A GRIP ON SPORTS
Who were those guys? You know, the ones who inhabited the Mariner uniforms the past week or so? Read on.
• After a brutal road trip that finished with a 1-6 record and a lot of self doubt, the Mariners returned home a week ago not sure where their season was headed. They leave today for a trip to Toronto and Pittsburgh with a much more positive view. And it's not just because they are playing in Toronto and Pittsburgh. The M's were 5-2 on the homestand and won two series. The difference? It might have been the return of Michael Saunders, though he didn't get off the disabled list until halfway through the homestand. It might have been the return to form of Michael Morse, though he didn't start bombing the ball again until the latter half of the homestand. And it might have been the starting pitching. It's a theme I'm going to hammer home all season. And, in only rare occasions do I expect to be proven wrong. We know what the M's will get from Felix. We are pretty darn sure of what to expect from Hisashi Iwakuma. Joe Saunders in Safeco? Those should be quality starts as well, if past history is any indication. But the wild cards are Saunders on the road, Aaron Harang as the season wears on and Brandon Maurer. When Maurer is on, he is going to be a handful for any lineup. But when the rookie is off, even a little off, the M's may find themselves in a grave-deep hole. Harang is just the opposite. He's a veteran who should be able to manage his off night if just through spit and guile. That hasn't happened yet. Last night was certainly not on “off” night. He was on, as in on fire, for five innings. Yes he tired and got whacked around pretty good in the sixth, but by then the newly wound-up Mariners' offense had built a comfortable lead. Now the M's aren't going to win every game when the starters pitch well; the opponent's pitching will have a say in the outcome. But given the ability to mix and match in the bullpen and an offense that seems to be getting its legs under itself, a well-pitched game from the starter gives the M's a pretty good chance. And will make the season much more enjoyable. Just like the last homestand.
• Speaking of M's starters, the team sent Blake Beavan to Tacoma yesterday, where he'll return to the starting rotation. I have to admit I thought Beavan would make a big step this season – maybe not a Doug Fister-length step, but close – and be a solid end-of-the-rotation guy for the Mariners. It seems I was wrong. You can castigate me as often as you would like over that mistake.
• Washington State: Christian Caple was unable to come through with links this morning, so he substituted with something even better: five questions with kicker Andrew Furney. … We did find a few Pac-12 oriented links, however, including one about Oregon football, which is high on your reading priority list I am sure. … Andre Robertson's dad said his son is headed to the NBA “to develop his game.” I thought maybe it was to “develop a fatter bank account.” … Former UW basketball player Quincy Pondexter is the subject of this Grantland feature.
• Chiefs: Spokane's Brenden Kichton was named the WHL defenseman of the year.
• Preps: Greg Lee's column today is a bit different than usual. He features an institution in Pullman, Ralph Bowman, whose phone calls to the S-R's sports department over the years are legendary. … Colville's battery (pictured) charges up its softball program. Chris Derrick has the story. … Greg also has his track notebook. … In live action yesterday, Jim Allen was at Spokane Falls as Shadle Park won the 3A soccer district title and Mike Vlahovich was at Ferris for the Saxons' baseball game with Gonzaga Prep, which the Bullpups won easily.
• Mariners: Yes the homestand started with trepidation. But it ended well, with Harang's effort and the M's offense exploded in an 8-3 win over Adam Jones and the Orioles. … You want to listen to Jack Zduriencik's take on all things Mariners? You can here. … Nick Franklin is making a case for being promoted.
• Seahawks: At least one of the Hawks draft moves was hailed as a winner.
• Sounders: Jeff Parke liked Seattle, but he's much happier playing near home in Philadelphia.
• Sonics: Art Thiel sees it the same way I do. The NBA must allow Chris Hansen to buy the Kings if he still wants to. But Thiel has a lot more reasons. And they are better reasons.
• That's it for this morning. It's going to get warm folks. Not that yesterday was bad. No, I spent three hours at a high school baseball game and enjoyed every minute … of the weather. The outcome, not so much. Until later …