Leadoff role isn’t too big for Almonte

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comApril 1, 2014 

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rookie center fielder Abraham Almonte is seeking to validate manager Lloyd McClendon’s confidence after batting just .178 in spring training as the Mariners’ primary leadoff hitter.

“Early in spring training,” Almonte said, “I didn’t really feel that good at the plate. But (McClendon) always had the confidence in me to keep me in that spot.

“That gives you confidence when you see somebody believes and trusts in you like that. At the end of spring training, I felt like I got it.”

McClendon agreed.

“I like what I’ve seen,” he said. “Listen, he’s been swinging the bat pretty good for a while. He hasn’t had the results. I just look to make sure he’s not being overmatched or going out of the strike zone consistently.

“I haven’t seen those things. I’ve seen a very consistent approach. He’s barreling balls up. Making solid contact. And we all know his speed is a pretty nice dimension.”

Almonte made his manager look good in the Mariners’ opener on Monday, going 2-for-5 with an RBI in the win over the Angels.

SET-UP GUYS

Look for right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen and lefty Charlie Furbush to serve as the primary setup relievers when the Mariners are looking to nurse a lead to veteran closer Fernando Rodney.

“And (Danny) Farquhar,” McClendon said. “We’ll look at matchups with (Yoervis) Medina and all of those guys. For the most part, you’ll see Furbush and Wilhelmsen in the seventh and eighth innings.”

ONLY THE KING

Felix Hernandez is the first pitcher in major league history to start seven times on opening day prior to his 28th birthday. He turns 28 on April 8.

Four other pitchers started six openers prior to their 28th birthday: Bert Blyleven (1972-77), Dennis Eckersley (1976-77, 1979-82), Fernando Valenzuela (1981, 1983-86, 1988) and Dwight Gooden (1985-86, 1988-91).

JUST SAYING ...

For comparison purposes, here’s the lineup the Mariners used last year on opening day in a 2-0 victory at Oakland behind Hernandez:

Franklin Gutierrez, CF; Michael Saunders, RF; Kendrys Morales, DH; Michael Morse, LF; Justin Smoak, 1B; Kyle Seager, 3B; Jesus Montero, C; Dustin Ackley, 2B; and Brendan Ryan, SS.

SHORT HOPS

This was the start of the Mariners’ 38th season. They were 22-15 in previous openers with a seven-game winning streak. The last club to win more than seven straight openers was Cincinnati, which had a nine-year streak from 1983-91. ... Closer Fernando Rodney, at 37 years and 11 days, is the oldest player on the roster. The youngest is catcher Mike Zunino at 23 years and four days. ... This is the Mariners’ sixth straight road opener after opening at home 13 times in a 14-year stretch from 1995-2008.

ON TAP

The Mariners and Angels play the second of the three-game set against the Angels at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday. Scheduled starting pitchers: Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (5-3, 4.98 ERA in 2013) will face Angles left-hander C.J. Wilson (17-7, 3.39 in 2013). The game will be shown on Root Sports.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @TNT_Mariners

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