SEATTLE -- Although the Mariners already kicked off their season with a two-game sweep of the A’s in Tokyo, it will be Opening Day for the defending World Series champion Red Sox on Thursday at newly renamed T-Mobile Park.
This will be just the second time the Red Sox have ever opened their season against the Mariners. Pedro Martinez outdueled Jamie Moyer in a 2-0 victory in Seattle in 2000.
When is the game and how can I watch it?
First pitch at the Mariners’ home opener will be 4:10 p.m. PT/7:10 p.m. ET, and the game will be carried on ESPN.
The starting lineups
Red Sox: The Red Sox had perhaps MLB’s most balanced lineup a year ago, and the entire cast is back, meaning they expect similar results. Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are elite hitters who produce for average and power. Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts create additional headaches with their dynamic skill sets at the plate. Rafael Devers is one to watch. He could be in for a breakout season.
Mariners: Seattle figures to roll out essentially the same group that started both games in Tokyo, with the obvious exception of the now-retired Ichiro Suzuki not being in right field. The Mariners are hoping to have center fielder Mallex Smith back from the right elbow strain that sidelined him in the Cactus League. Smith’s return allows Mitch Haniger to slide back to his natural right-field spot. Whether Smith is ready to lead off remains to be seen, but Dee Gordon looked good there against the A’s and manager Scott Servais could ease Smith back into action at the bottom of the order.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Red Sox: Sale, fresh off signing a five-year, $145-million contract extension, gets the ball on Opening Day for the second straight season and fifth of his career. Sale will try to duplicate his dominance from last year’s opener at Tropicana Field, when he allowed one hit over six shutout innings and struck out nine. Sale has always loved pitching in Seattle, where he is 3-0 with a 1.91 ERA in four career starts.
Mariners: Gonzales made his first career Opening Day start in Tokyo and picked up the victory while allowing seven hits and four runs (three earned) over six innings. The 27-year-old went 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 starts last year, his first full season in the Majors, including a 5-0 loss at Fenway Park in June in his lone meeting with the Red Sox.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Red Sox: It is the question everyone has been asking all spring, and finally we are about to get some answers. Will Alex Cora go with a set closer this season or utilize matchups? Matt Barnes is the leading candidate to get the ninth inning if the Red Sox designate someone to close. Ryan Brasier is the other candidate. Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg and Brandon Workman are other pitchers you should see in the late innings.
Mariners: After trading away Edwin Diaz, Alex Colome, Juan Nicasio and James Pazos and letting Nick Vincent go, the bullpen stands as Seattle's biggest question mark. The new group stepped up well in Tokyo, with new closer Hunter Strickland nailing down saves in both games and free-agent additions Cory Gearrin and Zac Rosscup, rookie Matt Festa and Rule 5 pickup Brandon Brennan pitching well. Those five combined for 7 2/3 scoreless innings with three hits, four walks and eight strikeouts vs. the A’s.
Any injuries of note?
Red Sox: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia starts the season on the injured list for the second consecutive season. However, the prognosis of his overall health is much better this time around. Pedroia is still ramping up after playing just three games last year. He could return as soon as the home opener on April 9. First baseman Steve Pearce dealt with a left calf injury late in camp and also will open on the injured list.
Mariners: Kyle Seager, a fixture at third base the past seven years, will miss the first 10-12 weeks of the season after having surgery to repair a tendon in his left hand. Smith, acquired from the Rays to play center field and lead off, is just returning from a strained right elbow. Reliever Shawn Armstrong was placed on the 10-day injured list last week with a strained oblique, and fellow reliever Gerson Bautista is also out at least 10 days with a strained pectoral muscle.
Who is hot and who is not?
Red Sox: Devers and Bradley were the most consistent of Boston’s everyday players during Spring Training. Both players are hoping for career years. Devers is 22 years old and in far better shape than he was in last year. After a strong finish to last season, Bradley spent the entire offseason continuing his work with launch angle.
Mariners: Beckham came out smoking in Tokyo as the new shortstop reached base in seven of his nine plate appearances by going 5-for-7 with a double, home run and two walks. He scored four runs. Healy, filling in for Seager at third base, went 3-for-9 with two doubles and a homer in the two games. Encarnacion struggled through a rough spring when he hit just 5-for-35 (.143) with one double, and he was 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against the A’s, though he did walk four times. Narvaez went 0-for-9 with three strikeouts and a walk in Tokyo.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• Newly elected Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez will throw out the first pitch prior to the game.
• Last year, Betts nearly started the season with a homer after Cora challenged him to swing at Chris Archer’s first pitch but wound up flying out to deep center. Don’t be surprised if Benintendi tries to set a similar tone against Gonzales. The last Red Sox player to hit the first pitch of Opening Day for a homer was Dwight Evans in 1986 at Tiger Stadium.
• Seattle is one of the few places where Betts has struggled in his career. In road games against the Mariners, Boston’s star right fielder is a .196 hitter with one homer and a .524 OPS.