Finally Mariners return home to open against A's
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By TIM BOOTH
SEATTLE (AP) Mariners manager Eric Wedge is all set to return to his house Thursday night, for the first time in nearly 2½ months.
From Washington state to Arizona, to Japan, back to Arizona, to California, to Texas and finally back to the Pacific Northwest, Seattle's two-month, transcontinental spring training/opening road trip will finally come to an end Friday night when it hosts Oakland.
"I was just talking to my wife - we've been gone forever," Wedge said.
All the traveling has been taxing on the players and coaches. But the Mariners are off to a respectable 4-4 start considering the circumstances surrounding a road trip that started in Asia and concluded in Texas.
Some of the excitement about Seattle's start was tempered by dropping three of four in Texas, but the Mariners will play the next nine games at home. Oakland, Cleveland and the Chicago White Sox come to town for three games apiece before the Mariners head out on the road again.
The Mariners completed their opening road trip with a 5-3 to the Rangers on Thursday. All told, they traveled more than 15,000 miles by air, including 11,500 to and from Tokyo. It's an extraordinary early season amount for a team that's regularly among the most traveled in all of baseball.
"Even by baseball standards (it's long)," Wedge said. "Like I said to all of our guys, I think everybody's done a really nice job of handling it well. Nobody's complained about it. Everybody's been on point and doing what they need to be doing."
Felix Hernandez will make his third start of the season against Oakland in the home opener. The Mariners juggled their rotation after coming back from Japan so Hernandez would get the ball when Seattle finally returned home. He'll be greeted by a huge home crowd and the return of his own cheering section - the hugely successful "King's Court" - stationed out near the left-field foul pole with specially designed bright yellow t-shirts and a raucous college atmosphere.
"It'll be awesome, man. It's going to be crazy," Hernandez said. "A lot of opening days, eh? But being at home, it's always good."
Hernandez (1-0) was brilliant in the season opener in Tokyo, throwing eight innings and allowing only one run, only to come away without a no-decision in Seattle's 3-1 victory that took 11 innings. Back in the U.S., Hernandez was roughed up for six runs and eight hits in 6 1-3 innings by the same A's lineup, yet came away with the victory in Oakland.
The rough effort against the A's only heighted concerns about Hernandez's velocity appearing to be down.
"Actually we did well against him last time, we just gave up a few too many runs," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "Hopefully we can keep that same approach. We all know what he brings to the table and what he does confidence-wise for their team, but hopefully we can gain some confidence off the last time."
Melvin will send Bartolo Colon (1-1) to the mound for his third start of the year against Seattle. Like Hernandez, Colon pitched very well in Japan, retiring the first 13 batters he faced on his way to a 4-1 A's victory. Colon gave up just one run and three hits in eight innings. And like Hernandez, Colon got roughed up back in Oakland, giving up 10 hits and seven runs in just 4 1-3 innings.
What remains to be seen is the type of interest the Mariners will draw on Friday night. They are coming off their worst attendance season since moving into Safeco Field, the first time they failed to draw at least 2 million fans since 1995. And the Mariners' front office irritated area sports fans last week when the club publicly objected to the proposal for a new NBA/NHL arena that would be in the same neighborhood as Safeco, with the club citing traffic and parking as their main issues with the proposed project.
The Mariners said Friday's opener is nearly sold out with only a scattered seats remaining and should be filled up by the first pitch. There are plenty of seats still available for the rest of the opening series.
In a non-strike shortened season, Friday's opener will be just the fourth time in franchise history the Mariners will make their home debut this late into April. The Mariners opened on April 16, 1982, April 13, 1990 and April 14, 2009.
"I think any time you see a team as much as we have, it's going to be another opening day where I'm going to have to shake the manager's hand at home plate again," Melvin said. "I've been shaking his hand more than a lot of my own players I think, so we'll both be ready to move on from getting called out onto the line on opening day."
AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley and Associated Press reporter Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.
Updated April 12, 2012