Not that there was much drama or competition given the current situation with a 60-game regular season and only three weeks of workouts and intrasquad games to prepare for it, but manager Scott Servais announced his six-man starting rotation that will be in place on the opening day roster and the order of their outings.
As announced earlier, lefty Marco Gonzales, who started Saturday evening’s intrasquad game, will get the nod on opening day at Minute Maid Park in Houston against the nemesis Astros. The Mariners went 1-18 against the American League West champions last season, including 0-10 at Minute Maid.
Houston will start right-hander Justin Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Verlander was 3-0 against Seattle last season in five starts.
Gonzales pitched four innings, giving up two runs on six hits with no walks and three strikeouts in Saturday night’s intrasquad game.
“My plan is to push and go as much as I can,” he said. “I was asking for another inning out there. I was only scheduled to go three. I feel ready to go, and my body feels strong. With a six-man rotation, we get a little extra rest and I wanted to push it a little bit.”
Right-hander Taijuan Walker will start the second game of the series on Saturday evening. The Astros have yet to announced the rest of their projected starters, though right-hander Lance McCullers, who missed last season with Tommy John surgery, is expected to be the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
Lefty Yusei Kikuchi, who had to start behind Gonzales last season, will move back a spot and pitch on Sunday. He’s coming off a less-than-stellar season that featured a 6-11 record with a 5.46 ERA. The Mariners hope the simplified mechanics and shorter arm path that Kikuchi refined in the offseason — and understanding not to make massive changes to them based on one game or even one inning — will lead to more consistent success in 2020.
Veteran right-hander Kendall Graveman will work as the No. 4 starter and pitch in Monday’s series finale. After missing most of the last two seasons due to injury, including Tommy John surgery, Graveman will be making his first MLB start since May 11, 2018, which came at Yankee Stadium.
The Mariners will close out their rotation with their two young prospects starting the first two games of the series in Anaheim. Justus Sheffield will pitch Tuesday night at Angels Stadium, with right-hander Justin Dunn pitching on Wednesday.
The two young pitchers have grown close since they were both acquired in separate trades before the 2019 season. Sheffield, who turned 24 in May, made seven starts and one relief appearance in 2020, posting an 0-1 record and 5.50 ERA. Dunn, also just 24, made four shortened starts in September last season, posting a 2.70 ERA.
With that slotting, it would mean that Walker would start the home opener on Friday, July 31 vs. the A’s at T-Mobile Park.
With only 60 games, and the plan to keep the six-man rotation for the entirety of the season — if all six remain healthy — it means 10 starts each.
No surgery for Julio
After Julio Rodriguez underwent an MRI and other tests on Thursday, the Mariners medical staff determined that the team’s prized outfield prospect will not need surgery to repair the hairline fracture in his left wrist.
“We’ll put him in some sort of protective gear on his wrist and obviously no baseball activity for four to six weeks,” Servais said, “and then we’ll re-evaluate at that point and see where it goes from there.”
Rodriguez suffered the injury while playing right field in a baserunning drill after Wednesday’s intrasquad game. He dived awkwardly for a low liner and jammed the glove in the outfield turf.
With Rodriguez missing two months with a hairline fracture of the third metacarpal on his left hand last season, and the amount of torque put on the left wrist on a right-handed swing, the Mariners are going to be extra careful with Rodriguez when he’s cleared to swing a bat.
It’s possible he won’t participate in any of the intrasquad games being played at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, the team’s alternative site for nonactive roster players.
Servais did mention that Rodriguez might be able to get back some of those lost at-bats and innings by playing in the winter league in his native Dominican Republic. Rodriguez was drafted by Leones Del Escogido and would play with Rays touted shortstop prospect Wander Franco and veteran outfielder Starling Marte.
Three return to action
After missing sitting out Tuesday and Wednesday’s games for reasons the Mariners couldn’t discuss, Dee Gordon was cleared to return to the field on Saturday and play in that evening’s intrasquad game. Gordon started in left field for the “Steelheads.” Given the Mariners’ lack of outfield depth and the plan to play Shed Long Jr. at second base for the bulk of the games, Gordon’s best opportunity to get innings is in the outfield and as a backup infielder.
Outfielder Mallex Smith and infielder Dylan Moore, who were late arrivals to summer camp due to COVID-19 intake testing protocols, played in their first game action on Saturday as well. Smith started in center field for the Pilots, which featured most of the players expected in the opening-day lineup. Servais confirmed that Smith will be on the opening-day roster even with only about five games to get ready. Moore started at second base for the Steelheads. He’s battling Tim Lopes and Sam Haggerty for an opening-day roster spot.
“He’s going to be ready by Friday, I’m feeling pretty confident in that,” Servais said Saturday morning. “I just hope the timing and how he looks (is enough), understanding these guys are only going to play four or five games.”
All three made their presence felt in the intrasquad game. Gordon and Smith each had three hits, including bunt singles in their first at-bats and RBI singles as well. Moore reached base three times and stole a base.
When asked if he’d tested positive or had been sick, Smith chose to follow the club policy and not comment on his situation. But he was happy to be back.
“It’s rewarding,” he said. “I had to spend some time off with this whole situation. So finally able to get back on field is a fulfilling feeling.”
Smith did his whole postgame interview wearing a mask. He also played the entire game with the mask.
“You probably won’t catch me without it,” he said. “At this point, it just makes sense. The best way to make sure everybody else is healthy is to make sure that you’re healthy. And if you are healthy, you have a better shot of keeping everybody around you healthy. I think that’s the smartest thing.”
And regular-season games?
“I’m going to wear it everywhere,” he said.
Smith spent the shutdown living with his parents, but he didn’t live in their house full-time. No, he lived in a tent on their property for a good portion of it.
“All the time, really, my mom actually begged to me come inside,” he said. “I actually appreciated being outside in the tent.”
Tent living in Florida with its never-ending supply of reptiles and bugs?
“There’s wolves, snakes and all sorts of creatures, there’s a whole lot,” he said. “I still liked the tent.”
He had no cell service or WiFi signal in his tent.
“Which was another reason why I was out there,” he said. “Be out there, stay away from as much technology and radiation as possible. And just, you know, enjoy the peace and serenity of the outside and the crickets and whatever is rattling in the bushes.”
Well, it didn’t seem to hurt his performance.
“It was rewarding,” he said. “Maybe the electrons from the earth put some good juju in my body. So let’s see how it goes on as we continue to progress through the season.”
- The Mariners will not live-stream Sunday’s intrasquad game. But Monday and Tuesday’s will be live-streamed on their YouTube channel while ROOT Sports will televise Wednesday’s game. All of them are slated to start at 6:10 p.m.