CHICAGO — With temperatures in the low 40s, a biting wind coming off Lake Michigan and a steady rain most of Thursday, the White Sox made a wise decision to postpone their home opener to Friday, which was originally a day off.

Will now having Wednesday and Thursday off — instead of Wednesday and Friday — somehow cool the Mariners’ hot start? Seattle’s beat-up bullpen certainly didn’t mind the rest. With that schedule change, the Mariners will now play 17 games in 17 days. That will be an early season challenge for a team that has played at a high level since opening day in Tokyo. The weather for the weekend is expected to be better, but still cold and windy — because that’s what happens in Chicago in early April.

Looking ahead, here are three things to watch on the seven-game road trip that starts with this three-game series vs. the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

<strong>Friday:</strong> 11:10 a.m.; LHP Yusei Kikuchi vs. RHP Reynaldo Lopez<br><strong>Saturday:</strong> 11:10 a.m.; RHP Mike Leake vs. RHP Lucas Giolito<br><strong>Sunday:</strong> 11:10 a.m.; LHP Wade LeBlanc vs. RHP Ivan Nova


Closing Time?

The Mariners have been going with closer by committee since Hunter Strickland’s injury. And it’s likely that will continue for the immediate future as manager Scott Servais tries to piece together a collection of relievers that features only two or three pitchers with late-game experience. It’s easier to run a game when you know exactly which pitcher you want to pitch in the ninth. Servais will have to play matchups for best results.

Based on their track record, it would seem that left-handers Zac Rosscup and Roenis Elias and right-handers Anthony Swarzak and Cory Gearrin will be most trusted in those situations. The slow-working Gearrin has struggled with command early in the season and may not factor into that late-game equation as much with a few more uneven outings. Rosscup is more of a lefty specialist, and the Mariners would prefer to limit the number of right-handed hitters he faces. Swarzak picked up a save in his first appearance with the Mariners. Because he’s coming off shoulder issues, the Mariners will be reluctant to overuse him until he builds up more game appearances. But he might be the best closer option going forward.


Of the group, Elias might have the most talent and best stuff. His fastball has been up to 96 mph this year, and a more consistent arm slot has made his changeup and curveball better. He’s been more efficient than in past seasons. But in his role of long reliever/spot starter, he’s never worked back-to-back games often and certainly not three days in a row. If he shows he can do that, he might be their best closing option.

Start No. 3 for Kikuchi

Yusei Kikuchi hasn’t pitched since Friday, getting two extra days of rest between starts. He’ll be pitching with a heavy heart, following the death of his father, Yuji, after a long battle with cancer. Kikuchi has decided to dedicate the season to his father and also focus on baseball, opting not to return to Japan for the funeral. Everything about Kikuchi’s first season will be about adjusting, and now he’s doing it without his father. This can’t be easy for him.

From a baseball standpoint, the White Sox will have a right-handed-heavy lineup to run out against him. Unless the wind is blowing in from left field, Guaranteed Rate Field is very hitter-friendly for right-handed batters. Fly balls carry to left field and can result in cheap homers. Kikuchi has made two starts for teams to scout. They’ll know he fills up the strike zone and isn’t afraid to challenge hitters. Expect White Sox hitters to be aggressive early in counts, trying to ambush fastballs. Hitters noticeably struggled to pick up the ball out of Kikuchi’s hand in his previous starts. He has a deceptive delivery where he hides the ball from the hitters until the point of releasing it. That leaves opposing hitters behind on his low 90s fastball.


First base/DH rotation

While Jerry Dipoto said often this spring that Daniel Vogelbach would be on the opening-day roster with the need to see what Vogelbach could accomplish at the MLB level, he never said the young hitter would play every day.

Some fans have been surprised that Vogelbach has started just twice in the Mariners’ first eight games. And one of those starts — the homestand finale — came only after Edwin Encarnacion was scratched from the lineup with a sore wrist/hand. But in that game, Vogelbach had a double and hit the all-important winning homer, which was a preposterous line drive to deep left-center at T-Mobile Park. It was the type of homer few players can match. And a reason fans want to see more.

But unless Encarnacion’s injury lingers, it appears that Vogelbach remains behind in the playing-time rotation for first base and designated hitter. Encarnacion and Jay Bruce have handled the duties much of the time. Besides their experience and production potential, there’s another a reason for them playing ahead of Vogelbach — trade value. The Mariners would eventually like to trade both veterans for a young prospect or even a compensatory draft pick. They can’t build value to opposing teams if they aren’t playing.


And while much has been discussed about the Mariners’ decision to step back in 2019, Servais and his players are still trying to win every game. This isn’t a tanking situation. And right now, Servais believes the current lineup that usually features Encarnacion and Bruce gives Seattle its best chance to win. Vogelbach will eventually get his at-bats this season. Injuries and struggles will lead to more playing time. But for now, he’ll likely get a few starts and pinch-hit duty. With the White Sox starting three right-handed pitchers, Servais will mix in at least one start for Vogelbach during the series.