Today figured to be quite an interesting matchup, with a pair of Japanese aces on the mound (Hisashi Iwakuma and Kenta Maeda) facing off for the first time in their careers.
But the story instead came after each starter was pulled, as back-to-back dingers from Nelson Cruz and Adam Lind in the sixth inning gave the Mariners a 6-3 lead they never relinquished. A strong performance out of the pen from Donn Roach, with three shutout innings, was an encouraging sign for a team that has struggled to maintain a healthy set of relievers.
Sure, the result doesn't matter. But there are a number of takeaways for the Mariners and the fans, starting with the fact that we should be glad Justin Turner plays in the National League. The 31-year-old had three extra-base hits off Kuma and was responsible for all three runs batted in. Other than those blips, the Mariners' Japanese righty looked fairly good, though he lasted just 4.1 innings (his longest outing of the spring).
Robbie Cano had a nice two-RBI single in the first inning following a double from Ketel Marte and a single from Luis Sardinas. His swing is just so, so sweet:
Those quick hands. Robinson Canó turns on one for a two-run single in the first.https://t.co/EUgNTzPSa9— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 21, 2016
I remain slightly worried about Steve Clevenger's defensive abilities behind the plate, as pinch-runner Rico Noel managed to steal second off Iwakuma in the fifth. Granted, Noel has 283 career steals in the minor leagues, but Iwakuma allowed exactly zero steals all last year, and Clevenger's throw down to second seemed awful slow.
In addition, Sardinas took an iffy route to a fly ball in the third inning, but he redeemed himself in the sixth inning with a great eight-pitch at-bat that culminated in a line drive single past the shortstop.
There have been worries about Nelson Cruz adjusting this spring, but his three-run homer in the top of the sixth just after Sardinas' at-bat was beautiful. And Adam Lind followed that up with a mammoth shot that should assuage some of the worries that fans have regarding his ability to hit lefties.
Finally, the bullpen excelled, as Montgomery fought off some slight control issues to get a couple outs with men on base, Zych contributed a nice 1-2-3 inning, and Roach pitched three frames, allowing only three hits en route to his first save of the spring.
We have an off-day tomorrow before play resumes on Wednesday against the Athletics at 7:10 pm. Spring training is nice, and being there in person is even better (especially when it's pouring rain in Seattle, as it is right now).
But real, this-actually-matters baseball starts in just a couple weeks. Get excited, folks. We've almost made it through this winter of our discontent, which will soon be made into a glorious summer. And if we keep getting #dingers from this lineup, combined with stellar bullpen performances, it could be quite a glorious summer indeed.