The pitchers and catchers of the Seattle Mariners reported to sunny Arizona yesterday. Felix Hernandez was tweeting pictures of himself in cars and planes on his way to the 70 degree weather, and fans were going crazy. Not only is he showing up to begin a new season, he’s beginning a new era - a 7-year era that comes after a Perfect Game (Felix got a contract extension until 2019!) It would be a good book to write, “Beyond Perfection.” Perhaps I will sink my teeth into that one.
Familiar faces from last year uni-d up Tuesday, such as Tom Wilhelmson, Josh Kinney, youngsters Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps, Charlie Furbush, Lucas Luetge, and Oliver Perez. Along with Hernandez, the starting pitchers included Hisashi Iwakuma and a newly signed, prior Orioles pitcher—lefty Joe Saunders. This is very good news to my ears, as he replaces Vargas as the new starting southpaw. Rightfully making the playoffs, the Orioles were one of my favorite teams last year, along with Buck Showalter, a wonderful manager, so Saunders should have a lot to offer. There are also Minor League invitees to watch out for.
On another note, sad news at the start is John Jaso is no longer with us. Aside from being “Mr. Clutch” from the first game he stepped onto the field, throughout the whole season--he also caught a Perfect game and created a whole lot of memories, including: shaving cream home run pies, inspiring post-game victory speeches (watched by Root Sports viewers throughout the Northwest), a bright pink game necklace, and a good luck beard to remember. He will be sorely missed. As a caring woman, and former softball player, I am fairly worried about Hernandez, because Jaso was such a great battery-mate.
More distressing news is that our other starting catcher from last year (who’s still with us), has become affiliated with a news story having to do with an anti-aging clinic in Florida. Jesus Montero denied involvement and is at Spring Training trying to focus on baseball, but it is still unwelcoming news. The 23-year-old had the best batting average on the team last season.
Fortunately, we also have a top catching prospect rising up in the Mariners organization. His name is Mike Zunino and he was drafted 3rd overall last year. I’m sure he will provide many fireworks in years to come; my hope is to see him behind the plate by season’s end. Newly acquired Kelly Shoppach is also poised to make some noise. He has a history catching for Skipper Eric Wedge at Cleveland, and as a 32-year-old veteran to the Big Leagues he’s sure to provide needed balance, system wisdom, and support to the 2 vying youngsters.
Ashley Crane is on Twitter. Follow him at @WildAshC