BY SPNW Staff 07:45AM 04/03/2013

# 3: Mariners Can Match Best Start Since 1995

When Joe Saunders takes the mound for the Mariners Wednesday, the club will be seeking to go 3-0 for the first time since 1995, Seattle’s first playoff season.

Tommy Milone of the Oakland Athletics, who faces Joe Saunders and the Mariners Wednesday night, issues just two walks per nine innings, one of the lowest rates in the majors. / Wiki Commons

GAME: Mariners (2-0, 1st, AL West, +0.5 GA) at Athletics (0-2, 5th, AL West, -20. GB). GAME #: 3. SERIES: 3rd of 4 games. MEETING: 3rd (Mariners lead 2-0). WHEN: Wednesday, 7:05 p.m., Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, CA. STREAKS: Mariners W 2; Athletics L 2. TV: Root Sports. RADIO: ESPN 710, Mariners Radio Network

Over the past two decades, the Mariners have gotten off to 2-0 starts just five times, including this season, but only once in that span did they launch a campaign 3-0. Lefty Joe Saunders can rekindle memories of 1995 Wednesday when he makes his Seattle debut against the Oakland Athletics in the third of four games between the clubs.

Saunders is coming off a dismal spring, in which he went 1-1 with an 11.57 ERA. But Saunders has a history of sluggish springs and quick April rebounds. Last year, while pitching for Arizona, Saunders went 1-2 with a 7.98 ERA in the spring and then posted a 2-1 mark with a 0.90 ERA in April.

“It’s nice to get out of spring training and get into the real games,” Saunders said. “It’s always nice to get through healthy and ready to go. My arm feels good, so it was definitely a good spring training in that respect.”

Saunders has an impressive track record against Oakland, compiled largely when he pitched for the Angels. His portfolio shows 13 wins, just five losses and a 3.39 ERA in 20 starts. But Saunders doesn’t figure that his experience against the Athletics will amount to much Wednesday night.

“Nowadays teams change so much,” Saunders said. “This (Oakland) is a totally different club. I don’t even know if they have anybody left since I last pitched against them. It’s the same locker room, same clubhouse, same field, but different players. So you have to go with the times and evolve.”

Lefty Tommy Milone, who led the A’s in innings pitched last year, will oppose Saunders. Milone has two wins against Seattle in five career starts and is notable for not walking people, especially Seattle players. In his five starts against the Mariners last year, he issued just three free passes. A closer look at Wednesday’s probables:

WEDNESDAY’S PROBABLES

MARINERS: LHP Joe Saunders (9-13, 4.07 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)

The 31-year-old Saunders, a Springfield, VA., native, split 2012 between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles. He went 3-3 after his Aug. 26 acquisition by Baltimore and was the winning pitcher when the Orioles defeated the Texas Rangers in the inaugural Wild Card Game. The Mariners signed Saunders to a one-year, free agent contract Feb. 12. Saunders nailed down the No. 3 spot in Seattle’s rotation despite going 1-1 with an 11.57 ERA and .377 opponent batting average in spring training.

  • LAST START: Sept. 30 vs. Boston, won 6-3 to finish the season 9-13; 3 earned runs on 8 hits in 7.1 innings; 5 strikeouts to 0 walks, 2 homeruns; 90 pitches, 64 for strikes.
  • LAST VS. ATHLETICS: Sept. 14, 2012, lost 3-2; 3 earned runs on 7 hits in 6.0 innings; 6 strikeouts to 2 walks, 1 home run; 101 pitches, 62 for strikes.
  • CAREER VS. ATHLETICS: 13-5, 3.39 ERA in 20 starts covering 122.0 innings; 71 strikeouts to 38 walks, 10 home runs; 1.29 WHIP.
  • AT OAKLAND COLISEUM: 6-2, 2.70 ERA in eight starts covering 53.1 innings; 30 strikeouts to 18 walks, 4 home runs; 1.31 WHIP.
  • LOVES TO FACE: Josh Reddick (1-for-6, .167), Jed Lowrie (2-for-10, .200), Adam Rosales (3-for-13, .231).
  • HATES TO FACE: Scott Sizemore (2-for-3, .667), Josh Donaldson (5-for-9, .556), Jemile Weeks (3-for-6, .500).
  • CURRENT A’S VS. SAUNDERS: 26-for-87, .299 BA, 10 strikeouts, 8 walks, 3 home runs, .365 on-base percentage.

ATHLETICS: LHP Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

Milone, who began his major league career with the Washington Nationals in 2011, was the only starting pitcher in the Oakland rotation to last the entire 2012 season without getting injured. He is notable for the infrequency of his walks, with the rate of issuing two per nine innings. He made five starts against the Mariners last season and went 2-1 with a 2.64 ERA in 30.2 innings. In the five starts, he had 32 strikeouts and issued just three walks.

  • LAST START: Sept. 30 vs. Seattle, took a no-decision in Oakland’s 5-2 victory; 2 earned runs on 9 hits in 4.2 innings; 3 strikeouts to 0 walks, no home runs; 85 pitches, 51 for strikes.
  • LAST VS. MARINERS: Same as last start.
  • CAREER VS. MARINERS: 2-1, 2.64 ERA in 5 starts covering 30.2 innings; 32 strikeouts to just 3 walks; 2 home runs, 1.20 WHIP.
  • AT OAKLAND COLISEUM: 7-4, 2.74 ERA in 15 starts covering 98.2 innings; 63 strikeouts to 15 walks; 6 home runs1.05 WHIP.
  • LOVES TO FACE: Kelly Shoppach (0-for-3, .000 BA), Dustin Ackley (1-for-8, .125), Brendan Ryan (2-for-10, .200).
  • HATES TO FACE: Franklin Gutierrez (4-for-8, .500), Jesus Montero (5-for-11, .485), Kyle Seager (4-for-12, .333).
  • CURRENT MARINERS VS. MILONE: 26-for-103, .274 BA, 30 strikeouts, 3 walks, 9 RBIs, 2 home runs, .274 on-base percentage.

MARINERS STATS / NOTES

  • CURRENT ROAD TRIP: Four at Oakland (Monday-Wednesday), three at Chicago White Sox (Friday-Sunday).
  • Seattle’s pitching staff has allowed just one run and six hits in two games.
  • Michael Morse, who blasted two home runs and drove in four runs Tuesday, hit just three home runs in 300 at-bats over 107 games during his first stint with the Mariners (the Mariners have not had a player hit 20 or more home runs in a season since Russell Branyan belted 31 in 2009).
  • Franklin Gutierrez didn’t start against Oakland Tuesday because manager Eric Wedge wanted to get Raul Ibanez some playing time. Gutierrez is expected to be back in the lineup Wednesday against Tommy Milone.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma, who retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced Tuesday, will face off against Yu Darvish a week from Friday at Safeco Field. Darvish came within one out of a perfect game Tuesday at Houston.
  • Monday’s 2-0 victory over Oakland was Seattle’s third Opening Day shutout in club history (also 3-0 vs. the Tigers in 1995 and 4-0 vs. the A’s in 2007). It was also the 300th shutout in club history, with Felix Hernandez being the winning pitcher in 25 of those. Randy Johnson was the winning pitcher in 26 of the shutouts, with Jamie Moyer third on the list with 24.
  • The Mariners will play 14 consecutive games before their first day off, scheduled April 15.

UPCOMING PROBABLES

Date Day Opp. Probable Pitchers
4/4 Thr at Oak RHP Brandon Maurer (0-0) vs. RHP A.J. Griffin (7-1)
4/5 Fri at CWS RHP Blake Beavan (11-11) vs. RHP Jose Quintana (6-6)
4/6 Sat at CWS Felix Hernandez (1-0) vs. RHP Dylan Axelrod (2-2)
4/7 Sun at CWS RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (9-5) vs. LHP Chris Sale (17-8)

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