Previewing The A's-M's, Part Two

Eight days and 5,127 miles later, the Oakland A's and the Seattle Mariners will restart their 2012 seasons.

The two teams combined to travel more than 20,000 miles for their two-game split in Japan last week. Instead of getting some time-off to recuperate from the 16-hour time change, the two clubs were forced to go back into spring training mode by playing a series of exhibition games while running on empty.

On the bright side, the teams have their furthest road trip behind them and a huge amount of frequent flyer miles to boot.

Friday night, the two teams expected to challenge for third and fourth place in the American League West renew their rivalry in Oakland to kick off the North American portion of their regular seasons. The Mariners have elected to switch up their starting rotation, sending lefty Jason Vargas to the hill, instead of ace Felix Hernandez, who is moved back to Saturday. The A's will go with Brandon McCarthy, who started in the first game of the Japan series. Bartolo Colon will pitch game two, just like in Japan.

The move allows the Mariners to throw Hernandez against the A's twice in two weeks, as he is now slated to pitch in Seattle's home-opener instead of next Thursday afternoon against the Rangers on the road. The star right-hander has owned Oakland throughout his career, going 12-4 with 2.47 ERA, allowing just 124 hits in 153.1 innings. Against Texas, Hernandez is 10-16 with an ERA above four, with even worse numbers at Rangers Ballpark.

The move also makes sense from a practical standpoint. Hernandez will have five days rest in between his first two starts back in the US. The normal amount of rest is four. Oakland and Seattle play just two games this weekend, giving the teams an extremely rare day off on Sunday.

The two games in Japan saw stellar starting pitching from both teams. In the first game, McCarthy threw seven innings allowing just one run on six hits, while Hernandez went eight strong, allowing one run on five hits. The Mariners got the 3-1 win in 11 innings. Dustin Ackley accounted for two of his team's runs with a solo home run in the fourth and go-ahead RBI single in the 11th.

Game two saw Colon lead the A's with eight dominant innings where he allowed one run on just three hits. Vargas was good, but not quite as effective. He allowed a run in six innings with two hits and two walks.

Unlike the first game, game two featured some great displays of power by some talented young players. Seattle grabbed the lead in the seventh on Justin Smoak's first home run of the season. In the bottom half of the inning, Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes laced his first long-ball of the season over the left-center field wall to give the A's the lead. The next hitter, Josh Reddick, added a solo shot and Jonny Gomes added another solo homer in the eighth for the 4-1 win. The A's won with three of their new outfielders accounting for all their scoring with home runs.

After his solid start in a losing effort, Vargas is 3-4 in his career against the A's with a 3.67 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 10 games. Unlike the Tokyo Dome, the O.Co Coliseum plays outdoors, where Vargas has a considerable drop-off in numbers. Inside, Vargas has a 3.22 ERA and .222 average against. Outdoors, Vargas has a career ERA of 4.73 with hitters having a .269 clip against him.

McCarthy is happy to be throwing against Seattle at home and not on the road Friday. At Safeco Field, the steady right-hander is 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA in his career. Unfortunately for him, he's in-line to make his fourth start of the season on April 15 in Seattle. His third start should come against the Royals next Wednesday.

While Hernandez always throws well against the A's, Colon always throws well at the Coliseum. There, he has a 5-1 record, 2.14 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. After getting his first win of the year in Japan, Colon sits at 15-11 against the Mariners with less hits than innings pitched and an ERA just over four. Saturday's matchup is almost certain to be a low scoring affair.

Oakland plans on carrying just four starters through the season's first week because the team has two off days before playing 13-straight. Tyson Ross, the presumed fifth starter, was optioned to Sacramento this week, and is likely to make a couple starts for the River Cats before being called back up to start for the A's. That means someone on the current 25-man roster will have to go.

That puts the A's in a tough position. The club has elected to carry two left-handed-hitting first basemen, Brandon Allen and Kila Ka'aihue, both of whom are out of options. The club is unlikely to keep both, but has much more invested in Allen than Ka'aihue. Manager Bob Melvin likes Allen's defense a bit more than the error-prone Ka'aihue, but Ka'aihue (who was acquired in a trade with the Royals last September) might be more of a power threat. Also, Daric Barton remains in the picture at first base. He is eligible to come of the 15-day DL on April 8, but he could be in line for some rehab in Sacramento before a potential return to the A's. Barton does have an option year remaining.

Melvin is unlikely to demote either of his third basemen. He's indicated Josh Donaldson is the starter, with the versatile Eric Sogard very much in the discussion after a great spring at the plate. Sogard can play all over the infield, which could be important if shortstop Cliff Pennington's balky groin causes him to miss some time.

Carrying six outfielders, the team could likely afford to lose one. Collin Cowgill might appear to be an obvious choice, but Melvin has said immensely positive things about the hard-nosed outfielder dating back to their time together in the Diamondbacks' organization. Cowgill is also coming off an outstanding spring training and provides a pinch-running and defensive-replacement option late in games.

Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith have been platooning at DH against left and right-handed starters. Smith is clearly the better defender of the two, but Gomes represents the only proven power threat not named Cespedes from the right side of the plate on the A's roster. Given that those two are often in the starting lineup, Cowgill might be the odd man out.

Keep an eye out for how Melvin uses these players in these two games against the Mariners. What happens Friday and Saturday could tip the first domino in a series of early-season roster moves.

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