The M’s affiliate teams did their best to mend the broken hearts of Mariner fans who watched the big league club blow a two-run lead in a dominant James Paxton start last night. Other than the A-Level Clinton LumberKings having their opener snowed out, it was mostly a successful opening night for the minor league squards.
Rainiers Blank River Cats Behind Bergman’s Strong Start
In case you missed it, the Mariners—perhaps anticipating the arrival of Mike Zunino (who never came, as the org elected to give him a few more days before deploying him in game action)—released Tuffy Gosewisch, who’d been slated for starting duties behind the dish with David Freitas being currently being borrowed by the Mariners. The move left Tacoma with Garrett Kennedy as the de facto Opening Night starter at catcher. Kennedy, a left-handed hitter, was acquired by the M’s last week as a depth move. Despite looking overmatched offensively, Kennedy did provide a nice moment when he back-picked a runner at first to steal an out.
It's here, the first lineup of the 2018 season! The Boys R Back, and that means baseball is about to return to Cheney Stadium.— Tacoma Rainiers (@RainiersLand) April 5, 2018
Following the Tuffy news and subsequent starting of a 25-year-old catcher that posted a 73 wRC+ at Double-A last season, perhaps the most surprising revelation when lineups were posted was that speedster Ian Miller, who showed off his elite ability to swipe bags in big league camp during spring training, was listed in the nine-hole on the lineup.
The Rainiers pitching staff stole the show on Opening Night, headlined by Christian Bergman, who recorded his first four outs via the strikeout en route to racking up eight on the night in just 5.2 innings. The combination of Mike Morin, Ryan Cook, and Chasen Bradford allowed just one baserunnner over the final 3.1 innings to complete the shutout. Starting right fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis was the offensive star, reaching base three times, twice via the walk, once on a single.
It’s hard to come to a steadfast conclusion regarding bullpen roles based off one five run victory, but it might be worth noting Chasen Bradford was tabbed for the ninth inning. That said, The Rainiers had 12 different players record a save last season, and nobody who recorded more than 10, so the team may never have a clear-cut closer emerge.
In regards to the offense, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Miller get a few looks at the top of the order to take advantage of his wheels, particularly if last night’s leadoff man John Andreoli continues to have a hard time putting bat on ball.
Appropriately enough, the Rainiers' first hit of the 2018 season is an Ian Miller double (infield single, stolen base) pic.twitter.com/jgLUxI7v1z— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 6, 2018
Moore Brilliant in Return to Arkansas
Much like the Triple-A squad, the M’s Double-A affiliate pulled out a victory on the back of excellent pitching, headed up by a strong performance by starter Andrew Moore. Moore’s assignment to Arkansas came as a surprise to most, as he had extended time with Mariners last season, but the move just might prove fruitful for his development. In his first start back, he spun 5.2 innings, allowing just three runners to reach base and striking out seven. It’s worth noting that Moore, who struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark upon reaching the bigs last season, surrendered a home run to Padres No. 29 prospect Austin Allen, his only blemish on an otherwise spectacular season debut.
Starting third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean provided some excitement on offense, tripling off former-Mariner Dillon Overton for one of his two hits on the night. You might remember Mejias-Brean’s grand slam in the Felix-comebacker game back in February.
Arizona Fall League Champion Peoria Javelinas teammates Darrin Gillies and Art Warren combined for 3.1 innings of shutout baseball, 2.1 of which were tossed by Gillies, who struck out four and walked one while allowing no hits. Warren, who served as the Javelinas’ closer during the fall, picked up his first save of the 2018 season.
Art Warren makes his AA debut with a save, getting top prospect Tatis to GIDP. FB at 95 on the stadium gun. Travs win their season opener behind some excellent pitching from Moore, Warren, and a great relief effort from Darin Gillies, who pitched 2.1 innings of 4-K, no-hit ball. pic.twitter.com/zcY6f55Yef— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 6, 2018
Gamel Scores Thrice in Nice Rehab Appearance
The 2017 California League Champion Modesto Nuts came up short in their attempt to come back from an early seven run deficit last night. Ben Gamel, who M’s fans will be happy to see back in action, batted leadoff and had a nice game for Modesto, singling and walking twice to set up three runs scored. It was also good to see Venezuelan outfielder Anthony Jimenez picking up where he left off last season, as he collected a pair of knocks, two RBI’s and a run scored. Nick Zammarelli, who might be poised for a big year in the offense-happy Cal League, collected three hits for the Nuts as well, as he looks to post a wRC+ north of 110 at the third level in as many seasons.
Hopefully 2016 second-rounder Joe Rizzo’s three hits were an indicator that he’ll be taking a step forward with the bat this season. Gareth Morgan has consistently dealt with major strikeout issues since the Mariners used the 74th pick in the 2014 draft on him, and that trend reared its ugly head again last night, as he fanned three times in five at-bats. However, he also blasted a two-run home run to bring the Nuts to within two.
Starter Ljay Newsome turned in a gutty performance, giving his team three shutout innings after being tagged for seven through the first two. Spring training standout Michael Koval threw a shutout ninth inning for the Nuts as well. We didn’t get a look at 2017 strikeout kings Wyatt Mills or Seth Elledge, but that tandem is going to be a stinking blast to watch in Modesto this season.
Unfortunately, Arkansas and Clinton both had their games postponed today, but Tacoma and Modesto are both set to be in action, with starts scheduled for Josh Smith (Tacoma) and Ariel Miranda (Modesto).