It’s a crazy schedule that began with these two clubs facing off in their first two games last week in Japan, with each winning once – including “King Felix’s” Game 1 victory at the Tokyo Dome.
Now, the AL West rivals resume their season-opening series stateside – albeit eight days later. It’s a nontraditional two-game series Friday and Saturday. Then, the A’s travel to Seattle next weekend for a three-game series at Safeco Field in the Mariners’ home opener.
Yes, the Mariners and A’s will know each other inside and out by mid-April.
“It’s a little weird playing so many games, then we’ve got their home opener, too,” Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki said. “We’ve got like nine games in the first two weeks. That’s part of scheduling, but they’re in our division so we’re going to see them a lot.”
Seattle manager Eric Wedge even swapped his starters for this weekend to move Hernandez to Saturday and Jason Vargas to Friday so Hernandez is lined up to also pitch the Mariners’ home opener April 13.
“He’s the ace,” Hernandez joked of Vargas.
This situation is also unique for these clubs given they opened the regular season last week only to return for more exhibition games before they reunite in the Bay Area.
These two clubs will certainly know each other well by mid-April.
“Once we’ve ended up seeing them it will be like `Good riddance,’ I think (for) both sides,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I see where they flip-flopped their starters and we’ll see Felix over at their place again. We’ll see him three times in the first I don’t know how many games of the season. We have to step up and beat him. Until we do that, we can complain about it all we want. We just have to go out there, and if we’re going to be a good team we’re going to have to beat good pitching. So we get tested early on with him.”
Both teams could use strong performances over the first month if they want to stay in the chase in a division featuring the two-time reigning AL champion Texas Rangers and Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.
“It’s been a very good offensive spring for us,” Wedge said. “It’s a big step to move in the right direction.”
New A’s center fielder Yoenis Cespedes has no idea if he will draw a standing ovation in his home debut for the A’s.
He sure hopes so. Melvin is counting on it.
But if not, the highly touted Cuban defector plans to “prove myself and earn that” at some point during his rookie season after signing a $36 million, four-year contract early last month in Oakland’s biggest splash of the offseason.
“I hope to please the Oakland fans and please myself,” Cespedes said. “I’m sure I will earn it.”
Cespedes’ batting practice has quickly become a not-to-miss event that some are already saying is the most entertaining in these parts since the days of home run king Barry Bonds.
Cespedes has quickly shown the immediate impact he might have as a rookie. The A’s outbid the Marlins and others to land the 26-year-old Cespedes, who starred for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic and hit .458 with two home runs and five RBIs in six games.
He plans to be patient as he makes the difficult adjustment to major league pitching.
“Every player needs to have patience for things to go his way,” Cespedes said. “I’m going to need patience not only for the first month but for the whole season.”
Both teams are returning to more normal routines after the long trip home and jet lag that has now subsided for most.
“Japan, all the adrenalin, a lot of people, opening day, it was crazy,” Hernandez said. “I loved it.”
It was Oakland’s second such trip to Tokyo since 2009, when the A’s opened against the Boston Red Sox.
Brandon McCarthy opposed Hernandez in the season opener March 28 and matched him through seven innings, giving up one run before Seattle rallied against Oakland’s bullpen for a 3-1 win. He’ll make his second start of 2012 looking to improve his 2-5 record and 3.90 ERA versus the A’s.