OAKLAND—The Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics will get a lot of each other in early April. As in seven games in the initial 10 days of the season.
"Do we?" Seattle slugger Ken Griffey Jr. said Sunday. "Now that you have your team, that's just trying to get everybody ready."
A's manager Bob Geren doesn't mind getting a good look at Seattle right away. His team will have a pretty good gauge of where it stands against a club picked to finish at or near the top of the improved, new-look AL West.
"When you break out of spring training facing opponents you're familiar with, it has some advantages," Geren said.
The Mariners and A's open with a four-game series starting Monday night at the Coliseum, each with upgraded pitching rotations and speedsters at the top of the batting order: Ichiro Suzuki and newcomer Chone Figgins for Seattle and the A's Rajai Davis. But Oakland is without the quick Coco Crisp, whose A's debut will be delayed because he is starting the year on the disabled list after breaking his left pinkie finger Friday night.
"We play them seven out of the first 10 games and the first 10 are all against the AL West," A's catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "It will be good to see where we're at and what we've got. It will be fun."
After the A's won the season series against Seattle 17-2 in 2006, Seattle has gone 37-20 in the rivalry - 14-5 in both '07 and last year and 9-10 in '08.
Mariners left fielder and cleanup hitter Milton Bradley said his right leg was better after he was pulled during Saturday's exhibition game in Albuquerque because of tightness in his right quadriceps after sliding into second while being caught stealing.
"I'm fine. Playing," said Bradley, who spent 2006 and part of '07 with the A's.
Felix Hernandez, a 19-game winner last year, starts the opener for Seattle. Cliff Lee is beginning the season on the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle.
Seattle outfielder Eric Byrnes returns to the place where he once was a fan favorite - though it's not the same these days considering he's been gone from the A's nearly six years.
"I feel so far removed from there," Byrnes said. "I spent 5½ great years there on some really good teams and made some really good friends. But now it's not that different from going to any other city."
The rebuilt Mariners roster is looking to contend for its first division crown since winning an AL-record 116 games in Suzuki's rookie season of 2001 - and general manager Jack Zduriencik is confident in the team's chances under second-year manager Don Wakamatsu.
"I think we've got some players with a point to prove," he said. "When you look at the club we have, there are a lot of guys who really want to win."
Oakland is determined to rebound from a rough 2009 in which it yet again struggled with injuries to key players, lost the final seven games for a 75-87 record and finished in last place for the first time since 1998. Three of those late losses came to the Mariners.
"We're hoping to start off on the right foot," Geren said.
New $10 million ace Ben Sheets is counting on that being the case after he missed all of last season recovering from elbow surgery. He will take the ball on opening night.
Even Kurt Suzuki is eager to watch Ichiro Suzuki, Figgins and Davis do their work.
"It's very exciting," Suzuki said. "They make things happen, especially on the bases."
A good start is what everybody hopes for now.
"We'll have a good gauge where we are, but in no way do I think the first 10 games are going to dictate what happens in the next 152," Byrnes said. "We could win all seven (against the A's) or they could win all seven, but nobody is going crown the division after the first 10 games."
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