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Mariners Take on A's in Season Opener

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The Seattle Mariners and OaklandAthletics will get a lot of each other in early April. As in sevengames in the initial 10 days of the season.

"Do we?" Seattle slugger Ken Griffey Jr. said Sunday. "Nowthat you have your team, that's just trying to get everybodyready."

A's manager Bob Geren doesn't mind getting a good look atSeattle right away. His team will have a pretty good gauge of whereit stands against a club picked to finish at or near the top of theimproved, new-look AL West.

"When you break out of spring training facing opponents you'refamiliar with, it has some advantages," Geren said.

The Mariners and A's open with a four-game series startingMonday night at the Coliseum, each with upgraded pitching rotationsand speedsters at the top of the batting order: Ichiro Suzuki andnewcomer Chone Figgins for Seattle and the A's Rajai Davis. ButOakland is without the quick Coco Crisp, whose A's debut will bedelayed because he is starting the year on the disabled list afterbreaking his left pinkie finger Friday night.

"We play them seven out of the first 10 games and the first 10are all against the AL West," A's catcher Kurt Suzuki said. "Itwill be good to see where we're at and what we've got. It will befun."

After the A's won the season series against Seattle 17-2 in2006, Seattle has gone 37-20 in the rivalry - 14-5 in both '07 andlast year and 9-10 in '08.

Mariners left fielder and cleanup hitter Milton Bradley said hisright leg was better after he was pulled during Saturday'sexhibition game in Albuquerque because of tightness in his rightquadriceps after sliding into second while being caught stealing.

"I'm fine. Playing," said Bradley, who spent 2006 and part of'07 with the A's.

Felix Hernandez, a 19-game winner last year, starts the openerfor Seattle. Cliff Lee is beginning the season on the disabled listwith a strained abdominal muscle.

Seattle outfielder Eric Byrnes returns to the place where heonce was a fan favorite - though it's not the same these daysconsidering he's been gone from the A's nearly six years.

"I feel so far removed from there," Byrnes said. "I spent 5½great years there on some really good teams and made some reallygood friends. But now it's not that different from going to anyother city."

The rebuilt Mariners roster is looking to contend for its firstdivision crown since winning an AL-record 116 games in Suzuki'srookie season of 2001 - and general manager Jack Zduriencik isconfident in the team's chances under second-year manager DonWakamatsu.

"I think we've got some players with a point to prove," hesaid. "When you look at the club we have, there are a lot of guyswho really want to win."

Oakland is determined to rebound from a rough 2009 in which ityet again struggled with injuries to key players, lost the finalseven games for a 75-87 record and finished in last place for thefirst time since 1998. Three of those late losses came to theMariners.

"We're hoping to start off on the right foot," Geren said.

New $10 million ace Ben Sheets is counting on that being thecase after he missed all of last season recovering from elbowsurgery. He will take the ball on opening night.

Even Kurt Suzuki is eager to watch Ichiro Suzuki, Figgins andDavis do their work.

"It's very exciting," Suzuki said. "They make things happen,especially on the bases."

A good start is what everybody hopes for now.

"We'll have a good gauge where we are, but in no way do I thinkthe first 10 games are going to dictate what happens in the next152," Byrnes said. "We could win all seven (against the A's) orthey could win all seven, but nobody is going crown the divisionafter the first 10 games."

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