Kotchman hits Mariners past A’s in season opener
OAKLAND – For a brief moment Sunday, Don Wakamatsu considered batting Casey Kotchman in the sixth hole instead of third where he had hit all spring.
“We talked about the possibility and he said, ‘I feel good,'” said Wakamatsu, who then changed his mind on the spot.
Nice call, skip.
Kotchman hit a go-ahead two-run single with two outs in the ninth inning to go along with two earlier RBIs in an impressive Seattle debut, lifting the Mariners to a 5-3 season-opening victory against the Oakland Athletics on Monday night.
“I don’t really know what kind of case I made,” Kotchman said of that conversation with his manager. “Wak has an open dialogue and he asked me some questions.”
Kotchman hit an RBI double in the first and a third-inning sacrifice fly that staked ace Felix Hernandez to a 3-0 lead Seattle couldn’t keep to get him the win.
Brandon League (1-0) pitched the eighth for the victory and David Aardsma finished with a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save.
Milton Bradley shattered his bat into several splinters after pounding it to the ground in frustration following a strikeout to end the ninth. He was booed all night by his former fans. Bradley spent the 2006 season and part of ’07 with Oakland.
Brad Ziegler (0-1) took the loss after allowing a pair of unearned runs and no hits.
Hernandez looked strong until running into trouble in the seventh inning of a solid 2010 debut. He allowed three hits and three runs, struck out four and walked six in 6 2-3 innings.
Hernandez, a 19-game winner who hopes to challenge for the AL Cy Young Award again this season, took the mound for the first time since “King Felix” was rewarded with a new $78 million, five-year contract in January.
He was done after allowing consecutive two-out walks in the seventh, when the A’s tied it at 3 on back-to-back RBI singles by Cliff Pennington and Rajai Davis.
“First day,” Hernandez said, smiling. “I threw quality pitches and made pitches when I was in trouble. The one thing I didn’t like was the walks.”
New A’s $10 million ace Ben Sheets labored through five rough innings in his first start since late 2008, having already reached 80 pitches through four.
Chone Figgins – Seattle’s speedy new No. 2 hitter – stole two bases and scored twice for the Mariners, who are expected to contend for the division crown in Wakamatsu’s second season.
“Not bad. We’ll take it,” Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik said.
This marked the first of seven meetings between the AL West rivals in the first 10 games of the season.
Sheets pitched in a major league game for the first time since Sept. 27, 2008, while with Milwaukee. The 31-year-old right-hander missed all of last season while recovering from elbow surgery on his throwing arm – and Oakland general manager Billy Beane took a big gamble that the four-time All-Star can return to top form this year. He struggled with his command during spring training.
“It took me entirely too long to get through five innings,” Sheets said. “I thought I got better as the night went along.”
Seattle provided an early glimpse of the potential of the Mariners’ remade lineup featuring Figgins at the top of the order batting behind leadoff man Ichiro Suzuki.
“It’s like having two leadoff guys,” A’s manager Bob Geren said.
Figgins stole second in each of the first two innings, advancing to third on catcher Kurt Suzuki’s errors both times before scoring on Kotchman’s RBIs.
“That’s what I do. I hustle,” Figgins said. “That’s the plan, if we can get on and keep running, and create havoc.”
Ken Griffey Jr., the 40-year-old designated hitter in his 22nd season, had an eighth-inning double.
Before the game, Griffey acted like an excited rookie in the very stadium where he produced his first major league hit back in 1989.
“A double to left,” he said with a grin while recalling that hit off Dave Stewart.
Suzuki sneaked up on the slugger at a clubhouse table before batting practice and the two stars pulled off an elaborate fist-bumping routine that ended with Griffey pounding his chest as they both giggled.
Eric Chavez went 0 for 4 in his return to the A’s as the team’s regular designated hitter. The former six-time Gold Glove third baseman played in only eight games last season and has undergone five operations since Sept. 5, 2007.
He is in the final season of a $66 million, six-year contract extension he signed in March 2004 that includes a 2011 club option.
Four A’s-clad fans among the 30,686 in attendance carried two banners: “Lew Wolff Hates Oakland” and “Keep Our A’s in Oakland” while two others banged drums as they took their message about the team’s owner through the stands.
NOTES: The A’s lost their sixth straight opener. … AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey of the A’s was presented with his award before the game. … Mickey McConnell of the Sweet 16 Saint Mary’s team – with Omar Samhan and other teammates and coaches watching from around the mound – threw out the ceremonial first pitch. The players were cheered and congratulated as they made their way through the stands to the field. “This is awesome,” athletic director Mark Orr said. “What’s cool is in the stands they’re yelling ‘Saint Mary’s!'” McConnell’s throw was high and outside – not as spot-on as his 3-pointer.
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