Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Scoring concerns coming to fruition

| April 12, 2010 9:00 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — Recently retired Mariners star Randy Johnson is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch today before Seattle’s home opener (vs. Oakland, 3:30 p.m., FSN, KVNI 1080, KXLY 920).

The way this season has already gone, the M’s may ask the Big Unit to stay on the mound for the game.

As of Sunday’s start by Ian Snell, when the fill-in No. 2 starter allowed five runs in the first two innings at Texas, Seattle had yet to win without Felix Hernandez starting. Co-ace Cliff Lee remains out with an abdominal strain, though he did take another step to a return perhaps by month’s end with a successful bullpen session Sunday.

Ryan Rowland-Smith starts the Mariners’ 34th home opener, against the same Oakland Athletics who had eight hits and four runs off him in five innings last week.

And no matter who has been pitching, Seattle’s biggest preseason fear — that no one will be able to consistently bring home Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins once they get on base atop the order — has already been realized. The Mariners scored just 15 runs in their first five games, four of them losses.

“We’re trying to figure out how to score some runs,” one of the only productive hitters, Franklin Gutierrez, said before he replaced the 1-for-21 Milton Bradley as the cleanup hitter for Sunday’s road-trip finale at Texas. “We’re having a tough time right now.”

Yes, it’s been a rocky start. The trendy pick to win the AL West has already had a four-game losing streak before playing its first home game.

Yet one final sling from the giant, 46-year-old Johnson’s left arm in front of a chilled, packed house Monday will bring back memories of the Mariners’ first playoff series he led them into in 1995 and ’97. And will rekindle the belief 2010 will bring Seattle its first postseason in nine years.

Johnson is making his first return to Seattle since he retired in January — after 22 seasons, 303 wins, 4,875 strikeouts and one World Series co-MVP while playing for the Expos, Mariners, Astros, Diamondbacks, Yankees and Giants. The 6-foot-10 menace scowled his way to the 1995 AL Cy Young Award with the Mariners, the wondrous season which helped revive baseball in Seattle with a miraculous rally into the franchise’s first postseason.

Seattleites still display pictures around town of Johnson pointing triumphantly to the old Kingdome’s concrete roof and catcher Dan Wilson leaping into his arms following the final out of Johnson’s complete-game win over the Angels in a one-game playoff that decided the AL West in ’95.

Five of Johnson’s 10 All-Star selections came while with the Mariners. Johnson was 130-74 in 10 years with Seattle — his most wins among any of his six teams — before he was traded to Houston midway through 1998 because of a contract dispute.

The ill will from that spat have obviously dissipated with time. Soon after Johnson announced his retirement in January, longtime Mariners president Chuck Armstrong was on the phone inviting Johnson to Monday’s opener. Johnson immediately and eagerly accepted.

He still holds nine individual pitching records for a game or a season. He is Seattle’s career leader in shutouts (19), strikeouts (2,162) and walks (884). He is second to Jamie Moyer in wins (130), starts (266) and innings (1,838 1-3).

Oakland has its own pitching story unfolding Monday. Justin Duchscherer is making his second start since Aug. 18, 2008. The 32-year-old right-hander missed all of last season because of back problems, elbow surgery and a bout with clinical depression. Duchscherer allowed five runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings last week in Oakland in a game that ended with the A’s beating Seattle late.

This is sixth time in Seattle history that the A’s are the opponent in the home opener, and second time since Safeco Field opened in 1999. The Mariners have won four of their five previous home openers against Oakland.