Friday night in Everett meant the return of the Aqua Sox, the short-season Single-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. Baseball was back in the air, the fans were back in the seats, and the players were back on the field.
Luckily for the 3,959 in attendance, the home team came prepared to put on a show in the season-opener, riding the right arm of first-year pro Aaron Jensen to an 11-1 win over Vancouver on a balmy night at Everett Memorial Stadium.
"We've been here for four days. We've been really working hard, and today we were able to put it all together," said Everett's second-year manager Pedro Grifol. "We played good defense, got pitchers who threw strikes and had timely hitting."
Jensen, the Mariners' 19th round draft pick in 2003, made the first start of his career count, holding the Canadians scoreless over the first five innings. He allowed just one hit along the way, walking five and recording one strikeout to earn the victory.
Relievers Cibney Bello, Kenny Falconer and Jon Lockwood combined to close the door on the Canadians in the final four innings, allowing only one run in the eighth. That came when first baseman Thomas Everidge doubled home Nicolas Blasi with two outs off of Falconer.
Grifol said he felt Jensen, who escaped trouble in each of the first three innings with inning-ending double-plays, and the rest of his staff learned a valuable lesson from the game.
"We played real good defense behind them," said the Aqua Sox manager. "I think these pitchers are understanding that we've got some guys behind them that can field the ball. I think, now, after today's game, those first three double plays, I think they understand that they need to throw the ball over the plate and keep it down in the zone."
"The players made awesome plays," said Jensen of his strong defense. "We got three double plays in three innings. You couldn't ask for anything more than that."
Jensen (1-0) came away mostly satisfied with his first outing of the season.
"I thought I could have started a little bit better, but it was my first outing throwing in front of fans in a while so I was a little bit shaky," he said. "That first inning, I set up batters and threw them fastballs inside and outside. Then I went in with the curveball in the second and third inning since they hadn't seen it. Then I came back with the fastball."
While that was working to perfection, the Aqua Sox offense took over. Facing 5-foot-9 righty Braulio Santana, they put five runs on the board in the third inning on five hits, and managed to tack on with two runs in the fifth, one in the sixth, and three more in the eighth.
Santana (0-1) left after giving up six earned runs and seven hits in 4.1 innings.
Everett finished with 15 hits to the four of Vancouver, and were led by two-hit games from SS Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B Pedro Ozoria, 1B Bryan LaHair, LF Casey Craig and DH Josh Ellison. Every starter had at least one hit on the night.
Up Next: The Aqua Sox continue their three-game homestand with a 7:05 matchup against Vancouver on Saturday. Gates open at 6 p.m. The series, and opening homestand, concludes on Sunday afternoon at 4:05 p.m.
Nice Try: Everett nearly pulled off the unthinkable in the top of the fifth inning, walking off the field after Ben Winslow grounded out to third base. The problem? There were only two outs. Though it was a complete accident, the Aqua Sox were so convincing that even Vancouver started to believe there were indeed three outs. Finally, the two-man umpiring crew of Mark Evans and Mark Buchanan realized the mistake and asked the Aqua Sox to return to the field.
First Hit: Third baseman Oswaldo Navarro recorded the first hit of the season with one out in the first inning, smacking an offering from Santana into right field.
Mr. Highlight: Mike Wilson, the M's second-round pick in 2001 out of Booker T. Washington High in Oklahoma, made both the defensive and offensive plays of the night. His defensive gem came first, when, playing center field, he came in on a ball and made a diving catch, robbing Alexis Ogano of a base hit in the seventh inning. An inning later, while at bat in the eighth, the powerfully-built outfielder turned on an Adiel Sanchez pitch and sent a line-drive off the left field wall. Good stuff from Mr. Wilson, who spent last season at Peoria.
The Starting Five: Listed on the Everett roster sheet was the first look at the team's preliminary starting rotation. It looks like this: RHP Aaron Jensen, LHP Kendall Bergdall, RHP Ivan Blanco, RHP Ruben Flores, LHP Shawn Nottingham. Grifol verified that Bergdall will take the mound on Saturday and said that this is indeed the rotation the team is going with for now.
More Signings: Before Friday, only four 2004 draftees were listed on the Aqua Sox's most updated roster: LHP Adam Brandt (28th round), RHP Mumba Rivera (21st round), RHP Aaron Trolia (27th round) and OF Brent Johnson (14th round). But on the game-day roster, two other recent draftees appeared on the list: fifth round pick, RHP Mark Lowe, and 16th round pick, RHP Chad Fillinger.
By contrast, Vancouver, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, had 20 players from the 2004 draft on its roster. Included were two first-round picks – OF Richard Robnett and C Landon Powell – three second round picks – OF Daniel Putnam, RHP Michael Rogers and C Kurt Suzuki – and a third round pick – RHP Jason Windsor. Sickening, ain't it.
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