OAKLAND -- After four seasons with the A's, designated hitter Jack Cust will find himself in the other dugout this weekend when the Mariners open their season in Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. And, yeah, there'll be a little extra edge for Seattle's new cleanup hitter.
"You always want to beat the team you just played for," Cust said Thursday before going out for batting practice in his old haunt. "You've got buddies over there. Nobody wants to lose to the team you were just with. You're hoping you're going to a team that is better. That's what it comes down to.
"I just want to go out and do the best I can, and hopefully the team can win some ballgames here."
Cust could help in that effort if he gets on track early. The Mariners signed him as a free agent in an effort to add some pop to an offense that finished last in the American League in nearly every offensive category last season.
The 6-foot-1, 247-pound Cust hit 97 home runs over the past four seasons for Oakland. Of his 102 career home runs, 55 have come at the A's park and his batting average (.266), slugging percentage (.501) and OPS (.910) are considerably higher there than his career marks of .245, .452 and .830.
"This is a place I've always felt comfortable, so it's good we open up here," he said.
But he also knows what the Mariners are getting into as they square off against Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and a quality A's bullpen over the next three days.
"They've got a good staff, one of the best in the league, and they're going to be tough to beat with that pitching," Cust said. "And they've got good defense. We need to go out and manufacture some runs and hopefully get to some of those pitchers early."
Ichiro praises Wedge's leadership
OAKLAND -- Ichiro Suzuki, who begins his 11th season with the Mariners on Friday night, said there's one difference he feels this spring, and it centers on the direct approach of new manager Eric Wedge.
Ichiro acknowledged there is always a good feeling around the start of a new season, noting "if it was bad at this point, then we're in a very bad position. But it feels great."
But there is a noticeable change, he feels, in the way this particular Spring Training unfolded with Wedge at the helm.
"Every year is always different," Ichiro said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "But we have a new skipper. He's pretty clear with what he wants to do, and we all are facing the same direction. He has a strong base that won't sway. We know our roles and we all see the big picture, and that's a big influence for us."
One of Wedge's pushes is to get players working and thinking in tandem with hitters above and below them in the batting order, and Ichiro talked of both directions Thursday.
With regard to No. 2 hitter Chone Figgins, he said the growth from a year is obvious.
"We've played for a little more than a year now, and we obviously know each other a lot more," Ichiro said. "Spring Training and the season are different, so we'll have to see how it works out starting tomorrow. But we trust each other more, we know more about each other's personalities and game style. So that said, we rely on each other more because we know each other. That's how it should be, and that's how it will be."
He also sees good things in having Brendan Ryan and Jack Wilson hitting eighth and ninth at the bottom of the order, setting up more speed on the basepaths in front of him than in recent years, and the potential for more run-producing opportunities.
"It's interesting because I have more to do now with guys on base," he said. "I have to do what I can do to help the team, and that's what I look forward to."
Rodriguez earns Mariners' final roster spot
OAKLAND -- While Luis Rodriguez was largely overlooked through Spring Training as a non-roster utility infielder who seemed lost behind veteran Adam Kennedy in that same role, the Mariners saw some things they liked.
Enough so, in the end, that the 30-year-old landed the final roster spot and a chance to make his fourth Opening Day appearance in the Major Leagues.
Rodriguez was the Opening Day starter at shortstop for the Padres in 2009 and has 363 games in the big leagues with a .243 average and eight home runs. He spent all last season at Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox organization, putting together what he says was his best offensive season with a .293 average and an uncharacteristic 16 home runs.
He says the unexpected power came from a suggestion by his father, Luis Rodriguez Sr., that he should use a bigger bat. His father played amateur ball in Venezuela, where he still lives with the rest of the family.
While many were surprised at Rodriguez's inclusion on the final roster, he wasn't among those.
"Every time when you go to Spring Training, you come to compete and make the team," he said. "So it didn't surprise me, because I worked all winter for this."
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said Rodriguez, who played with Minnesota from 2005-07 before spending two years with the Padres, earned his roster spot with an excellent spring, even though he hit just .180 in 50 Cactus League at-bats.
"He had a very impressive camp," Wedge said. "He's a baseball player, a switch-hitter who can play anywhere in the infield, puts up good at-bats, knows the game. I think people forget he's got four-plus years of experience at the big league level.
"When I was at Cleveland, we saw him play a lot in Minnesota and liked the versatility, the switch-hitting part of it. He really showed us the type of bat we wanted to have and a nice complement for our bench."