The Seattle Mariners fully expected to be an improved ball club with Robinson Cano in the fold, though they may not have envisioned starting out this well.
Fresh off their first season-opening sweep in 29 years, the visiting Mariners look to keep rolling Thursday night against an Oakland Athletics team that’s had trouble in the late innings.
Seattle, coming off its 12th straight season without a playoff berth, made a splash in the offseason by signing Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract in an attempt to bring some excitement back to the franchise.
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So far, so good, as the Mariners outscored the Los Angeles Angels 26-8 for their first three-game sweep to start the season since 1985. Cano went 5 for 11 with four walks in the series and drove in his first run in a Seattle uniform in Wednesday’s 8-2 victory.
Mike Zunino, Justin Smoak and Corey Hart all homered for the Mariners, who haven’t started 3-0 since 1995.
"We had a lot of confidence coming in," Smoak said. "We’ve got a great pitching staff. We were able to score some runs. Now we have to keep it going."
Things haven’t been going as well for Oakland, which dropped two of three to Cleveland in its opening series. The A’s split Wednesday’s double-header, winning the opener 6-1 before falling 6-4 in the second game.
Closer Jim Johnson, who was acquired from Baltimore in the offseason, hasn’t gotten off to a good start with his new club. He gave up both runs in the ninth inning of a 2-0 loss in Monday’s opener, then couldn’t hold a one-run lead and gave up three runs in the ninth of the nightcap.
Johnson has been charged with five of the team’s nine runs allowed in just one full inning of work.
"We should be 3-0, and I take responsibility," Johnson said. "But if I sulk or pout it’s not going to do anyone any good. I have to be better."
Oakland will look to get back on track against Seattle starter Roenis Elias, who will be making his major league debut.
The 25-year-old Cuban defector has yet to pitch above Double-A, but manager Lloyd McClendon informed Elias he made the big club before his final spring outing Friday.
"I’m very happy the team has given me this opportunity," the left-hander told the team’s official website. "Every time I go out there, I’m going to give it all I can with my heart to help the team win."
The A’s will counter with Jesse Chavez, who went 2-4 with a 3.92 ERA and one save in 35 relief appearances in 2013. He’ll be making his fifth career start and first since June 24, 2012, while with Toronto.
Oakland’s projected rotation needed tweaking due to Jarrod Parker needing Tommy John surgery and A.J. Griffin dealing with elbow soreness. That opened the door for Chavez, who capped a solid spring by pitching 5 1-3 hitless innings against San Francisco on Friday.
"It’ll be different," Chavez told the team’s official website about being in the starting rotation. "It’ll be a lot of adrenaline, a lot of excitement. Think it’s something that I’ll have to calm down."
The right-hander has pitched 11 relief innings in his career against Seattle, giving up only an unearned run while striking out 13.