GAME: Astros (1-5, 5th, AL West, -3.5 GB) at Mariners (3-4, 3rd, AL West, -2.0 GB). GAME #: 8. SERIES: 1st of 3 games. MEETING: 1st. WHEN: Monday, 7:10 p.m., Safeco Field. STREAKS: Mariners L 2; Astros L 5. TV: Root Sports. RADIO: ESPN 710, Mariners Radio Network
After spending seven weeks grinding in Arizona and another week on the road in Oakland and Chicago, the Mariners will finally get a chance to take a look at a reconfigured Safeco Field Monday night when they launch their 37th home season with the first game of a three-game series against the flailing Houston Astros, losers of five in a row.
For fans, the obvious addition to Safeco Field will be the new, giant video screen. But for the Mariners players, especially their right-handed hitters, the main intrigue will involve the shortened fences. In an attempt to goose long-ball production, the club brought them in over the winter, particularly in left-center, where the wall will be from 4-17 feet closer to the plate at different points than in previous years.
“I’m very happy about that,” catcher Jesus Montero said Sunday as the Mariners concluded a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox with a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. “It’s going to be different this year. Last year, we were like, ‘Oh, this park is tough.’ Now it’s going to be better. It’s going to be fun.”
“It’s definitely going to be different, so it’ll be interesting to see what it looks like,” added first baseman Justin Smoak. “But as a team, we’re just excited to get back home and play in front of our own fans. It’ll be good to get back there and get settled in and get ready to go. It feels like we’ve been gone forever.”
The most obvious changes to the club are the additions of Michael Morse (from the Nationals) and Kendrys Morales (Angels). Morse already has five home runs — he hit another one Sunday — and is working on a seven-game hitting streak, longest in the majors. Morales went 3-for-4 with a home run and drew an intentional walk Sunday.
“We’re swinging the bats real well right now,” said Michael Saunders. “We’re a different offensive club. I think we’re a little more feared now when people are pitching against us. Not only did we address the middle-of-the-order need, but we’ve got guys who took another step forward this year. Overall, we’re a much more consistent and potent offensive club. I’m hoping it’s going to be different.”
One thing that isn’t different — so far — is Seattle’s ability — or inability — to deliver clutch hits. The Mariners went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position in two losses in Chicago Saturday and Sunday and finished 0-for-19 with RISP on the seven-game road trip.
Lefty Joe Saunders, who pitched a dud in his Seattle debut last week, is 6-0 lifetime at Safeco Field and will face a Houston club that that has lost five in a row and fanned 74 times in six games.
Saunders will oppose Philip Humber, who came out of nowhere last April 21 to throw a perfect game for the White Sox at Safeco Field.
“He’s a good pitcher and he proved that against us last year,” said Saunders. “But it should be a different story this year.”
After the Mariners play three against the Astros, they will host Texas for four, take a day off, then entertain Detroit for three (April 16-18).
MONDAY’S HOME OPENER HIGHLIGHTS
- Safeco Field gates will open at 4:30 p.m.
- All fans will receive a 2013 Mariners magnetic schedule, provided by Safeco Insurance.
- Seattle band Pickwick will perform during pre-game festivities.
- National Anthem will be performed by the Gospel Outreach Choir with flags presented by the Lakewood Police Department and Joint Base Lewis McChord Color Guard.
- Former Washington Governor Booth Gardner and former State Senator Sid Snyder will be remembered with a moment of silence.
- Former Mariner pitcher Jamie Moyer will throw out the first pitch.
MARINERS: LHP Joe Saunders (0-1, 9.00 ERA, 2.75 WHIP)
The 31-year-old Saunders struggled — floundered might be more appropriate — in his Mariners debut last week in Oakland, allowing seven hits — including an absurd five doubles — and four runs in four innings. But Safeco Field has always been good for the Springfield, VA., native. He’s 6-0 with a 2.31 ERA in nine starts in the park, all of his success coming when he pitched for the Los Angeles Angels (2005-10). Since then, Saunders has pitched for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles. He’s working on a one-year, free agent contract with Seattle.
- LAST START: April 3 at Oakland, lost 6-2; 4 earned runs on 7 hits in 4.0 innings; 3 strikeouts, 4 walks, 0 home runs; 88 pitches, 48 for strikes.
- LAST VS. ASTROS: Aug. 11, 2011, took a no-decision in Arizona’s 8-5 win; 5 earned runs on 5 hits in 6.0 innings; 2 strikeouts vs. 2 walks, 0 home runs; 89 pitches, 59 for strikes.
- CAREER VS. ASTROS: 0-0, 4.85 ERA in 2 starts covering 13.0 innings; 6 strikeouts vs. 4 walks, 0 home runs, 1.38 WHIP.
- AT SAFECO FIELD: 6-0, 2.13 ERA in 9 starts covering 55.0 innings; 23 strikeouts vs. 20 walks, 4 home runs, 1.18 WHIP.
- LOVES TO FACE: Rick Ankiel (0-for-3, .000), Justin Maxwell (0-for-3, .000), Carlos Pena (0-for-3, .000), Chris Carter (1-for-5, .200).
- HATES TO FACE: Jose Altuve (3-for-4, .750), J.D. Martinez (1-for-3, .333).
- CURRENT ASTROS VS. SAUNDERS: 5-for-24, .208 BA, 1 strikeout, 2 walks, 0 home runs, .310 on-base percentage.
ASTROS: RHP Philip Humber (0-1, 1.59 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
The 30-year-old Humber, who is with his fifth team since he broke in with the New York Mets in 2006, is a career .500 pitcher (16-16) who just happens to have tossed a perfect game against the Mariners (April 21, 2012). Humber, a Texas native who has both started and relieved the past two seasons, crafted his perfecto as a member of the White Sox, and will pitch Houston’s first road game of the season.
- LAST START: April 3 vs. Texas, lost 4-0; 1 earned run on 5 hits in 5.2 innings; 2 strikeouts, 2 walks, 0 home runs, 85 pitches, 56 for strikes.
- LAST VS. MARINERS: Aug. 24, 2012, took a no-decision in Chicago’s 9-8 win at U.S. Cellular Field; 2 earned runs on 1 hit in 1.0 innings off relief; 0 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1 home run.
- CAREER VS. MARINERS: 2-0, 1.80 ERA in 5 games, including 3 starts, covering 25.0 innings; 19 strikeouts to 7 walks; 5 home runs, 0.68 WHIP.
- AT SAFECO FIELD: 1-0, 1.13 ERA in 2 starts covering 16.0 innings; 13 strikeouts to 3 walks, 0 home runs, 0.37 WHIP.
- LOVES TO FACE: Michael Saunders (0-for-6, .000), Dustin Ackley (0-for-3, .000), Justin Smoak (1-for-9, .111).
- HATES TO FACE: Robert Andino (4-for-8, .500), Kendrys Morales (1-for-2, .500), Franklin Gutierrez (1-for-3, .333).
- CURRENT MARINERS VS. HUMBER: 13-for-54, .241 BA, 10 strikeouts, 5 walks, 2 home runs, .305 on-base percentage
MARINERS STATS / NOTES
- CURRENT HOME STAND: Three vs. Houston (Monday-Wednesday), four vs. Texas (Thursday-Sunday), three vs. Detroit (April 16-18). The Mariners will not get their first day of until Monday, April 15 following 14 consecutive games to open the season.
- Mariners are 15-10 all-time in home openers, including 4-4 at Safeco Field.
- Mariners have lost 3 consecutive home openers, their last win coming April 14, 2009 over the Los Angeles Angels.
- Mariners have an average attendance of 45,943 in eight Safeco Field home openers dating to 2000.
- Michael Morse, who homered in the first inning Sunday (fifth long ball), has recorded a hit in each of Seattle’s first seven games. He’s the first Mariners’ player to accomplish that feat since Franklin Gutierrez opened the 2010 season by hitting in eight consecutive games. Morse’s seven-game hitting streak is the longest active streak in the majors.
- Morse’s five home runs in the first week are just shy of Ken Griffey Jr.’s best start in 1997 when he also had five in the first five games en route to a 56-home-run MVP season.
- Dustin Ackley got Sunday off, except for pinch-hitting duty. He went 0-for-1 and is batting .050.
- Houston’s Philip Humber will start against the Mariners Tuesday at Safeco Field. The last time Humber pitched at Safeco, April 21, 2012, he threw a perfect game against Seattle.
|4/9||Tue||vs. Hou||RHP Brandon Maurer (0-1) vs. LHP Erik Bedard (0-1)|
|4/10||Wed||vs. Hou||RHP Blake Beavan (0-0) vs. RHP Brad Peacock (0-1)|
|4/11||Thr||vs. Tex||RHP Felix Hernandez (1-1) vs. TBA|
|4/12||Fri||vs. Tex||RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (1-0) vs. TBA|
|4/13||Sat||vs. Tex||LHP Joe Saunders (0-1) vs. TBA|