OAKLAND -- How much deeper is the Mariners lineup this season with the addition of some key veterans and the improvement of their young core of hitters? Deep enough that Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, was hitting eighth in Monday's Opening Day lineup.
Ackley, who batted .365 this spring, hit first or second almost all last season. He was in the No. 2 spot between Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki in last year's opener. But manager Eric Wedge now is going with a healthy Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders in the top two spots, followed by newcomers Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse.
"I think you look up and down our lineup, we've got guys that can hit about anywhere," Ackley said. "It's good to be in a lineup where guys are going to be on base when you get up to bat, especially from top to bottom. It's going to be fun to watch."
This is the kind of depth and balance Wedge has been aiming for since arriving in Seattle in 2011.
"It's different, obviously in a good way," Wedge said. "We've talked about trying to spread out our lineup and be solid from one through nine and we feel we're a lot closer to that. It's a combination of all our young kids continuing to improve and bringing in these veteran guys that have done it. We feel good about it."
Ackley expressed optimism coming out of a spring in which the Mariners led all of baseball in home runs and were second to the Royals in runs and OPS.
"The only question mark ever with this team has been the hitting," Ackley said. "And as the spring went on, we were hitting home runs and scoring a lot of runs. And that's really all we were missing. With the defense and pitching there, the hitting is going to hopefully bring us home."
Ryan returning to full-field approach at the plate
OAKLAND -- For all the talk about adding more offense to the middle of their lineup this season with the addition of sluggers Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales, the Mariners are hoping for a boost from other places as well. And one of the easiest improvements would come from No. 9 hitter Brendan Ryan.
The slick-gloved shortstop hit just .194 last season with a .277 on-base percentage, well below his career averages of .244 and .306. It was a frustrating year for a guy who hit .292 for the Cardinals in 2009 and believes he can contribute with the bat as well.
Ryan hit .261 (12-for-46) this spring with a .320 on-base percentage and thinks he's getting back to a better spot at the plate with what he calls an "Eckstein-ish" approach, in reference to former Major League infielder David Eckstein.
"I feel pretty good," Ryan said. "I'm getting back to an approach I've had success with, using the whole field, not just in games but with all the practice swings before games and in the cages. That's something that's familiar to me and what has helped me get up to the big leagues and have some success offensively in the show.
"I don't know why I got away from it, but getting back to using that full-field approach, seeing the ball better, keeping the ball on the ground. I'll be trying to make bunting more of my game this season. Bring that third baseman in and it should open up more of the field on the pull side."
Ryan is making his third Opening Day start for the Mariners, joining first baseman Justin Smoak as the only position players who were in the first-game lineup from 2011.
Maurer soaks up first big league Opening Day
OAKLAND -- Mariners rookie right-hander Brandon Maurer threw a bullpen session prior to Monday's opener at O.co Coliseum and tried not to get caught up in being in a triple-decker stadium preparing for his first Major League season.
Maurer, 22, has never pitched above Double-A but will make his Major League debut on Thursday against the A's.
"It's fun to just kind of look around and say, 'Wow, this is a big league stadium,'" he said with a grin. "It will soak in a little more once they call everyone out on the field and when I can walk into the dugout, then I can give it a nice little look up."
He's taken part in Opening Day ceremonies at other levels of baseball, from Little League in Costa Mesa, Calif., to high school in Villa Park, Calif., to various Minor League venues in his five pro seasons since getting drafted in the 23rd round in 2008.
"It's always nice to go out on the baseball field, but it is a little different here," Maurer said. "It's always cool, but it's not quite big league cool."
On the other end of the scale is Raul Ibanez, who was taking part in his 15th Major League Opening Day and enjoyed seeing Maurer and fellow first-timers Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor.
"I absolutely remember my first," Ibanez said, recalling the Mariners' 1999 opener at the Kingdome. "That's what I really get excited for, guys that it's their first Opening Day and first callups, first base hits, first win.
"I really love seeing guys do well and experiencing things for the first time. It keeps me young, watching them do it, because I remember what it was like all those years ago."
Felix's 'Supreme Court' returns to Safeco April 11
OAKLAND -- The "Supreme Court" will return to Safeco Field on Thursday, April 11, when Felix Hernandez makes his home debut against the Rangers.
The Mariners announced Monday that the first 25,000 fans at Hernandez's Safeco season debut will receive the free King Felix T-shirt and commemorative "K" card that normally are limited to 1,200 fans for the King's Court section down the left-field line at his starts.
The Supreme Court debuted last year in Hernandez's first start after he threw his perfect game against the Rays and the result was a Safeco Field that looked like a sea of yellow supporters.
Hernandez will start twice on the opening road trip -- Monday night against the A's in the season opener at 7:07 p.m. in Oakland and Saturday in Chicago against the White Sox. So his first home appearance will be April 11 against the Rangers.
Special ticket prices for the game are $10 for all View Level seats and $25 for select Main Level, Terrace Club and Outfield Reserved seats. Tickets for the game are on sale now without service charge at the Safeco Field Box Office and Mariners Team Stores. They can also be purchased online at mariners.com and by phone at 1-888-732-4487.
"The first Supreme Court on Aug. 21, to celebrate Felix's perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays, created such a special atmosphere in the ballpark that we wanted to do it again to celebrate Felix's first start of the season at Safeco Field, and to celebrate that he will be in a Mariners uniform for years to come," said Kevin Martinez, the Mariners vice president of marketing.
• While the Mariners have topped the A's in three straight Opening Day games going into Monday's game, Seattle hasn't won the season series against Oakland since 2009 when it went 14-5. Last year the Mariners were 7-12 against the AL West champion A's after losing the last seven games.
• Felix Hernandez became the third Major League pitcher since 1920 to record his sixth Opening Day start before the age of 27 on Monday, joining Bert Blyleven and Dwight Gooden. Hernandez turns 27 next Monday. He's one of 10 active pitchers with at least six Opening Day starts.
• Blake Beavan pitched five innings in a Minor League intrasquad game in Peoria, Ariz., on Sunday, allowing four hits and two runs with no walks and five strikeouts in 74 pitches. That outing keeps him on line to make his debut Friday when the Mariners open a series against the White Sox in Chicago.
• Monday marked Raul Ibanez's 15th Opening Day. Ibanez is the oldest member of the Mariners roster at 40, while reliever Carter Capps -- who turned 22 on Aug. 23 -- is the youngest player on the squad.