By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
OAKLAND, Calif. — The initial return on the Seattle Mariners’ $14 million investment in an All-Star closer was a two-strikeout, game-saving dividend Saturday in a 3-1 victory over the A’s.
Veteran Fernando Rodney, after a shaky spring, converted his first save situation by striking out John Jaso and Josh Reddick after replacing Felix Hernandez with one out and a runner at second in the ninth inning.
“What I told you in spring training,” Rodney said, “is I was just working both sides (of the plate) on the location of my fastball. It looked good tonight. Work both sides of the plate. Throw strikes.
“This is the season. This is different.”
The Mariners signed Rodney, 37, to a two-year deal just prior to the start of spring training in hopes of patching a leaky bullpen that suffered 13 walk-off losses in 2013.
His spring numbers were, at best, mixed: eight runs and 11 hits in seven innings over eight appearances. Rodney and manager Lloyd McClendon dismissed those numbers as irrelevant.
Maybe they were right.
“You could see Rodney turn it up,” McClendon said. “There was a different look in (his) eye.”
The immediate assessment from the Mariners on right-hander Taijuan Walker’s rehab start Friday for Class Hi-A High Desert: All positive.
So much so that it’s possible — possible — Walker could be ready to rejoin the big-league rotation after one more minor-league start; i.e., about 10 days or so.
“Everything went great,” McClendon said. “He was clean. No setbacks. He’ll continue to move forward.”
A sore shoulder slowed Walker in spring training, but he threw 72 pitches against Inland Empire (Angels) while allowing two runs (one earned) and four hits in 41/3 innings. He also walked one and struck out seven.
Plans call for Walker to throw 85-90 pitches in his next start, which is generally the level required as a final tune-up for big-league duty.
“We’ll see how he feels after that one,”McClendon cautioned. “I’m not sure where his next start is going to be. It needs to be warm weather for me. We’ll see. I don’t think it will be (Class Lo-A) Clinton.”
The LumberKings’ game Friday at Cedar Rapids was postponed due to sub-freezing temperatures at game time.
Iwakuma to Tacoma?
The road back to the rotation for All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma could lead through Class AAA Tacoma.
Iwakuma is scheduled to throw again Sunday from flat ground in his recovery from a strained ligament in his middle finger. If all goes well, he could throw a bullpen session by the middle of the week.
As for a rehab assignment?
“I think by the time he’s ready,” McClendon said, “I think the weather will probably be pretty decent for the most part. You’ll probably see him in Tacoma.”
Veteran right-hander Chris Young is heading to the bullpen — temporarily anyway — as a long reliever after his scheduled start Friday fell victim to unplayable conditions at the O.co Coliseum.
McClendon opted not to push the other four starters back a day to accommodate Young.
“I think any time you have a chance to keep you’re No. 1 (Felix Hernandez) on schedule,” McClendon said, “you keep him on schedule. To me, that just makes more sense. He’s No. 1 for a reason.”
Hernandez started Saturday against the A’s. McClendon confirmed his rotation plans through Friday:
Erasmo Ramirez will start today’s series finale against the A’s, while rookie lefties James Paxton and Roenis Elias will start Tuesday and Wednesday against the Angels at Safeco Field.
After a open date Thursday, Hernandez is slotted for Friday’s series opener against the A’s. The Mariners won’t require a fifth starter until April 15 at Texas.
And by then, Walker might be ready. So where does that leave Young?
“He’ll pitch out of the bullpen,” McClendon said, “and we’ll try to keep him as sharp as we can there. Then we’ll reevaluate in a few days and see where we are.”
A makeup date for Friday’s postponement has yet to be determined, although it will probably occur as a day/night doubleheader during the Mariners’ next trip (May 5-7) to Oakland.
Mariners player rep Charlie Furbush said the A’s preferred an immediate makeup as a Saturday doubleheader.
“When we didn’t agree on that,” he said, “they came back and agreed that one (game on Saturday) was better for them, too.”
Makeup dates are subject to union approval under terms of the labor agreement.
The Mariners say only scattered single tickets remain for Tuesday’s home opener against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.
The gates will open at 4:40 p.m. for the 7:10 p.m. start. The pre-game ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m. and will include several members of the Super Bowl-champion Seahawks taking part in a ceremonial first pitch.
The Mariners are also reminding fans that, in compliance with Major League Baseball guidelines, entry into the stadium now includes enhanced screening procedures.
It was 37 years ago Sunday — April 6, 1977— that the Mariners played their first game … and it didn’t go so well. The then-California Angels rolled to a 9-0 victory behind Frank Tanana in front of 57,762 at the Kingdome.
Diego Segui started the game by walking Jerry Remy, who now serves as a broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox. Remy scored on a two-out double by Don Baylor, which marked the first hit in a Mariners’ game.
The first hit by a Mariner in franchise history was a one-out single in the first inning by Jose Baez. But Steve Braun followed by grounding into a double play. Things never got much better.
The Mariners and A’s conclude their truncated weekend series at 1:05 p.m. today at the O.coColiseum in Oakland. Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (1-0 and a 2.57 ERA) will look to build off a strong first start.
The A’s are skipping lefty Tommy Milone to keep right-hander Sonny Gray (0-0, 0.00) on his regular day. Gray worked six scoreless innings in a season-opening loss to Cleveland. The game will be shown on Root Sports.