle next weekend for a three-game series at Safeco Field in the Mariners’ home opener.
By April 16, the teams will have played each other seven times. That’s seven of their first 11 regular-season games for the Mariners and seven of their first 10 for the Athletics.
“It’s a little weird playing (Seattle) so many games” to start the season, Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “But they’re in our division so we’re going to see them a lot.”
Seattle manager Eric Wedge even swapped his starters for this weekend to move Hernandez to Saturday and Jason Vargas to today so Hernandez is lined up to also pitch the Mariners’ home opener April 13.
“He’s the ace,” Hernandez joked of Vargas.
This situation is also unique for these clubs given they opened the regular season last week only to return for more exhibition games before they reunite in the Bay Area.
Yes, the Mariners and A’s will know each other inside and out by mid-April.
“Once we’ve ended up seeing them it will be like `Good riddance,’ I think (for) both sides,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin, who once managed Seattle. “I see where they flip-flopped their starters and we’ll see Felix over at their place again.
“We’ll see him three times in the first I don’t know how many games of the season. We have to step up and beat him. Until we do that, we can complain about it all we want. We just have to go out there, and if we’re going to be a good team we’re going to have to beat good pitching. So we get tested early on with him.”
Both teams need strong performances over the first month if they want to stay in the chase in a division featuring the two-time reigning AL champion Texas Rangers and Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.
“It’s been a very good offensive spring for us,” Wedge said. “It’s a big step to move in the right direction.”
Both Seattle and Oakland are returning to more normal routines after the long trip home and jet lag that has now subsided for most.
“Japan, all the adrenalin, a lot of people, opening day, it was crazy,” Hernandez said. “I loved it.”