SEATTLE — The decision to postpone Sunday’s game in Minneapolis projects as a plus for the Mariners — and not just because Twin Cities’ forecast (accurately it turns out) called for snow in addition to sub-freezing temperatures.
Two reasons stand out.
***The May 14 makeup date isn’t onerous. The Mariners will be coming to Minnesota from Detroit, a short hop, before heading back to Seattle after the game.
Nor does it create a killer run of games. The Mariners still have open dates on May 7 and May 21, and they will be home for six games after their stopover against the Twins.
That’s as gentle as it gets when a postponement requires a trip back to town.
***Who knows what the club’s disabled list will look like by May 14. Heck, first baseman Ryon Healy was in a walking boot Sunday after suffering a sprained right ankle Saturday while doing plyometric exercises in a postgame workout.
Take a moment to shake your head.
“It’s hard to even fathom the things that have happened,” manager Scott Servais told reporters. “They're not getting hit by pitches and things that are common baseball injuries. These are walking down steps, workout rooms, stuff like that.”
UPDATE: The Mariners placed Healy on the 10-day disabled list prior to Monday's game at Kansas City. They replaced Healy on the roster by recalling right-handed reliever Chasen Bradford from Triple-A Tacoma.
Even so…at this point, the Mariners should have designated hitter Nelson Cruz, catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Ben Gamel back on their active roster when they return to Target Field. Healy, too, presumably.
That should be a plus.
The postponement also provides the opportunity to pass out some early-takeaway grades as the Mariners, injury-cursed as they seem to be, open a three-game series Monday at Kansas City.
***TREADING WATER: A 4-3 record is no cause for celebration until you recall last season, when the Mariners lost six of their first seven games and spent the rest of the season in catch-up mode.
They also lost six of their first eight in 2016, and seven of their first 10 in 2015. Treading water through the first week, with all of those injuries, suddenly doesn’t look so bad, does it? GRADE: B.
***AS THE ROTATION TURNS: The top three starters each pitched twice, and Mike Leake rates an early plus with two solid outings. Felix Hernandez and James Paxton show mixed results with one good and one bad.
This could be what the Mariners get from Felix throughout the season. Some good and some bad, although his two starts were extreme: 5 1/3 shutout innings, and then eight runs in four innings.
They need better and more consistency from Paxton if they hope to contend for postseason, although it’s a positive that he rebounded from a rough first start to pitch well last Friday at Minnesota despite an unexpected pre-game greeting from a bald eagle.
Lefty Marco Gonzales had an encouraging first start and will pitch Monday against the Royals. Sunday’s postponement means the Mariners won’t require a fifth starter until April 17. GRADE: C.
***BULLPEN BULLETS: Closer Edwin Diaz is perfect in three save opportunities, although he wobbled through a Fernando Rodney-style escape in the season opener against Cleveland.
Newcomer and chief setup reliever Juan Nicasio is good early bet to lead the league in appearances and has holds in all four of his outings — although his work included some wobbles.
But Nicasio was dominant Saturday after replacing an ineffective Nick Vincent in a tight game against the Twins before the Mariners pulled away for an 11-4 victory.
Vincent and lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski have been shaky, which bears watching. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but both are projected to pitch a lot in later innings with the game on the line. GRADE: C-PLUS.
***USING THE WHOLE FIELD: It’s foolish to draw conclusions after seven games, but Robinson Cano, at 35, looks like he’s back in his prime. Not because he’s got 11 hits in his first 25 at-bats but because he’s hitting the ball to all fields.
“Last year, I was hooking everything,” he admitted to MLB.com. “I went home and focused on going back to myself, the guy that when I came up was using the whole field. That's what I'm doing right now.”
Who knows if he keeps it up. But for now…GRADE: A.
***ICHI WATCH: Prodigal icon Ichiro Suzuki, now 44, amounts to Felix in the outfield — a once generational talent running ever harder to stay ahead of a relentless (and unbeaten) clock.
Every so often the brilliance flickers as if by muscle memory: Felix by pitching shutout ball into the sixth inning in the season opener; Suzuki with a marvelous homer-robbing catch in the season’s second game.
When it happens, it can’t help but stir any Mariners fan on an emotional level. And it will happen again. How often and for how long before the inevitable reckoning is the great unknown.
Fact: Suzuki is battling .263, and it’s an ultra-soft .263. His on-base percentage (because he still doesn’t walk) is also .263. His OPS+ is 51 (100 is average). Again, we’re talking small sample sizes, but Suzuki’s early performance pretty much matches industry expectations. GRADE: C-MINUS.
***LINING UP THE REST: What grates the most for the Mariners from the season’s first week, aside from the injuries, was going 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position last Friday in a 4-2 loss to the Twins.
That’s a lot of wasted opportunities and, really, the difference between being 4-3 and 5-2. Nonetheless, the early returns show lots of positives — in addition to a resurgent Cano.
Dee Gordon continues to impress in his transition to center field, and his .406 on-base percentage is a welcome addition. Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger are also off to good starts, although Kyle Seager is wading through his typical April blues.
Healy was also struggling prior to his injury, although he and Seager each had key hits in Saturday’s victory.
Once the Mariners clear their disabled list — for now, let’s assume that’s going to happen — there’s every reason to expect this to be a potent lineup. GRADE: B.