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March 26, 2019
AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais didn’t need long to come up with one immediate advantage to having already opened the regular season.

“Yeah, the fact we’re 2-0 is not a bad thing,” Servais joked.

Servais could joke because the atmosphere around the Seattle clubhouse was relaxed, if not a little jet-lagged still, before beginning an awkward two-day stretch on Monday night with the first of two exhibition games against the San Diego Padres.

After the fanfare and excitement of traveling across the Pacific to Japan, opening the season with a pair of victories over Oakland, and bidding farewell to the professional career of Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariners returned home for a pair of games with little-to-no meaning that don’t count in the standings.

It’s an odd circumstance for everyone involved to have two games that count, followed by two games with no bearing other than getting pitchers a few more innings and giving the chance for a few prospects to play in T-Mobile Park. Servais planned for his regular starters to get a handful of at-bats over the two days and rely heavily on the group of minor leaguers brought to Seattle.

“It’s really hard and we knew it was going to be hard. No surprise here,” he said. “We want to be smart. We want to get our main guys, our regular guys out there for limited action tonight. Some of them may not even play tomorrow. I think we’re in a pretty good game mode but it’s hard. You turn it on, you turn it off and we’ve got to turn it back on again. The fact we’re playing the Red Sox, it shouldn’t be too hard to turn it on. We should be pretty good for Thursday.”

The one exception is Mallex Smith, the speedy outfielder Seattle re-acquired in the offseason in one of the many trades made by general manager Jerry Dipoto. Smith was shut down early in spring training with a strained right elbow that limited his throwing. He did not make the trip to Japan and remained behind in Arizona at Seattle’s complex in the hope of begin ready for opening day.

That work appears to have paid off. Smith hit leadoff and started in center field Monday. It’s no guarantee that he will be in the lineup against Boston on Thursday, but it was a positive sign after being disconnected from the major league roster for most of the past two weeks. Hitting leadoff against the Padres was more a result of Servais wanting to get Smith an extra at-bat while only playing him five innings. That may or may not be the case when Thursday arrives.

“It’s hard when you join a new team and you can’t do anything. You don’t really feel like you’re part of the team until you get out there and play and start impacting the game,” Servais said.

STARTING OFF

Lefty Eric Lauer will get the opening day start for San Diego against San Francisco on Thursday. Lauer didn’t allow a run in 10 innings during spring training. The 23-year-old will be the second-youngest pitcher to start opening day for San Diego.

UP NEXT

Padres: Lefty Matt Strahm will pitch the exhibition finale against Seattle on Tuesday. Strahm threw five shutout innings in his last spring start.

Mariners: Left-hander Wade LeBlanc will start the exhibition finale against the Padres on Tuesday. Due to scheduling and weather, LeBlanc made only two official Cactus League appearances.

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