Seattle’s Scott Servais will soon be where Jeff Banister was with Texas a year ago – making his debut as a big league manager and hoping to lift a team with questions back into contention.
Banister’s advice when they face each other on opening day in Texas on Monday was simple.
”Exhale,” Banister said. ”Enjoy it. It’ll be a flash and memory.”
Servais will send ace Felix Hernandez to the mound for his eighth straight opening day start and ninth overall for the Mariners, who have the longest playoff drought in baseball at 14 seasons.
Seattle has won all eight openers started by Hernandez, with the soon-to-be 30-year-old right-hander going 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA.
”A lot of firsts are about to happen,” Servais said. ”I’ve never managed a major league game. There are some things that are going to continue to evolve in how I handle the game, but as far as my dealing with players and our team, I think it’s been very consistent, I think very transparent.”
There will be a first for Banister, too. He is starting Cole Hamels, acquired in a trade-deadline deal last July that was made with an eye on the future but ended up boosting the present. The Rangers made a surprising run to the AL West banner, which will be raised before the opener.
The left-hander has been battling cold and allergy symptoms in recent days but expects to take the mound for his third opening-day start. The other two were with Philadelphia, where he spent his first nine-plus seasons. Hernandez and Hamels have the most combined opening-day starts among pitchers matched in this year’s openers, according to STATS.
”Felix and I have been in the big leagues about the same amount of time,” Hamels said. ”We’ve kind of had the same kind of repertoire. I’ve always looked at him as one of the best pitchers in the game and somebody you want to face in big games. That’s what makes the enjoyment for the fans and for us.”
Seattle debuts yet another overhauled lineup around core players Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz, who became a slugging star when the Rangers went to the World Series in 2010 and 2011. Another former Ranger, Leonys Martin, is the Mariners’ new center fielder.
For the most part, the Rangers bring back the same team that lost the deciding game of an AL Division Series at Toronto when three consecutive errors were followed by Jose Bautista’s bat-flipping home run.
The biggest change for Texas is converted shortstop Ian Desmond taking over in left field while Josh Hamilton (left knee surgery) starts the season on the disabled list for the second straight year.
And then there’s the change for Banister, who a year ago was a rookie manager taking over a 95-loss team with no expectations.
”A hundred and sixty-two plus five. That’s the difference,” said Banister, the reigning AL Manager of the Year. ”I will have the same butterflies in my stomach, the same lump in my throat, the same chills. I hope I never lose that feeling.”