So the lineup is a little different.
Manager Lloyd McClendon is giving Brad Miller his first start in center field, starting Mike Zunino at catcher and Welington Castillo at designated hitter. With both catchers in the lineup, it means if Zunino were to get hurt in the game and Castillo is moved to catcher, the Mariners would lose their designated hitter for their remainder of the game.
Why the move?
Well, McClendon wanted Castillo in the game. He’s had some success against Blue Jays’ starter Marco Estrada, who he faced often when he was with the Cubs and Estrada was with the Brewers. It’s not a huge sample size – Castillo is 6-for-21 with four homers against Estrada. But he’s one of six players on the Mariners’ roster that has actually faced Estrada.
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The reason for Zunino being in the lineup is that Felix Hernandez is pitching. McClendon preferred to have Zunino catch Hernandez since they’re comfortable together, and Castillo has never caught him.
Castillo got to know much of the pitching staff pretty quickly, catching J.A. Happ and five relievers in his first game.
“I just have to see what they got,” he said. “It’s not easy when it’s during the game not knowing what any of the pitchers got that day. I just went out there and did my best. The pitchers did a good job.”
The big thing for Castillo when it comes to receiving and blocking is the offspeed pitches. Each pitcher’s changeup and breaking balls do different things. Some are more explosive, and some are unpredictable.
“It’s hard,” he said. “You don’t know what they do. You gotta just go with the feeling and see what the pitch is doing and be like a goalie kind of. That was my thinking.”
Castillo is catching the bullpen sessions of the starting pitchers in between starts to get to know them. He also will catch side sessions with relievers. He caught Roenis Elias’ bullpen session before Friday’s game.
“Anytime I’m available, I’m going to go and catch a side session,” he said. “I want to get to know these pitchers.”
*** As for Miller in center field, it was going to happen eventually. With Dustin Ackley struggling and McClendon wanting to play his left-handers, he decided to pull the band aid off and put Miller in center. To be fair, most of the early work that Miller did during the beginning of the conversion process was in center field. So there is some familiarity.
“In talking to Ackley and Ruggiano, they said you are more dead on and you can see where the catcher’s moving and the pitch is moving better,” Miller said of reading the ball. “They said that helps.”
There is no great strategy to how Miller is playing in the outfield.
“My attitude out there is I’m just trying to go and get everything,” he said. “Whatever I see, go get it.”
Miller doesn’t even notice the warning track, which might not be a good thing.
“Not really,” he said. “It’s all kind of new now. I’m just so excited when the ball comes over there that I don’t notice anything too much. Honestly, right now, I’m just trying to keep everything as simple as possible.”
Miller shows up each day expecting to play but never is quite sure where.
“I think if you embrace that you can use it to your advantage,” he said. “If you show up and see it as a negative and pout, that’s not going to help you.”
He believes that positive outlook is helping him at the plate.
“It’s part of it, not letting it affect your performance, not letting other factors get in your way,” he said. “I know at the end of the day, I have to play well. So I have to do whatever I can to keep that going.”
Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders, who was traded by the Mariners in the offseas0n, is on stuck on the disabled with a bone bruise in his surgically repaired knee. But he took time from his treatment for a round of hugs and plenty of conversations with his former teammates.
“It was like hugging some family members again,” Saunders said. “I haven’t got to play against my friends since little league. It was great to see the guys and catch up.”
The Mariners traded Saunders to Toronto for left-hander J.A. Happ. Though the deal has paid huge dividends for Seattle, the Blue Jays have yet to reap the benefits of having Saunders in the lineup. During spring training, Saunders slipped on a sprinkler head and tore his meniscus. He had surgery to remove the meniscus and tried to come back sooner than expected. But he developed a bone bruise and was placed on the DL after eight games.
“It was unfortunate event leading up to spring training,” he said. “I tried to come back and developed that bone bruise. Unfortunately it’s going to take a little time to heal. If you try to play through it, it just gets worse and worse. I’ve been resting for almost two weeks, and I’ll go down to Florida to ramp it up.”
The hope is he’ll be ready by July.
“I’m really excited to start playing,” he said. “I was grinding through it a little and trying to play the tough-guy role, but I just wasn’t doing myself any favors and it started to affect my play on the field. That’s when I knew I had to take a step back. Luckily, it is something I will come back from and be 100 percent. It’s just a matter of a little bit rest.”
Saunders likes the fit in Toronto. It was a place he always thought he would like to play in if he ever left the Mariners.
“It’s not just being Canadian,” he said. “It’s a great clubhouse, great coaching staff, great organization and I grew up a big Blue Jays fan. The fans have been very welcoming.”
Mariners numbers vs. Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada
Blue Jays numbers vs. Felix Hernandez
Official game notes