In preparation for his first major league start at first base, Jamie Burke got about 30 minutes worth of ground balls and some positive words from his Mariners coaches and teammates.
That’s about it.
When Burke arrived at Safeco Field on Thursday, playing first base was a remote possibility.
Sure he knew that both Mariners’ first basemen – Russell Branyan and Mike Sweeney – were ailing with back spasms. But the plan was to have Jose Lopez slide over from second – he’s done it before – and play Ronny Cedeño at second.
Never miss a local story.
However, Cedeño tweaked his hamstring during Wednesday night’s game, and the Mariners didn’t want to risk making the situation worse.
“Ronny’s injury is real minor, it’s just one of those deals where you don’t want it to blow on him,” Seattle manager Don Wakamatsu said.
So with Ken Griffey Jr. scheduled for a day off, Burke was the only remaining candidate.
“He’s played all over,” Wakamatsu said before the game. “I felt like he can handle it over there today.”
Catcher or no, Burke is a pretty good athlete. He was drafted as a third baseman and was a kicker at Oregon State. He had appeared in six big league games at first, never starting. But in 2006 with Triple-A Oklahoma City he started 18 games at first.
Besides taking nary a ground ball during spring training, Burke didn’t even have his own first baseman glove with him – he left it at home in Roseburg, Ore.
So Sweeney, the guy he was replacing, gave him one.
“That was another issue, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with the glove I had,” Burke said. “Then I made some adjustments and put my fingers in some different holes in the glove and I felt much better.”
As seems to be the rule, when a team tries to hide a player in the field, the ball finds him early.
And so it was Thursday. With Pat Burrell on first, lefty Ben Zobrist hit a ground ball to the right side. Burke moved to his right to backhand and throw to second to start a double play. But the ball clipped off his glove, and he was charged with an error. To make matters worse, he fired the ball wildly to first and it got past pitcher Felix Hernandez and catcher Rob Johnson to allow Burrell to advance to third. Johnson got the error on that play.
“The ball will find you,” Wakamatsu said with a grin. “And it did.”
In fact, Burke had a premonition it would be so.
“I just had that feeling I was going to try to have to turn a double play,” Burke said. “I guess you gotta catch the ball first.”
After the early play, Burke fielded his position without incident.
“I think I was more pumped up than nervous,” he said. “I was trying to field the balls too quickly, even in warm-ups.”
The Mariners open a three-game series with the Los Angeles Angels today in Anaheim. Lefty Erik Bedard (1-1, 1.86 ERA) will start for Seattle against right-hander Shane Loux (0-1, 3.65). It will be broadcast on FSN and 710-AM with first pitch at 7:05 p.m.