OAKLAND -- Somewhat quietly, the Mariners have to have one of the best 1-2 punches atop their starting rotation in the American League, if not all of baseball. Consider: A day after being shut out by nemesis Felix Hernandez, the former Cy Young winner and owner of a perfect game, the A's today face the pitcher that leads the A.L. in fewest baserunners allowed and strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has its second-lowest ERA.
That's Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who is 7-1 this season and hasn't allowed an earned run in his last 28 2/3 innings. Iwakuma beat the A's on April 2 in Oakland and again on May 10 in Seattle, allowing three runs over 13 innings with 16 strikeouts in the two games. Yoenis Cespedes has homered twice as part of his 3-for-9 career line against Iwakuma. The rest of the A's lineup today is a combined 6-for-43 (.140).
Here's that lineup:
And the Mariners lineup against Bartolo Colon, who is looking for his ninth win:
* Jed Lowrie gets a day off with Melvin still making a point of resting players following the A's 18-inning game on Thursday. Lowrie has also been in a bit of a slump recently -- he's 5-for-37 over his last nine games after hitting .412 in the previous 13.
* Melvin said he thinks Cespedes, who will DH for the third game in a row since coming back from a hamstring issue, could return to playing the outfield tomorrow when the A's are in Texas. Both he and Coco Crisp (heel) are "that much better today," Melvin said.
* Both A.J. Griffin and John Jaso were adamant yesterday that the first-pitch fastball hit for a grand slam by Mariners catcher Henry Blanco was both the pitch and the location -- up and in -- they wanted to throw. Melvin was asked about the selection today against a hitter in Blanco who's aggressive going after first pitches.
"If you are going first-pitch fastball, you want to expand with it and throw it in a spot where maybe it's not a strike," Melvin said. "I know he was trying to go in and maybe just didn't get it far enough. ... But he's aware that (Blanco is) a first-pitch hacker. Backup catchers are notorious first-pitch hackers and looking for a fastball to hit."
Was Melvin a first-pitch hacker?
"I was," he said. "I wouldn't have been one of those A's profile guys. There was one point where a month into the season my batting average was higher than my on-base percentage because I had two sacrifice flies. So I'm sure I wasn't on the radar for this organization at the time."
* The addition of Dan Otero has had an accessorial effect in the A's bullpen -- namely, Sean Doolittle is no longer carrying the pink unicorn backpack that the least experienced reliever must tote around with snacks and supplies for his bullpen mates.
Doolittle has carried the backpack since coming up from the minors last season, and it features prominently in his profile picture on Twitter. But the backpack now resides in the locker of Otero, who said he thinks the style is "great. Brings out my personality."
Otero said he knew Doolittle some from playing against him in college -- Otero went to Duke, Doolittle to Virginia, both in the ACC -- and went up to the left-hander shortly after arriving in Oakland on Friday.
"I said Doo, it's my turn to take that backpack I think," Otero said. "He was like, 'Really?!'
"He was very willing to give it up, let's put it that way."
Or was he?
"It's weird, man," Doolittle said of not carrying the backpack anymore. "I've got that empty nest feeling, man, like when parents ship their kids off to college. But it was time. (Relievers Jerry Blevins and Grant Balfour) told me it was time to graduate, so I'm getting used to it."
In seriousness, Doolittle said he considers himself a very routine-oriented player to the point of being superstitious. Making sure the backpack was stocked had become part of his pre-game routine since day one in the majors, and since then he has been remarkably consistent, a recent stretch of 10 runs allowed in five appearances notwithstanding.
Right now, Doolittle said, he's "got to find something to do with those extra five or 10 minutes before the game everyday."
"I guess maybe some of those routines lend themselves to you being superstitious," he said. "I mean, yesterday (teammates) were saying we haven't won since I gave (the backpack) up, so if this keeps happening you might have to take it back. So we may adjust that. But hopefully we don't have to."
-- Matt Kawahara
PHOTO: Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Houston Astros, Monday, June 10, 2013, in Seattle, Washington. Dean Rutz/Seattle Times