Rodney shows he knows how to close

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comApril 6, 2014 

Mariners closer Fernando Rodney celebrates after striking out the final two Oakland batters to preserve a 3-1 win over the Athletics on Saturday. Rodney got a two-year deal before spring training.

BOB STANTON/USA TODAY SPORTS

OAKLAND — The initial return on the Seattle Mariners’ $14 million investment in an All-Star closer was a two-strikeout, game-saving dividend in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

Veteran Fernando Rodney, after a shaky spring, converted his first save situation by striking out John Jaso and Josh Reddick after replacing Felix Hernandez with one out and a runner at second in the ninth inning.

“What I told you in spring training is, I was just working both sides (of the plate) on the location of my fastball,” Rodney said. “It looked good tonight. Work both sides of the plate. Throw strikes.

“This is the season. This is different.”

Before spring training, the Mariners signed Rodney, 37, to a two-year deal in hopes of patching a leaky bullpen that suffered 13 walk-off losses in 2013.

His spring numbers were mixed at best: eight runs and 11 hits in seven innings over eight appearances. Rodney and manager Lloyd McClendon dismissed those numbers as irrelevant.

Maybe they were right.

“You could see Rodney turn it up,” McClendon said. “There was a different look in (his) eye.”

WALKER UPDATE

The Mariners’ immediate assessment of right-hander Taijuan Walker’s rehab start Friday for high Single-A High Desert: all positive.

It’s possible — possible — Walker could be ready to rejoin the big league rotation after one more minor league start (i.e., about 10 days or so).

“Everything went great,” McClendon said. “He was clean. No setbacks. He’ll continue to move forward.”

A sore shoulder slowed Walker in spring training, but he threw 72 pitches against Inland Empire (Angels) while allowing two runs (one earned) and four hits in 4 innings. He also walked one and struck out seven in High Desert’s 5-4 win.

In his next start, Walker is slated to throw 85-90 pitches, generally the level required as a final tuneup for big-league duty.

“We’ll see how he feels after that one,” McClendon cautioned. “I’m not sure where his next start is going to be. It needs to be warm weather for me. We’ll see. I don’t think it will be (low Single-A) Clinton.”

The LumberKings’ game Friday at Cedar Rapids was postponed because of subfreezing temperatures at game time.

IWAKUMA TO TACOMA?

The road back to the rotation for All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma could go through Triple-A Tacoma.

Iwakuma is scheduled to throw again Sunday from flat ground in his recovery from a strained ligament in his middle finger. If all goes well, he could throw a bullpen session by the middle of the week.

As for a rehab assignment for Iwakuma?

“I think by the time he’s ready, I think the weather will probably be pretty decent for the most part,” McClendon said. “You’ll probably see him in Tacoma.”

YOUNG IN LIMBO

Veteran right-hander Chris Young is heading to the bullpen — temporarily, anyway — as a long reliever after his scheduled start Friday fell victim to unplayable conditions at O.co Coliseum.

McClendon opted not to push the other four starters back a day to accommodate Young.

“I think anytime you have a chance to keep your No. 1 (Felix Hernandez) on schedule,” McClendon said, “you keep him on schedule. To me, that just makes more sense. He’s No. 1 for a reason.”

Hernandez started – and won – Saturday against the A’s. Meanwhile, McClendon confirmed his rotation plans through Friday.

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will start Sunday’s series finale against the A’s, while rookie left-handers James Paxton and Roenis Elias will start Tuesday and Wednesday against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field.

After a open date Thursday, Hernandez is slotted for Friday’s series opener against the A’s. The Mariners won’t require a fifth starter until April 15 at Texas.

By then, Walker might be ready. So where does that leave Young?

“He’ll pitch out of the bullpen,” McClendon said, “and we’ll try to keep him as sharp as we can there. Then we’ll re-evaluate in a few days and see where we are.”

MAKEUP PLANS

A makeup date for Friday’s postponement hasn’t been determined, although it probably will occur as part of a day/night doubleheader during the Mariners’ May 5-7 trip to Oakland.

Mariners player representative Charlie Furbush said the A’s preferred an immediate makeup as part of a Saturday doubleheader.

“When we didn’t agree on that,” the pitcher said, “they came back and agreed that one (game Saturday) was better for them, too.”

Makeup dates are subject to union approval under terms of the labor agreement.

HOME OPENER

The Mariners say only scattered single tickets remain for Tuesday’s home opener against the Angels.

The gates will open at 4:40 p.m. for the 7:10 start. The pregame ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m., and several members of the Super Bowl champion Seahawks will participate in a ceremonial first pitch.

The Mariners also are reminding fans that, in compliance with Major League Baseball guidelines, entry into Safeco Field now includes enhanced screening procedures.

LOOKING BACK

It was 37 years ago Sunday — April 6, 1977 — that the Mariners played their first game ... and it didn’t go so well.

The then-California Angels rolled to a 7-0 victory behind Frank Tanana in front of an announced crowd of 57,762 at the Kingdome.

Diego Segui started the game by walking Jerry Remy, now a broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox. Remy scored on Don Baylor’s two-out double — the first hit in a Mariners game.

The first hit by a Mariner was a one-out single in the first inning by Jose Baez. But Steve Braun followed by grounding into a double play. Things didn’t get much better.

ON TAP

The Mariners and A’s conclude their truncated weekend series at 1:05 p.m. Sunday at O.co Coliseum in Oakland. Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (1-0, 2.57 ERA) will look to build off a strong first start.

The A’s are skipping left-hander Tommy Milone to keep right-hander Sonny Gray (0-0, 0.00) on his regular day. Gray worked six scoreless innings in a season-opening loss to Cleveland. The game will be shown on Root Sports.

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

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