Mariners smoke Angels in home opener

Hart hits 2 homers, Paxton injured as Seattle rallies over Los Angeles in home opener

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.comApril 9, 2014 

SEATTLE — That other guy the Mariners signed in the offseason to boost their attack put down a big-time marker Tuesday night in 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

Corey Hart clocked two no-doubt homers that helped the Mariners to a successful home opener on a night when Robinson Cano had only a walk to show for four plate appearances and James Paxton exited with an injury.

Paxton, 2-0, suffered a strained back muscle that forced him from the game in the sixth inning but got the victory when four relievers combined for four scoreless innings.

Hart’s first homer was a three-run shot in a four-run fourth against Angels starter Hector Santiago that turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead.

It was still 4-3 when Hart went deep with a two-out solo shot in the seventh against Fernando Salas. It was Hart’s 15th career multihomer game.

Paxton’s night started poorly and ended with an injury — a strained lat (back) muscle. In-between, he was dominant, retiring 14 in a row after yielding three runs in the first inning on

back-to-back homers.

It was a torn lat that, effectively, sidelined Stephen Pryor last year. The Mariners characterized Paxton’s injury as a strain and say he will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.

Yoervis Medina, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmen and Fernando Rodney stifled the Angels after Paxton departed. Rodney worked around two walks to start the ninth inning for his second save.

Paxton’s tough first inning started with a one-out single by Mike Trout. And then ... boom and boom.

Albert Pujols crushed a 1-0 fastball to left for a two-run homer. Two pitches later, David Freese rocked an 0-1 change-up over the center-field wall for another homer and a 3-0 lead.

Paxton had only allowed four earned runs over 31 innings in five previous career starts, which included seven shutout innings last Wednesday in an 8-2 victory over the Angels in Anaheim.

Pujols’ homer was the 493rd of his career, which tied him with Lou Gehrig for 22nd on the all-time list. It also boosted his career RBI total to 1,501.

The Mariners got it all back and more in the third inning by cashing in on a mistake — Brad Miller reached on a two-out swinging third strike when the ball got away from catcher Chris Iannetta on a wild pitch.

Santiago seemed to pitch around Cano in a four-pitch walk, but Justin Smoak spoiled the strategy with a hard grounder up the middle for an RBI single.

Hart then fell into an 0-2 hole before driving a 95-mph fastball over the left-field wall for a three-run homer. That quickly, the Mariners led 4-3. Only two of Hart’s previous 155 career homers came on 0-2 pitches.

Paxton, meanwhile, settled into a groove after the two homers. Aided by some stout defense, he retired 14 in a row before Kole Calhoun opened the sixth with a single.

The Mariners knocked out Santiago (0-2) in the fifth when Smoak lined a one-out double into the left-center gap. Angels manager Mike Scioscia opted not to let Santiago face Hart again.

In came Michael Kohn, and Hart sent a drive to deep left that Josh Hamilton caught and dropped. The original ruling was a catch, but Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon challenged — and won.

When Kohn walked Kyle Seager, the Mariners had the bases loaded with one out, but Stefen Romero popped out, and Dustin Ackley flied to left.

It was a big missed opportunity.

After Calhoun opened the sixth with a single, Paxton made one pitch to Trout before exiting. Medina took over a 1-0 count on Trout.

Medina struck out Trout but walked Pujols after jumping ahead 0-2 in the count. The inning ended when Freese grounded into a double play.

PITCHING HELP CLOSE

The Mariners’ two rehabbing starting pitchers, right-handers Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, are poised to take the next step Wednesday in their recovery programs.

Plans call for Iwakuma, an All-Star a year ago, to throw from a mound for the first time since being diagnosed in early February with a strained ligament in his middle finger.

Walker shifts to Double-A Jackson for his second minor league rehab start after lasting 4 innings Friday at High-A High Desert. He is recovering from shoulder soreness that forced a one-week shutdown in early March.

“We want to try to keep him in warm weather as long as we can,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. “This gives us an opportunity to move him to a higher level and still stay in a fairly decent climate.”

Walker, 21, is slotted for roughly 85 pitches for the Generals in their home game against Mississippi (Braves). Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-50s throughout the game.

Iwakuma, who turns 33 on Saturday, will throw a bullpen workout prior to the Mariners’ series finale against the Angels at Safeco Field. He is expected to throw about 30 pitches, all fastballs.

“I’d probably say he’s a little bit ahead of schedule,” McClendon said of Iwakuma. “I think it will (be) a session-to-session thing with Iwakuma. Just like it was with Walker.”

Even so, McClendon anticipates Iwakuma will make rapid progress once he begins to face hitters. Both pitchers could be ready to rejoin the Mariners’ rotation before the end of the month.

“If you look at Kuma’s history,” McClendon said, “he’s been able to go through lineups, go through seven innings, with a fair amount of pitches. He’s a strike-thrower.”

MAKE-A-WISH MOMENT

Avinash Day, a 10-year-old from Tacoma, ran the bases before the game to the cheers of a sellout crowd as part of the Make-A-Wish program.

Avinash has been diagnosed with familial polyposis, a life-threatening genetic condition characterized by colon cancer. He was greeted at the plate by Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Abraham Almonte.

Avinash is a fourth-grader who lives with his parents, Kavita and Edward Day, and his 14-year-old sister, Chandani. He hopes to be a brain surgeon or a baseball player when he grows up.

Almonte is Avinash’s favorite player.

ALMONTE COMPARISON

Almonte already owns a niche in the Mariners’ record book after throwing out two runners in Sunday’s 6-3 loss in Oakland.

It marked the 15th time that a center fielder registered two assists. The previous occasion was Ichiro Suzuki in a 5-1 loss at Houston on June 15, 2007.

McClendon offered another historical reference for Almonte: Ron LeFlore, who played for the Tigers, White Sox and Expos in a nine-year career from 1974-82.

“A very powerful runner who has good power to all fields,” McClendon said. “Slashy type of guy who can create runs and produce runs. I think he’s going to be that type of guy.”

YOUNG STAYS IN PEN

It’s no surprise, because of two open dates this week in the schedule, but veteran right-hander Chris Young isn’t ticketed to return to the rotation until next week.

Young lost a projected start Friday when the O.co Coliseum in Oakland was deemed unplayable after its infield was left uncovered during a morning rainstorm.

“As for right now,” McClendon said, “he’ll stay in the bullpen.”

A DAY FIT FOR A KING FELIX

Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, now in his 10th season, turned 28 years old on Tuesday. He was just 19 when he made his big-league debut on Aug. 4, 2005 in a 3-1 loss to the Tigers in Detroit.

Hernandez got the loss despite giving up only one earned run and three hits in that game. It didn’t start well; the first four Tigers reached safely in the first inning on a single, walk, walk and single.

Two notes about that game: Willie Bloomquist started for the Mariners at second base, and Fernando Rodney closed out Detroit’s victory by retiring Bloomquist, Raul Ibañez and Richie Sexson in a one-two-three ninth.

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

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