ANAHEIM, Calif. — Look, it’s only two games. Yes, two victories; still, let’s not get carried away. Even if it is the Mariners we’re talking about after Tuesday’s 8-3 clipping of the Los Angeles Angels.
But consider manager Lloyd McClendon, prior to the game, mentioned how “you only feel as good as your starter on a daily basis. Tonight I feel pretty good.”
Erasmo Ramirez, 1-0, then went out and held the Angels to two runs and six hits in seven innings while striking out six and walking none.
And recall how McClendon talked all spring of how Justin Smoak might lead the league in doubles and rack up 100 RBIs?
Well, Smoak had a three-run double that capped a four-run third inning against Angels starter C.J. Wilson (0-1) and now has six RBIs in two games. (He only had 50 all of last season.)
Remember, too, that McClendon kept saying he liked the way rookie Abraham Almonte was swinging in spring training even though the numbers raised all sorts of doubts.
Yep, Almonte opened the scoring against Wilson with an RBI double after getting two hits in Monday’s victory.
Now, throw in two homers by Brad Miller and … yes, it’s only two games, but it’s two really good games. And McClendon — right now, anyway — seems to have all of the answers.
Tom Wilhelmsen inherited a
6-2 lead from Ramirez to start the eighth, and he couldn’t have started better: He froze Mike Trout on a 1-2 curve. Then it got messy.
Albert Pujols grounded a double past third, and Josh Hamilton walked. David Freese’s grounder to short resulted in an out at second, but Smoak couldn’t dig the throw from Robinson Cano.
The result was a run-scoring throwing error.
Joe Beimel replaced Wilhelmsen for a left-on-left matchup against Raul Ibañez, whose two-run homer in the fourth provided the only runs against Ramirez.
Beimel never threw a pitch. He instead threw to first and picked off Freese. Then came Miller’s second homer, a two-out dart with Dustin Ackley on third, and it was 8-3.
Mariners closer Fernando Rodney closed out the victory in a non-save situation.
Ackley and John Buck started the four-run third with one-out singles. Almonte’s liner to left resulted in an RBI double when Hamilton slipped on the play.
Wilson had a chance to get out of the inning when Miller chased a 2-2 slider out of the zone. An intentional walk to Cano loaded the bases for Smoak, who drove a 91-mph fastball into the left-center gap.
The Angels got two runs back after Hamilton opened the fourth with a slicing double to left. Ibañez then launched a one-out homer over the center-field wall.
An error by Miller on Howie Kendrick’s routine grounder to short and Hank Conger’s bloop single put runners at first and second. Ramirez avoided further trouble by striking out Erick Aybar and Kole Calhoun.
The Mariners answered immediately when Miller cranked a two-out homer in the fifth that pushed the lead to 5-2. They knocked out Wilson in the sixth on Ackley’s two-out double that scored Corey Hart.
HART GETS THE START
Corey Hart returned Tuesday to a big league lineup for the first time since Oct. 31, 2012. That’s 546 days, if you’re counting … and an eternity if you’re Hart.
“When you miss a full year you start to appreciate what kind of a job we have and what we get to do,” he said. “To not have that for a year, and now come back, it’s a special day.”
Hart was the designated hitter for the second game of the Mariners’ season-opening series against the Angels. His last action came at first base in a Milwaukee uniform in 2012 before surgery on both knees forced him to miss all of last season.
“The knees haven’t been a problem,” he said. “That’s been the big thing. I was more worried about that than anything. It’s just been the regular grinding. The body is just trying to get used to doing it again.”
It didn’t go smoothly.
It was no sure thing Hart, signed in the offseason, would be ready for the start of the season after forearm and back issues (not his knees) interrupted his spring work schedule.
Club officials didn’t make the decision to put Hart, 32, on the active roster until he passed a cram course of minor league games — roughly 30 at-bats in four days — during the final week in spring camp.
“I worked through everything I needed to work through,” Hart said. “I made it. I didn’t have to start on the DL. That was a big step. Now, I just need to get the nerves out of the way. Go out there and have fun again.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon said Hart will likely draw spot duty initially as the DH against left-handed pitchers, but the long-term goal remains unchanged: The Mariners would like him to be their regular right fielder.
Sitting through Monday’s season-opening hoopla, outfielder Stefen Romero said, should ease the emotional experience Tuesday of making his big league debut.
“Just the roar of the crowd,” he said, “40,000-plus people. It hits you right there. … And all the theatrical stuff. The fireworks. The fire out of the rocks (beyond the outfield wall). I just wanted to soak it all in.”
A day later? Romero said he’s ready to do what he did in spring training to win a spot on the roster.
“When you have a little bit of jitters you’re a little bit hesitant,” Romero said. “But you just have to throw it out the window and go with it.
“The lights are a little brighter. I was talking to Mac (McClendon), and he said, ‘Don’t change anything you were doing in spring training, and you’ll be fine.’”
NO PLATOON, BUT …
McClendon’s plan, all along, was to find playing time for everyone in the season’s first few days.
“If you don’t,” he said, “you’ve just wasted the last 25 days of spring. Guys sit for seven or eight days, that’s no good.”
That meant Hart, Romero and backup catcher John Buck started in place of Logan Morrison, Michael Saunders and Mike Zunino. The only position player who didn’t start one of the first two games was Willie Bloomquist.
But McClendon also acknowledged he wanted a more right-handed lineup (Hart and Romero over Morrison and Saunders) against Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson.
“I’m not ready to say we have a platoon-type lineup,” McClendon said. “It’s a combination of things. It gives us better balance, and it gives us a chance to get these guys in early.”
BOB.DUTTON@THENEWSTRIBUNE.COM BLOG.THENEWSTRIBUNE.COM/MARINERS @TNT_MARINERS