4/6/2013 3:07 A.M. ET
Smart defense a by-product of familiarity, consistency
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- While the Mariners made a push to improve their offense over the offseason, pitching and defense remain a huge part of the equation and the club certainly got off to a good start in the latter department by not committing an error in its opening series against the A's.
The four error-free games tied the longest streak to open a season in club history, something also accomplished in 2006 and '09.
Shortstop Brendan Ryan, one of the premier glove men in baseball, said the defense has taken strides as well in positioning and being in place to make more plays, particularly with the infield all returning, with Kyle Seager at third, Dustin Ackley at second and Justin Smoak at first.
"After last year, I think we saw what we were capable of defensively," Ryan said. "I just think we're all in tune. We have a feel for where the ball might be and we're trying to put ourselves in the way of it. Ack is giving Smoaky a heads-up on a ball that might be coming his way. I'm giving Kyle a heads-up."
Smart defenders take note of what the count is, what pitch is being called and how a hitter figures to react and begin moving well before the batter swings.
"On a 3-1 count the hitter is probably looking to get the head out and drive something, so that ball might be more pull side so you move a little before the pitch," Ryan said. "That also speaks to some of the experience. Guys have a year or more under their belt and getting to see guys' swings, you have a better feel for where that ball is going. There's more predictability. When the pitcher is executing his pitches, that ball is more likely to go where you think it's gonna be.
"I think we've got good baseball people here, people with instincts who have a good feel for the game," said Ryan. "I think all of that speaks to the defensive product you're seeing. We do a good job communicating. Nobody is too big to not listen to another person, which speaks to the humility in the clubhouse. All that adds up and it all matters."
Seager committed the club's first error in the first inning of Friday night's 8-7, 10-inning victory.
Mariners forced to bundle up in Chicago
CHICAGO -- After seven weeks in Arizona and then California to open their season, the Mariners had a bit of a rude awakening when they came out to warm up at U.S. Cellular Field for Friday's opener of the three-game set in the Windy City.
The temperature was 41 degrees in the early afternoon and was forecast to dip into the upper 30s by game time. The Mariners have played only 10 games since 1988 when the first-pitch temperature was below 40 degrees.
Players bundled up as best they could with stocking caps and long sleeves, but there's only so much you can do while playing baseball.
"Maybe we can light a fire in the dugout," first baseman Justin Smoak suggested with a laugh.
Manager Eric Wedge managed for two years in Buffalo and seven years in Cleveland, so he's familiar with chilly weather. And Safeco Field can be as cold as any park when the wind is blowing in the early months. But Friday's game figures to be a big test before the temperatures are expected to rise a bit for Saturday's and Sunday's day games.
"It's just part of it early in the season," said Wedge. "I lived it a lot of years obviously managing in Cleveland. This time of the year, this part of the country, you're going to have days like this. We'll just try to utilize the heaters and make sure guys work to stay loose during the game. Just layer up and do what you've got to do."
Mariners center fielder Franklin Gutierrez has had sore hamstrings in recent weeks, but Wedge had him starting in center field Friday and said he wasn't overly concerned.
"He's grown to be quite the study of his own body, because he has had so many issues," Wedge said. "So I do trust him to take care of himself, but we'll do a fly by with a few of these guys and just remind them what we need to do and to pay attention, just stay within yourself on days like today."
Gutierrez went 3-for-5 with a homer, three RBIs and three runs scored during the 10-inning victory.
Shoppach finds ways to stay sharp
CHICAGO -- Kelly Shoppach was the last Mariners position player to get in a game this season, getting his first start at catcher in Thursday's 8-2 loss to the A's. But the veteran backstop made the most of his opportunity, going 2-for-3 with a walk and providing a steady hand behind the plate while working with rookie Brandon Maurer.
Shoppach, 32, signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Mariners to provide some experienced depth at catcher. He knows the starting job belongs to young Jesus Montero and 2012 first-round Draft pick Mike Zunino is looming in Triple-A Tacoma, but he's a one-day-at-a-time kind of guy and Thursday was a good day.
"Over the years, you start to trick yourself into thinking you played the day before and stay locked in," Shoppach said. "It's nice to get out there and get a hit early, not knowing when the next time you might play.
"As a bench player, I was helped by a lot of older guys to try to treat it that way. But it takes a certain maturity to get to that point because we all have a tendency to press, not knowing when your next at-bat might come."
Manager Eric Wedge, who filled a backup catcher's role in his own Major League career, said he tries to keep players informed as to when they'll likely be starting in order to help with the process. But he noted that it can be a learned art.
"Shoppy has been in that role for a while," said Wedge, who had the eight-year veteran on his Indians teams from 2006-09. "He knows himself well. We'll look to probably get him back in there [Saturday] with the early game. We communicate with these guys and try to give them as much direction as we can with when they'll play.
"But he does a good job of working like he needs to work when he's not playing and that's what allows him to be ready to play when he does."
• The Mariners' four full-season Minor League teams all opened play Thursday and there were plenty of highlights, led by catcher Mike Zunino's 3-for-4 day with a home run and triple for Triple-A Tacoma. Endy Chavez went 4-for-6 in the leadoff role and Danny Hultzen threw six innings of one-run ball on three hits with eight strikeouts in the 9-1 win over Fresno.
Taijuan Walker gave up five hits and four runs in five innings with eight strikeouts for Double-A Jackson, while right fielder Kevin Rivers ripped a grand slam and catcher Steven Baron hit an inside-the-park homer for Class A High Desert.
• Michael Morse's four home runs in Seattle's first four games put him in some pretty rare territory. The last Major Leaguer with four home runs in his team's first four outings was Nelson Cruz for the Rangers in 2011.
The only previous Mariner to achieve the feat was Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997. The last Major Leaguer with five homers in his first five games was Chris Shelton with the Tigers in 2006.
• Tickets are still available for Monday's 7:10 p.m. PT home opener against the Astros. Gates will open at 4:40 p.m. and Seattle band Pickwick will start the pregame festivities by performing three songs -- a cover of Elvis Costello's "Pump It Up", an original tune called "Window Sill," and John Fogerty's "Centerfield".
Former Mariner Jamie Moyer will throw out the ceremonial first pitch and the national anthem will be performed by Gospel Outreach Choir.