Ah, baseball is back, officially.
While many in the United States were sleeping Wednesday morning, the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners got the 2012 season started in Japan. The Mariners prevailed 3-1 in 11 innings. As I posted on Twitter, stealing similar words from Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence after his second game with the team last year: "Great game. Let's go eat." For me, it just happened to be breakfast.
In anticipation of my Monday-through-Friday "Box Score Bits" getting back into my daily routine when all the other MLB teams start playing games that count next week, here are my thoughts on M's-A's, the opener of what should be a great season.
• Ichiro Suzuki is on pace for 648 hits. OK, so he'll probably fall short, but his performance was noteworthy. He's batting in the No. 3 hole, a presumed RBI spot for most teams, but it's not like the Mariners have a ton of options. Ichiro slapped his way to four singles in five at-bats, a cool .800 batting average, but here's what you don't see in the box score: He took off running from first base multiple times. (Note to Justin Smoak, take a pitch and let the fellow run!) Trusted colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft often has written about how lineup position does not affect stolen-base attempts or success rate, and those wondering how someone 38 years old will be able to steal his age, so to speak, shouldn't. Ichiro won't do this every night, um, morning, but I don't think his 2011 campaign was the end of .300 batting averages. He'll continue not to act his age. I rank Ichiro multiple rounds better than ESPN's marks and feel good about it. Perhaps he can even hit .310 and knock in 75 runs, too. I think he can.
• Statistical star of the game Dustin Ackley homered, knocked in two runs and stole an 11th-inning base, and although one game shouldn't pump his value too much -- he could go hitless Thursday, you know -- it's really a continuation of an excellent rookie campaign. Frankly, I have Ackley about three rounds better than his ESPN average live draft mark of the 17th round. Ackley doesn't figure to challenge Matt Kemp in the power or speed categories, but I expect double digits for home runs and steals. Surely Ackley's home ballpark is configured a bit differently than the one in Japan, a challenge for most hitters, but the A's Brandon McCarthy isn't a noted gopher-ball provider and really induced the ground balls. Good for Ackley. Just don't expect even 15 home runs (or 15 steals) from him.
• As for McCarthy, he matched the great Felix Hernandez for seven innings. He probably could have thrown another inning, but the entire bullpen was rested, after all. McCarthy is one of my sleeper starting pitchers and in my top 50, but let this performance be another reminder he's not someone to target if you covet strikeouts. McCarthy fanned three hitters, only one in the first five innings. And, thanks to a brutal offense, he didn't win.
• While Seattle's lineup seems relatively stable -- I didn't say productive -- for which hitters are likely to keep playing and where they will hit, we can't say this of the Athletics. I'll give it 10 days before Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes is hitting third or fourth in the order. Coco Crisp isn't a No. 3 hitter, and Kurt Suzuki hitting fifth made me cringe. The past two seasons he's hit a combined .240 with a .302 OBP and .375 slugging. Cespedes doubled in four plate appearances off Hernandez, striking out twice and earning first base on a hit-by-pitch. We'll need to see more at-bats off lesser big league pitchers -- which is just about everyone -- to really evaluate him, but in this motley crew of a lineup, I expect he'll move into a more fitting run-producing slot soon. For now, Cespedes seems a steal in the 21st round of ESPN live drafts. I mean, he made the team, which was originally a concern, and have you seen that lineup?
Random thoughts: Athletics first baseman Brandon Allen had "one of those days" when he looked really overmatched. I think it matters for him because Kila Ka'aihue and Daric Barton are lurking. ... Eric Sogard started at third base and went hitless as the No. 9 guy, but I still think Josh Donaldson is the starter most days. Sogard had the better spring training. In an AL-only league, Donaldson, with his catching eligibility, is my pick. ... Mariners DH Jesus Montero looked awfully jumpy; he saw nine pitches in four at-bats. Don't worry, he'll hit, but he's no closer to earning catcher eligibility. (He needs to play 10 games, according to ESPN rules.) I don't think he'll get there until May. ... Hard-throwing right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen tossed two innings for the win. I like that he can go multiple innings, but he's also next in line for saves. ... Can't wait for Thursday, when it's Bartolo Colon versus Jason Vargas. Set your alarm clocks for even earlier than today, 5:10 a.m. ET!