It was far from the normal opening day, lacking all of the pomp and circumstance, but the Seattle Mariners kicked off their 2020 season against the defending A.L. champion Houston Astros in an empty Minute Maid Park, devoid of fans, trash-can banging staffers, or even the zombie-like cardboard cutouts behind home plate we’ve seen in other venues in the 60-game sprint that is the pandemic version of Major League Baseball.
What we saw was what we’re likely going to get from the M’s this season: some decent starting pitching, some power, some not-so-great defense and some shaky relief pitching by a largely inexperienced bullpen.
Four players made their MLB debut for the Mariners – the first team since the 1957 Chicago Cubs to have as many – and they dropped the season opener to the Astros 8-2 as Justin Verlander picked up the win with six sharp innings, supported by a three-run blast by Michael Brantley.
Power up: Kyle Lewis picked up where he left off from last season, crushing the second pitch he saw from Verlander over the short porch of the Crawford Boxes in left field for the M’s first run of the season. Lewis had an impressive debut last year with six homers in 18 September games.
The former first-round pick suffered through several seasons of injury in the minors, robbing him of the plus speed he used to possess. But his short, powerful stroke – and opportunity he’ll get with the M’s this shortened season – puts him as an outside candidate for rookie of the year.
Then in the fourth, veteran Kyle Seager deposited a middle-middle fastball from Verlander well into the right-field bleachers for his 199th career homer and his fifth off the Astros ace.
Solid debut: Marco Gonzales drew the opening day assignment and was solid, though his defense let him down, leading to a bit of an early exit.
He mixed all four pitches and drew little hard contact, which is how Gonzales likes to work considering he’s not a big strikeout guy and tops out at 90 on the radar gun.
Gonzales allowed four runs, three earned, on five hits and a walk with two Ks – on the first two batters of the game.
He allowed a single to lead off the fifth, then Shed Long couldn’t handle a bit of a wide throw by Seager on a force, which opened the floodgates. An infield single by Jose Altuve plated a run to end Gonzales’ evening after 73 pitches.
No relief: The piecemeal bullpen is going to be a question mark all season, and that was evident in the opener.
Rookie Zac Grotz entered after Gonzales got into hot water and promptly allowed a soft line-drive single by Alex Bregman off the end of Mallex Smith’s glove in right. A no-doubt three-run shot by Brantley followed, which blew things open.
Fellow rookie Anthony Misiewicz made his MLB debut the next inning and gave up a one-out double to pinch-hitter Abraham Toro and an RBI single to No. 9 hitter Martin Maldonado.
Next: Game 2 of the series is Saturday at 7:10 p.m. Taijuan Walker starts his second stint with the M’s against Lance McCullers, making his return after Tommy John surgery.
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