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Again, hope springs internal

The two sides of Jamie Moyer surfaced in Thursday's game against the Cubs in which he struck out the side in the first inning on 14 pitches then gave up a homer and a double off the wall in the second inning.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
The two sides of Jamie Moyer surfaced in Thursday's game against the Cubs in which he struck out the side in the first inning on 14 pitches then gave up a homer and a double off the wall in the second inning. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

PEORIA, Ariz. – Spring training’s a gas, especially now that the Seattle Mariners aren’t happy, humdrum 90-game winners anymore.

Nope, now it’s the classified ads for “Saviors Wanted.” And every nibble is an adventure.

Like the other day when they trotted out the 18-year-old guided missile from Venezuela, who struck out 170 batters in four or five innings in the minors last year. Felix Hernandez is something special, except that all the pressure of The Big Chance got to him, which is to be expected with old men and babies snoring in the soft grass beyond the outfield fences at Peoria Stadium. Of the 12 batters he faced, Hernandez walked four and allowed hits by four others – but he did get three to make outs, including some with uniform numbers less than 70.

OK, so the kid didn’t work out. Get the old guy in here.

Jamie Moyer is 42 and he throws it as if he’s 82, but such is the state of the Mariners’ starting rotation that he’s the de facto ace, for the moment anyway.

This didn’t seem so awful a year ago when Moyer was coming off a 21-7 season and looked to have stumbled into the Fountain of Out, if not youth. But last year he was 7-13 and surrendered so many home runs that he could have gone on the disabled list with whiplash.

Moyer hadn’t pitched that poorly since he was 30. And three teams cut him then.

On Thursday, both Moyers appeared in a 5-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs. Moyer 2003 struck out the side in the first inning on 14 pitches. Moyer 2004 went to 3-and-1 counts on Jason Dubois and Michael Barrett and gave up a long home run and a double off the fence, and an RBI single to journeyman catcher Henry Blanco, who goes weeks between base hits. Moyer 2003 was back to work the third.

But this is spring, when the company line is mitigation and not panic, as it should be.

It isn’t doublespeak, exactly. But the half-full glass somehow manages to overflow.

For instance, pitching coach Bryan Price’s evaluation of Moyer’s outing was pointedly upbeat.

“We spent a lot of time talking about missing down if he’s going to miss,” Price said. “When he got himself into some hitters’ counts, it was because he was missing down – on the plate, but under the strike zone. I was not at all disappointed in that.”

Of course, after getting into those hitters’ counts, Moyer managed to leave his next pitch very much on the plate, which is how he teed-up 44 home runs last year. Didn’t seem to matter if he missed over, under or sideways then.

Still, it was two-thirds of a good outing.

“Very encouraging,” Price agreed. “I think he’s repeating his delivery, commanding the bottom of the zone. He’s got good life on all his pitches and I feel that he’s very, very capable of rebounding from last year.”

But then, that’s the toughest thing about Mariners camp this spring – handicapping the field for American League Comeback Player of the Year.

Could it be Bret Boone, who was about 40 points and 30 RBIs off his normal Seattle production? Can’t tell yet. He’s taking a day or two off with a stiff back.

Joel Pineiro? Magic 8-ball says ask again later. Stiff shoulder.

Eddie Guardado? After an unexpectedly rapid rehab on his shoulder, he pulled a hamstring running Thursday and must now sit.

Or is the rest of the field that includes Ryan Franklin, Scott Spiezio and Shigetoshi Hasegawa?

About all we know is that it won’t be Rich Aurelia, who the M’s made their Don’t Come Back Player of the Year.

We know what happened to the M’s in 2004: That clean sweep of career years that carried them to 116 victories back in 2001 became a clean sweep of career busters. They got old – not in real time, but in the space of two months, April and May. Alas, it can’t get better just as quickly.

Mariners management addressed its many shortcomings with a laudable priority list. For obvious reasons, attention had to be paid to offensive shortcomings which had mostly been ignored for years. But the signings of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson left nothing to shore up the pitching other than hope and the law of averages that it can’t go as badly as it did last summer.

It’s not the first time hope has been invoked as a strategy.

You wonder if manager Mike Hargrove is indulging in some himself. The new boss’ M’s have, as you may know, won exactly one game in eight in the Cactus League so far, and it’s not a stretch to say that they’ve barely been a participant in those seven losses. The low point was the 6-0 loss to Kansas City when Hernandez started and the Mariners committed four errors.

Hargrove grumped around a bit about it, but the steam and ash weren’t much more than the 2.0 jiggle Mount St. Helens gave the seismo’ the other day.

Someone did ask him if, as a manger, it all gets to the point where…

“When you just want to shoot everybody?” he said, completing the thought. “If it doesn’t happen, that’s when you start to worry about it.”

But by Thursday, everyone was bulletproof again.

“You want to win down here, don’t get me wrong,” Hargrove said. “I’m not saying it’s not important to win because it is. But it’s not the end-all and be-all. What you want to do is get the ballclub where they’re playing well, playing with energy – they’re in the game. Today we did that. We at least gave ourselves a chance to win today. (Wednesday) we didn’t show up mentally and that was disappointing.

“If we continue with that approach, things will fall together for us and we’ll be all right.”

He’s probably right. Of course, he also said of Sexson, a notoriously poor stick in the spring who is off to a 0-of-12 start, that “Richie swung the bat good today. He did.”

Except for those two third strikes he didn’t swing at, that is.

But then, you can’t be wanting to shoot everybody every day.

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