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Ichiro ready for another season filled with hits

From the first inning, and from the very first pitch, the Opening Day matchup between the A's and the Mariners will put some very special talent on display.

Trevor Cahill, a 23-year-old right-hander who burst out to a stellar season in 2010, will throw the first pitch of the 2011 season to Ichiro Suzuki, coming off his record 10th consecutive 200-hit season. And if that's not enough star power, the A's will be facing the defending American League Cy Young Award winner, Felix Hernandez, in the bottom of the first.

The A's, coming off a second-place finish in the AL West a year ago, go in hoping to challenge the defending champion Rangers and the Angels for this year's division title. Oakland's offense was bolstered by the arrivals of Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham and the return of much of the staff that ranked second in the Majors last year behind its Bay Area neighbors, the Giants.

The Mariners, meanwhile, might be more challenged to hope for the same, with Ichiro's supporting cast on offense among the issues facing them coming off a 101-loss season.

What the Mariners definitely do have is an ace among aces in Hernandez, who at age 24 was dominant enough to win the Cy Young in a runaway despite a 13-12 record, thanks to a Majors-low 2.27 ERA, an AL-high 249 2/3 innings and 232 strikeouts, one off the Majors high by the Angels' Jered Weaver.

In his final spring tuneup, Hernandez pitched seven innings against Mariners Minor Leaguers for a second time. In his three official Cactus League starts, he went 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA, giving up 17 hits in 11 2 /3 innings. But Hernandez said he got his work in just fine.

"All of my pitches were there, right on the corners," he said. "Everything is good. Now I have to prepare for Opening Day. It'll be good."

Cahill, who posted a 2.97 ERA and 18-8 record in 30 starts last year, will be making his first Opening Day start, becoming the sixth different starter to get the assignment in the last six years. He follows, in reverse order, Ben Sheets, Dallas Braden, Joe Blanton, Dan Haren and Barry Zito.

At 23 years, 31 days, he is the seventh-youngest pitcher to start Opening Day for the A's, the youngest since Vida Blue in 1971 (21 years, 151 days). But at any age, he was a no-brainer for this assignment, even within a deep and talented rotation.

"Trevor was, in my mind, going to start Opening Day -- if everything went well physically -- for the entire offseason," A's manager Bob Geren said. "I liked what he did last year. I liked his demeanor on the mound -- the mental side of the game that he takes out there each time makes him ideal to start any game of the year. If there's a little extra hoopla and flyovers and fireworks on Opening Night, he's the perfect guy to handle that."

Said Cahill: "There are a bunch of guys to choose from. Everyone had a good year, so I think it's about lining things up. I know [Geren] feels confident in winning with whoever he puts out there, so I don't think it's a huge deal -- just an honor, more than anything."

Mariners: Ichiro begins quest for 11
Heading into 2011, Ichiro has another all-time record in his sights, as an 11th consecutive 200-hit season would break a tie with Pete Rose for the most such seasons in a career. Ichiro also has the most hits in Major League Baseball since his arrival, with 2,244. He'll turn 38 in October, but Ichiro doesn't plan on slowing down soon. "It doesn't feel like I've played too long," Ichiro said. "Maybe I can say I'm halfway there." ... Franklin Gutierrez, the Mariners' Gold Glove center fielder, will open the season on the 15-day disabled list. Gutierrez has been plagued by stomach problems from a digestive tract issue throughout spring, but still has received no answers from a battery of medical tests. His return remains uncertain. Ryan Langerhans will man center field in Gutierrez's absence. Gutierrez is eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday. He had only 24 at-bats this spring and might need to get in some hitting in the Minors or extended spring camp.

A's: Closer Bailey starts on DL
Although Andrew Bailey continues to make progress in his recovery from a strained right forearm, he'll start the season on the disabled list. "It's safe to say I'll miss a little time," Bailey said. "But better now than a month or two or three down the road." Bailey played catch Sunday for the first time since tearing scar tissue in his surgically-repaired right elbow two weeks ago and had another good throwing session Tuesday. Bailey pitched just 1 1/3 Cactus League innings this spring. In Bailey's absence, Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour will be the main options in save situations. ... Ryan Sweeney took things a little slow early in the spring to ensure he'd recovered from right knee surgery, but he finished strong and figures to see time at all three outfield positions when the season begins. Coco Crisp is expected to be surrounded by newcomers Josh Willingham in left and David DeJesus in right on a regular basis. ... Willingham will be the 12th Opening Day starter in left field over the last 12 years.

Worth noting
The A's and Mariners have met seven times previously on Opening Day, with Seattle winning four of those games. That includes last year's 5-3 win for the Mariners. ... The A's have lost their past six Opening Day games, the longest such streak in franchise history. They have lost 13 of their past 17 openers. ... The Mariners are 19-15 overall in season openers, and have won four consecutive and five of the last six. Comments