After launching the season in Tokyo with a split of two games, the Athletics and Mariners resume their unorthodox four-game series on Friday night at the Coliseum. They'll face off again on Saturday night before taking a rare Sunday off.
Oakland and Seattle share a lot in common. They're housed in the American League West, a division featuring a pair of heavyweights -- the Rangers and Angels -- with World Series championship aspirations and the tools to make it happen.
The A's and Mariners are trying to stay afloat by the Pacific with reconstructed lineups hoping to generate more offense in support of capable pitching staffs and quality defenses.
Left-hander Jason Vargas, who held Oakland to two hits and a run in 6 1/3 innings in Japan, gets the start on Friday night for the Mariners. He'll oppose A's ace Brandon McCarthy, who pitched superbly in the opener with a no-decision against Felix Hernandez.
Hernandez, in prime-time form in his debut, will go on Saturday against Bartolo Colon. King Felix yielded a run on five hits and no walks in eight innings of the opener, striking out six. Colon was his equal, winning the second game by holding Seattle to one run on three hits in eight innings.
"With so much time in between both their starts, there was only one option to give one guy a work day and that was Felix," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "So instead of giving him that much time off, we were able to give him another start [Monday]. We weren't able to do that with Vargas because of the way the days set up."
This rotation likely sets up Hernandez to handle the Mariners' home opener on April 13 -- against the A's. These teams are really getting to know each other.
The emotional return of Ichiro Suzuki was the big story in Japan, but both clubs had solid showings from athletes around whom they are building their futures.
Highly touted Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes hammered a decisive home run against reliever Shawn Kelley to power an A's victory in the second game after a four-hit eruption by Ichiro and a booming home run by young Dustin Ackley had lifted Seattle in the season opener.
Outfielders Josh Reddick and Jonny Gomes, two other new bats in A's manager Bob Melvin's attack, also went deep in the 4-1 win behind Colon. McCarthy went seven innings, yielding one earned run, in the opener before the Mariners prevailed, 3-1, in 11 innings, on RBI singles by Ackley and Ichiro.
The second time around, Vargas knows a few adjustments are in order.
"They have an idea of what I'm trying to do," he said, "and I have an idea of what they're trying to do. So it all comes down to who is going to execute.
"It's a lot different [lineup] than last year. Gomes and Cespedes make a big difference in the middle of their lineup. They lost [Josh] Willingham, but they got some other guys that can do some things."
Both managers came away from Japan encouraged.
"That builds team chemistry," Melvin said in the afterglow of the three-homer barrage and Colon's masterly work. "We've got a lot of new players we feel like have been working hard all spring to mesh together, and it shows when you get contributions all the way around like that."
Wedge also saw positive signs.
"I was really proud how they handled themselves over in Japan with everything going on both on and off the field," he said. "I felt they represented themselves well. Now it's just to get them back on track."
Cespedes, signed for four years and $36 million, picked up a $12,000 check in an MVP ceremony. He had a double to go with his first Major League homer -- crushing a Kelley breaking ball -- in six at-bats in the two games.
"It was a blast," Reddick said. "Everyone's been questioning his ability to hit a breaking ball, and for him to sit back on one and then line one out, that's a big step for him."
Cespedes is aware of the book on him. It's nothing new for a power hitter arriving on the Major League scene.
"I know the whole game they were throwing sliders," Cespedes said. "I tried to make adjustments, and that's the only way I hit that ball."
The Mariners have redesigned the top third of their order with Ichiro sliding into the third spot and Ackley slotted behind Chone Figgins, who hopes to regain his mojo back in the leadoff role he occupied with the Angels.
Ackley showed why he's one of the game's most promising young hitters. Unloading against McCarthy leading off the fourth, the Mariners' second baseman owned the distinction of launching the first home run of the 2012 season.
"The first thing I thought of when I got back to the dugout was that I was leading the Major Leagues in home runs," Ackley said. "It might be the coolest thing I've ever done in my life. So to be a part of that and to be a part of this winning team and the game tonight in extra innings, it was awesome."
Ackley's 11th-inning RBI single following Brendan Ryan's double and Figgins' sacrifice gave Seattle the lead.
"He's just a good hitter," Melvin said of Ackley. "He's going to be one of the better middle-infield hitters in the league at some point in time."
Mariners: Montero, Smoak offensive keys
The Mariners are hoping their new slugger, Jesus Montero, and first baseman Justin Smoak start smoking line drives in the middle third of the order after going a combined 2-for-16 in Japan. Montero, who was 1-for-7, took a pitch in the helmet in an exhibition game on Monday from Colorado's Edgmer Escalona but said he felt fine afterward. Smoak and Montero both have enjoyed productive springs.
Known more for his glove as a shortstop in Japan, Munenori Kawasaki, 30, landed a utility infielder's role with a big spring, hitting .455 with his Ichiro-like approach.
Athletics: Cespedes reading the book
Cespedes, whose homer in Japan came on a slider, is aware of the book on him. It's nothing new for a power hitter arriving on the Major League scene. "I know the whole game they were throwing sliders," Cespedes said. "I tried to make adjustments, and that's the only way I hit that ball."
Infielder Eric Sogard, who batted .200 in 70 at-bats with the A's last season, hit .341 with two homers in 44 Cactus League at-bats. He's making a case for increased playing time.
The Mariners are 20-15 in season openers, including a five-game Opening Day winning streak.
McCarthy went 1-3 against the Mariners in four starts last year, but he still managed to carry an ERA of 1.99 vs. Seattle hitters.
Seattle is due to face Yu Darvish on Monday in Texas in the Japanese sensation's Major League debut. The Mariners have Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan, Kevin Millwood and Vargas lined up for the Rangers in the four-game series.