Promising start for the M’s?

For starters, the Mariners have them. That much was apparent during the brief first home stand of the 2008 Seattle Mariners, management of which bet millions that a beefed up starting-pitching corps would be all the team needs to seize the American West Division title from the rival Los Angeles Angels. But for a ninth-inning home run given up by all-star reliever J.J. Putz (now on the disabled list with a minor injury) during the second of three with the Texas Rangers, the 2008 M’s would have left home for a week at 3-0. As is, the 2-1 mark kept up with the pitching-depleted Angels in a race that may proceed well into September.

Or maybe it won’t. Few would be willing to presume to know for certain whether either team’s personnel will perform to the expectations of optimists. Richie Sexson, for example, much maligned by fans after a pitiful 2007 season, didn’t exactly erase memories after going one for 11 (.091) through the first three games. Brad Wilkerson is not necessarily a miracle hire for right field either. Indeed, many felt the M’s should have kept Ben Broussard (who had a home run during the third game for the Rangers), whose career numbers are better than Wilkerson’s. More to the point: fans wanted to see a right-fielder named Mike Morse, who had one of the best offensive performances in any spring-training camp. The versatile Morse (he can play at least six positions) was to get his first start in Baltimore on April 4.

Other signs are favorable among position players. Yuniesky Betancourt didn’t sail any throws from shortstop, as he had last season. He had a spectacular catch in game three and hit .545 (six for 11) to lead the team.

But much of the fan chatter (as opposed to the teeth clatter, prompted by arctic-like wind chill at Safeco Field) was about the top three starters. Lefty Erik Bedard, acquired from Baltimore, had a first-rate outing in the opener, only marred by a high pitch count that observers partly blamed on the plate umpire’s BB-sized strike zone. Felix Hernandez gave up no runs in seven innings in game two. Just as impressive was the other front-line right-hander, Carlos Silva, who — like Bedard — came to the team aided by a Sherpa to carry the money ($48 million for four years) that the M’s paid the former Minnesota Twin. Like Bedard, Silva gave up one run on a long ball, yielding just two other hits. Each fanned five.

It is often said that any team with postseason aspirations mostly needs just three things: two good starting pitchers plus one more. If so, the M’s obviously are off to — pardon the expression — a promising start.

Mike Henderson is a freelance writer who will be covering the Seattle Mariners this summer for the Reporter newspapers.

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