American League Preview from The Sports Network|
Wednesday, March 28th
(All times Eastern)
Seattle Mariners (0-0) vs. Oakland Athletics (0-0), 6:10 a.m.
Probable Starting Pitchers: Seattle - Felix Hernandez (0-0, 0.00)
Oakland - Brandon McCarthy (0-0, 0.00)
(Sports Network) - The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics lift the lid on
the 2012 Major League Baseball season with the start of a brief two-game set
in Japan at the Tokyo Dome.
These same two teams had been scheduled to play here in March 2003, but the
series was canceled at the last minute due to the threat of war in Iraq.
Coincidentally, A's manager Bob Melvin was the manager of the Mariners back in
"We're excited about it," Melvin said. "And the fact that you're playing
against a team that's going through the exact same thing, there are no excuses
for anybody. I honestly am looking forward to the trip."
Oakland opened the 2008 season in Japan against the Boston Red Sox, splitting
a pair of games.
"We're thrilled to be back in Japan," Oakland general manager Billy Beane
said. "When they asked who wanted to go, we were the first to put up our
Perhaps it's not the best American baseball has to offer with Seattle and
Oakland expected to be two of the worst teams in the majors this season.
Seattle is a club that last year lost 95 games, endured a 17-game losing
streak and for the third straight season crossed the plate less times than any
other team in the American League. Oakland, meanwhile, only avoided the cellar
in the AL West because of Seattle, but this offseason traded its two best
starting pitchers in Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, in addition to closer
So, yeah, this isn't exactly Yankees-Red Sox we are talking about.
But, you'd be hard pressed to not find more excitement for this series than
any other. Why? Well how about the return of Ichiro Suzuki, perhaps the most
iconic sports figure to ever come out of Japan.
"We've never had this opportunity before, so it's new for me and new for the
team," he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "This is something we'll
probably do once in a lifetime, so I look forward to that and would like to
take advantage of it."
Suzuki, of course, left Japan for the United States back in 2001 and instantly
became a hit, winning the league's MVP and Rookie of the Year in his first
season, then producing 10 straight years of hitting .300 or better with 200
hits and 25 stolen bases. Last year, though, the 38-year-old superstar showed
signs of slowing down, as he batted just .272 and failed to reach 200 hits for
the first time in his 11-year career.
This year, the great Suzuki is embarking on a new challenge, as manager Eric
Wedge has moved him from his customary leadoff spot down to No. 3 in the
order. Suzuki has adjusted nicely this spring, and is hitting .400 with eight
RBI through 30 spring at-bats.
Suzuki, though, isn't the only Japanese star returning to his native land.
Utility infielder Munenori Kawasaki and pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma also are
returning to Japan.
"I think it's going to be crazy," said Mariners ace Felix Hernandez. "We've
got a lot of Japanese guys here. We've got Ichi, who is a big star there. It's
going to be a good experience and it's going to be fun."
Hernandez will be on the hill Wednesday following another terrific season. The
2010 AL Cy Young Award winner was his usual amazing self in 2011, going 14-14
with a 3.47 ERA and 222 strikeouts in 233 2/3 innings.
"I want to have a better season," Hernandez said when pushed. "Last year was
not consistent. I'm trying to have a great season and help this team win."
Hernandez will join Randy Johnson (six: 1992-96, '98) as the only pitcher in
franchise history to make five or more Opening Day starts. However, his three
Opening Day wins are the most in Mariners history.
Run support continued to be an issue, as the Mariners scored a major league
worst 556 times, while hitting just .233 as a team, also the worst mark of all
The hope is that the addition of Jesus Montero will add some much needed pop
to that lineup. Montero was acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for
All-Star right-hander Michael Pineda.
Billy Beane, who reaped worldwide recognition this past year with the box
office success of the movie "Moneyball," wasn't just jettisoning players this
winter and surprisingly won the sweepstakes for highly-coveted Cuban
outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, landing him with a four-year, $36 million deal.
The A's will hand the ball in the opener to righty Brandon McCarthy. After
missing all of 2010 he started a career-best 25 games last season, going 9-9
with a 3.32 ERA and set a franchise record for strikeout-to-walk ratio at
4.92-to-1 -- 123 strikeouts and 25 walks in 170 2/3 innings.
"To stop and think about it is cool, but I really don't do that," McCarthy
said of his Opening Day assignment. "My parents are proud, and there are
people that are happy for me, and it's a cool thing personally, but really
I'll be more excited if I pitch up to that level and do everything I'm capable
of doing, not just on that day but the entire season."
Seattle, which has won its last five openers, is 5-3 all time on Opening Day
against the A's, having won the last three.
This series marks the fourth season opener in Japan and the first since the
Red Sox and A's played in 2008 at Tokyo Dome. Since 1999, 10 clubs (Colorado
Rockies, San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Toronto
Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays, Red Sox and A's) have
participated in international openers.
03/27 14:12:06 ET