4/2/2014 3:45 A.M. ET
Smoak off to strong start as protection for Cano
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- One of the big questions all spring for the Mariners was who would hit behind Robinson Cano and provide the lineup protection for the team's new free-agent prize?
It's only been two games, but first baseman Justin Smoak has provided an emphatic early answer to that query by going 4-for-8 with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs as Seattle has opened with a pair of wins over the Angels.
Cano went 2-for-4 with a double in his Opening Day debut in the Mariners' No. 3 hole and reached base three times with a single and two walks in Tuesday's 8-3 win, setting up some good situations for one of the youngsters he's taken under his wing this spring. And Smoak, who totaled just 50 RBIs despite hitting 20 home runs in 2013, appreciates the opportunity to hit behind the five-time All-Star.
The Angels intentionally walked Cano to load the bases with two outs in the third on Tuesday and Smoak followed with a three-run double.
"That's what he's going to have to do," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "He's going to be challenged, but he's swinging the bat extremely well and he's full of confidence. I like what I've seen from him."
Smoak knew what was coming and had a simple approach to the bases-loaded opportunity.
"Just go up there relaxed," he said. "It's going to happen a bunch and there's a reason why. It's just go up there relaxed and not try to do too much and just have a good at-bat."
Hitting behind Cano figures to present many such opportunities.
"No doubt," Smoak said. "With a guy like that, you know the majority of the time you're going to come up to the plate with him on base. He's going to take a walk or get his hits. It's something where you know you're going to have guys on base with him and Brad [Miller] and Abraham [Almonte]. It's just go up there with a mentality that you're going to do something good every time."
So far, so good. Last season, Smoak totaled three RBIs in his first 20 games, didn't get his first double until the 14th game of the season and his first home run until the 23rd game. He finished the month of April with one home run and five RBIs. Two days into the season, he's already eclipsed that RBI mark.
"We're getting some good hits with guys on base, and when you do that, you put runs on the board and put pressure on the other team," Smoak said. "That's what we've done the last two nights."
Felix to get 'Supreme Court' treatment in home debut
ANAHEIM -- Felix Hernandez will be greeted by a Safeco Field "Supreme Court" gathering when he makes his first home start of the season on Friday, April 11 against the A's.
The Mariners have turned the "King's Court" down the left-field line into a Safeco Field tradition for Hernandez's home starts in the past three seasons, and the "Supreme Court" is a larger version, with the entire park turned into yellow-clad fans waving "K" cards.
The first 25,000 fans will receive a free yellow "Supreme Court" T-shirt and commemorative "K" card. Tickets will be specially priced at $12 for all view-level seats and $25 for select main-level, terrace-club and outfield-reserved seats.
Tickets for the game are on sale now without service charge at the Safeco Field box office and at all Mariners Team Stores, and are also available online at mariners.com/felix and by phone at 1-888-732-4487.
The first "Supreme Court" was held on Aug. 21, 2012, to celebrate Hernandez's perfect game against the Rays and then was reconvened on his first Safeco Field start last year as well.
Hart will be brought along slowly by Mariners
ANAHEIM -- New Mariners designated hitter/right fielder Corey Hart had a tough spring at the plate as he worked to regain his timing after sitting out last season following two knee surgeries and then missing time the last two weeks with a sore forearm.
But the good news for the two-time National League All-Star is that his knees have held up fine, so the former Brewers standout feels he just needs to play now to fine tune his swing and get where he needs to be as a potent right-handed bat in Seattle's lineup.
"It's a different ballgame when the season starts," said Hart, who hit just .132 in 13 Cactus League games. "I've worked through everything I need to work through and I made it without starting on the DL. That was a big step. Now I just have to go out there and get the nerves out of the way and have fun again."
Hart didn't play on Opening Day against right-hander Jered Weaver, but he played Tuesday against left-hander C.J. Wilson and will play Wednesday against lefty Hector Santiago. Manager Lloyd McClendon plans to bring him along slowly at the start of the year, with the hope he'll be able to play 140-plus games over the long haul.
"I'm competitive so I want to [play every day]," said Hart, who went 1-for-4 with an run scored in the Mariners' 8-3 win over the Angels on Tuesday. "But it'll work out. Baseball works out in the end. I'll get in there when he tells me to get in there, and eventually I'll make it hard for him to not put me in there. From missing a full year, it's exciting to just get back on the field and get my at-bats and work toward the comfort level that hopefully I get soon."
Hart said he hurt his forearm from trying to "keep up with all these younger guys" in outfield drills this spring. He took about a week off to let that rest, then played four Minor League intrasquad games in four days so he could bat every inning and get extra swings.
He said the main thing is getting back to seeing and recognizing pitches quicker, a process he knew would take most of spring after not playing since 2012. That time off was frustrating, but it also provided a perspective the Kentucky native will take to the plate with him for his first at-bat Tuesday night.
"Any time you miss a full year, you appreciate what kind of job we have and what we get to do," he said. "To not have that for a year and then come back, it'll be a special day. But I've been there enough to make sure it's going to be fun and exciting, and it's a new chapter with these guys. I'm excited to get out there with them."
Romero makes big league debut for Mariners
ANAHEIM -- Rookie right fielder Stefen Romero made his Major League debut on Tuesday night against the Angels as one of two Mariners in their first big league stints. Pitcher Roenis Elias is the other first-timer on the 25-man roster, but he'll have to wait until Thursday to make his first start against the A's in Oakland.
Romero, 25, said it was the thrill of a lifetime to be part of Monday's Opening Day ceremonies at Angel Stadium.
"It was awesome," the Arizona native said prior to Tuesday's game. "Especially when they announced us. When they said, 'And your visitors, the Seattle Mariners,' and everybody was booing, I was like, 'Oh, OK. There you go.' Once they were calling their guys out, just the roar of the crowd and 40,000-plus people, it just kind of hits you right there. Especially being down on the field, everything comes toward you.
"That was a big moment, especially all the theatrical stuff, the fireworks, the fire coming out of the rocks. But after that, I was fine. I just wanted to soak it all in. I was getting ready in the sixth or seventh inning in case I needed to pinch-hit. I was ready. The nerves started to settle down. Tonight, I feel like I'll be a little nervous, but after that first pitch, that first fly ball, that first hit, then it'll just be normal after that."
Romero, a standout at Oregon State in 2009-10, said he found comfort in finding his parents, aunt and uncle and girlfriend in the sellout crowd of 44,152 on Opening Day.
"That kind of calmed me down a little because they were all at my Spring Training games," said Romero, who went 0-for-4 in the Mariners' 8-3 win over the Angels. "So to see them there gave me a sense of comfort."
• Lefty reliever Charlie Furbush was knocked out of Monday's game by a Mike Trout line drive off his left calf, but said he was available to pitch Tuesday. "I'm fine," Furbush said. "But it squared me up pretty good."
• McClendon visited Angels hitting coach Don Baylor in the hospital just prior to his surgery Tuesday to repair a broken femur that occurred when the 64-year-old's knee bent awkwardly when he reached to catch Monday's ceremonial opening pitch from Vladimir Guerrero.
"He was on his way into surgery, but it was nice to see him," McClendon said. "It seemed like he was in good spirits. That was tough to see. He's always been an idol of mine. I think he's going to be OK."
• The Mariners announced their Minor League rosters Tuesday as their four top affiliates all begin the season Thursday. Triple-A Tacoma's roster includes 10 players who've spent time with the Mariners: starters Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer; relievers Logan Bawcom, Lucas Luetge and Chance Ruffin; infielders Nick Franklin and Jesus Montero; outfielder Endy Chavez and catchers Humberto Quintero and Jesus Sucre. Other MLB veterans on the team include outfielder Cole Gillespie and relievers Ramon Ramirez and Zach Miner. Top prospects with Tacoma include infielders Ji-Man Choi, Nate Tenbrink, Ty Kelly and Chris Taylor, outfielder James Jones and relievers Dominic Leone and Carson Smith.
The Double-A Jackson squad includes right-hander Victor Sanchez, outfielders Jabari Blash and Leon Landry and catcher John Hicks, all well-regarded prospects. Third baseman D.J. Peterson, last year's first-round Draft pick, will open at Class A Advanced High Desert, as will top young outfield prospect Gabriel Guerrero and left-hander Tyler Pike.
Justin Seager, the younger brother of Kyle Seager, is among the group at Class A Clinton along with outfielder Austin Wilson, last year's second-round Draft pick, and young southpaw Edwin Diaz.