Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mariners Briefing: Pitching woes leave little optimism in once-promising season

Posted By on Wed, Jul 5, 2017 at 1:29 PM

King Felix has been less than regal this year, and his fellow Mariners have scuffled to a below-.500 season so far.
  • King Felix has been less than regal this year, and his fellow Mariners have scuffled to a below-.500 season so far.

Being an approximate .500 baseball team for half of a season will offer fair arguments for both optimism and pessimism. The 41-44 Mariners have found a way to showcase that duality in any given series, let alone any given week.

Two games into their mid-season homestand, the Mariners pitching has offered little parting thoughts that this high-wire act will result in playoff baseball. They didn't do so on the mound, with Felix Hernandez offering yet another multi-homer game on the Fourth of July. But the news off of the diamond has been far less reassuring.

News came out last week that sidelined starter Drew Smyly wouldn't be throwing a single pitch this year. Smyly opted for Tommy John surgery after dealing with yet another setback in his recovery from an elbow injury that progressed to a torn UCL. Smyly's recovery will be finished long after his one year contract with the Mariners will expire.

And then on July 4th it was revealed that Hisashi Iwakuma received platement-rich plasma treatment and a cortisone shot in his shoulder after his bullpen session. Iwakuma's return is now two weeks later than initially projected, and the soonest possible return is mid August.

If Iwakuma doesn't return, it's hard to see the Mariners maintaining their .482 winning percentage, let alone improving upon it. And that's a shame, considering the commendable efforts by Ariel Miranda, the return to form of James Paxton and the promising replacement starts by rookie Andrew Moore.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday Mariners Briefing: June's hot bats keeping M's afloat

Posted By on Mon, Jun 26, 2017 at 3:16 PM

Rookie outfielder Ben Gamel, hitting .346, has been a pleasant surprise for the Mariners this season.
  • Rookie outfielder Ben Gamel, hitting .346, has been a pleasant surprise for the Mariners this season.

A month ago, things weren't looking so good for the Seattle Mariners. After five losses in six East Coast games against the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox, the Mariners' injury woes seemed insurmountable.

The M's were seven games under .500, in the AL West cellar, and nearly had the American League's worst record. With Felix Hernandez, Hishashi Iwakuma and James Paxton on the disabled list, the back of the rotation — Ariel Miranda and Yovanni Gallardo — was asked to keep the USS Mariner afloat.

With a strong showing in Colorado to finish May and start June, the Mariners went on a torrid 10-4 run, beating the Rockies, Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins. Mike Zunino has had himself quite a month, hitting nine home runs and driving in 30 runs (most ever in a month for a Mariners catcher). Zunino entered the month hitting an abysmal .190, which has since risen to .247. Over that span, he's nearly doubled his on-base plus slugging percentage to .802 (on average, a dependable everyday player should be around .700).

But the most satisfying part of the Mariners' resurgence has been the trio of rookie outfielders — Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger. Last year's outfield was the glaring weakness of a surprisingly average team. Heading into this season, it was hoped that maybe one of the three young outfielders could pair with veteran Jarrod Dyson to make a halfway respectable outfield. Instead, the three are pushing Dyson out of playing time.

In the absence of high-average leadoff hitter, shortstop Jean Segura, Gamel leads the Mariners with a .394 average for the month of June. After an oblique injury sidelined him for more than a month, Haniger was immediately injected into the No. 2 spot and has been regaining his timing on the fly; he hasn't quite seen his average and power return to his hot opening to the season, but has remained a high on-base-percentage guy who becomes a table-setter for power bats Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz.

The Mariners started their homestand with a four-game sweep of the up-and-down Detroit Tigers. They were able to stay in games, proving their lineup's ability to get hot and win games late. The most notable was in the sixth inning against Justin Verlander, who was at the time throwing a perfect game. The Mariners piled on seven runs in the sixth and seventh against  Verlander and the Tigers.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Zags' Collins, Williams-Goss hear their names called during NBA draft

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 11:53 AM

Zach Collins was the No. 10 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft, going from Sacramento to Portland in a trade. - GU ATHLETICS
  • GU Athletics
  • Zach Collins was the No. 10 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft, going from Sacramento to Portland in a trade.

In a season of new milestones, add another to the list for Gonzaga men's basketball. Freshman phenom Zach Collins became the first one-and-done player in program history, getting drafted by the Sacramento Kings — then traded to the Portland Trail Blazers — with the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.

Nigel Williams-Goss joined the party a few hours later as the Utah Jazz selected him in the second round with 55th overall pick. This is the first time in 46 years that two Zags players were drafted the same night. In 1971, Howard Burford and Bill Quigg were drafted in the 11th and 15th rounds(!). 2002 saw Dan Dickau and international recruit Mario Kasan drafted, but Kasan was mired in contract controversies during his recruitment and never suited up for the Bulldogs.

Portland took advantage of their stockpile of picks, trading their 15th and 20th to move up and take Collins. It's an interesting move for the 41-41 team, as Collins immediately slots in as a back-up to Jusuf Nurkić, with the potential to learn the power forward position and play alongside him.

Collins' draft profile was interesting due to his limited minutes at Gonzaga. The 7-footer is considered the most NBA-ready rookie big man on defense by many scouts, and already possesses a diverse repertoire of post moves. Scouts also were excited by his surprising adeptness around the perimeter, where Collins shot 47 percent last year.

Collins could prove to be a major boon for the Blazers moving forward in this new-look NBA. If he can add strength without compromising his quickness, Collins could be a rare center who is able to defend against guards off of defensive switches. Offensively, he has shown that he can make 18-plus foot shots — essential in a 3-and-D league — albeit in an extremely small sample size (14 for 27, 51.9 percent).

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Bloomsday results book available now throughout the Inland Northwest

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 12:46 PM

Sure, the T-shirt is cool and a nice keepsake, but you'll want to pick up the Bloomsday results book produced by the Inlander to see your named saved for posterity, along with the time it took you to navigate the 2017 course alongside nearly 40,000 of your friends.

The Bloomsday results book is available now, throughout the area or right here at the Inlander office, located at 1227 W. Summit Parkway in Spokane's Kendall Yards.

Just look for this when you're out and about:


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Seahawks have plenty of holes to fill in the NFL draft that starts Thursday

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 4:57 PM

The Seattle Seahawks' run from 2013-15 was built on the wealth of talent they secured through late-round drafting. Russell Wilson, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman were top-tier players the Seahawks landed in the third and fifth rounds.

During their run to back-to-back Super Bowls, they benefited from All-Pro talent signed to rookie contracts, which gave them the opportunity to secure free-agent talents like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett.

After two playoff seasons with divisional-round losses, the Hawks need to restructure their roster with young talent and retool before there is a need for a massive overhaul.

Just watching one game from the 2016 season reveals that a draft priority is trying to fix the offensive line. Last year was the first time that Wilson suffered major injuries. A pectoral injury, ankle and knee sprain could easily be ascribed to running for his life when his blocking broke down routinely.

But the Hawks' loss of depth and potential trades via in-house drama could result in plenty of other high-priority positions to be filled in the draft. Sherman is unhappy with his relationship with the franchise, and GM John Schneider was actively taking phone calls from other teams about him for weeks. Backup QB Trevone Boykin was arrested in Dallas last month for misdemeanor possession of marijuana and public intoxication. He was subsequently arrested for breaking his probation from an incident in 2015, his senior year at TCU. Here are some priorities for the Seahawks throughout Thursday and the weekend.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Help people find Gonzaga and Spokane with this T-shirt

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 1:51 PM


Perhaps you're like me and it's taken a week or so for it to really sink in that the little Jesuit school in little ol' (but still not desolate and crumbling) Spokane, Washington, played in the NCAA championship game. Further putting the school and city on the map — and hopefully to rest how to pronounce either name — Gonzaga achieved something monumental in being one of the final two of 68 out of 351.

In recognition of this historical moment, online T-shirt design company Breaking T is selling two Gonzaga-oriented shirts: one literally putting the city and school on a map, and the other reclassifying the Zags' label from "Mid-Major" to "Major." Breaking T is producing these shirts along with SB Nation's Gonzaga-focused blog The Slipper Still Fits as a fun way to cap off a historic season.

The shirts retail for $24 each, and are offered in unisex size "vintage heather" navy-blue tees.
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Thursday, April 6, 2017

New-look Mariners offering same old lack of production so far

Anemic offense, pitching injuries have team off in a mode familiar to long-suffering fans

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 1:40 PM

April signals the start of the major league baseball season, a welcome addition for sports fans who need to fill the void left by the end of March Madness and the bland weeks leading up to the NBA playoffs. Expectations cannot be higher for the Seattle Mariners, who look to play October baseball for the first time in 16 years.

The Mariners traded away what many thought would be their long-term in Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte for the immediate offensive injection of short stop and speedy on-base machine Jean Segura and promising prospect outfielder Mitch Haniger. With power and hitting coming from the untraditional middle of the infield, the Mariners hitched their wagon to speed and glove prowess in the outfield, with Leonys Martin joined by Jarrod "What Speed Do" Dyson for one of the rangiest defensive outfields in major league baseball.

As general manager Jerry Dipoto tried to restructure his roster’s depth and strengths, his wheeling and dealings landed him in a precarious situation with his rotation. Dipoto traded his way into Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo; the latter was seen as a low-risk, back-of-the-rotation option who would be replaceable in the worst-case scenario. Smyly was looked at as an innings-eater and a reliable backup for the often injured front/middle options of James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma.

Smyly looked phenomenal in the World Baseball Classic, to the point that he seemed like the center of the rotation, rather than a reinvigorated Felix Hernandez. But Smyly suffered a flexor strain in his pitching arm at the end of March and is now on the disabled list for the next eight weeks — and possibly shelved until as late as July.

With much baseball to be played, the M’s are staring down an 1-3 start, all four games against their biggest division opponent, the Houston Astros. The bats have been ice-cold: newcomer Segura is the only hitter with an average (.300) above the Mendoza line; he and Haniger have hit the only home runs. Centerpieces Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have yet to tally an RBI or run, and the team is 3 for 36 with runners in scoring position through the first four games.

Paxton looked great in his start on Wednesday night, giving up two hits in six innings of shutout baseball. Hernandez looked back in form early in the season opener, before being pulled with groin tightness. The fear is that the Mariners will have a solid front of the rotation that will have nothing to play for by the time Smyly returns. Dipoto has been trying his best with minor league options to try and patch the glaring holes that this team faces so early in the season.

Even when the bats in the middle of the lineup get right, and the rotation rounds into shape as a known quality, that still doesn’t answer the bullpen concerns looming in the innings before manager Scott Servais can hand the ball off to Edwin Diaz, the M's closer and arguably their most exciting player to watch. The Mariners will be relying on unknown qualities and a rehabilitated Steve Cishek as a bridge to Diaz for the foreseeable future.

Mariners bats will need to step up to not only survive the next couple of months, but all season, with low expectations for the back of rotation and stretch innings. Much of the excitement for this season was due to the additions that Dipoto and company made, with the expectation that Cruz, Cano and Kyle Seager would continue their All-Star-caliber performances. If the heart of the lineup doesn't meet expectations, the additions of Segura, Dyson and Haniger won’t mean a whole lot, and neither will games in August and September.

But if the Mariners can right their rotation and survive the early loss of Smyly, they could be a wild-card sleeper, and maybe even keep their fans interested into the fall.
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Saturday, April 1, 2017

5 Gonzaga students, 20 hours, no sleep and one Grand Canyon: An Inlander intern's tales of the drive to the Final Four

Posted By on Sat, Apr 1, 2017 at 1:43 PM

Brothers Tommy (left) and Andrew Walters at the Grand Canyon. - TUCK CLARRY
  • Tuck Clarry
  • Brothers Tommy (left) and Andrew Walters at the Grand Canyon.

[Editor's note: The Inlander's editorial intern Tuck Clarry left for a Final Four roadtrip on Thursday. We didn't know if we'd ever hear from him again. Thankfully, we did. He recounts his experiences of the day-long journey:]

At roughly 5 pm Thursday, five guys crammed into a mid-2000s Audi Quattro to go to the biggest game they or their university had ever seen. The timing was important because there was plenty of maneuvering to even leave that early. Freshman “Montana” Rob had a huge calc test Friday morning that he had to plead to take early. Freshman Tommy Walters had to orchestrate a series of deals with his engineering professors for the labs he’d miss at the beginning of next week.

But the others, seniors Adam Bosworth, Tommy’s older brother Andrew Walters and myself, had nothing in the way between us and and Phoenix. Andrew, whose car we took, created an itinerary to drive straight through. If we left at five we’d get there 1 pm Friday a mere 21 hours.

The 1,350-mile route had other plans.

Andrew informed the group text that he had gone through all of the necessary road trip preparations. After discovering his aux cord kit wouldn’t fit in his car’s console, he burned 38 CDs over 8 hours. He planned on getting his oil changed, but decided it wasn’t worth the asking price or the time requirement. We stopped at the first Montana gas station over the border to fill up an empty oil pan.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

ZAGS: Gonzaga's men and women both win WCC tourney titles, await their March Madness destinations

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 9:40 AM

Nigel Williams-Goss and the Gonzaga Bulldogs won the WCC tournament and will head to the NCAA tourney once again, possibly as a No. 1 seed. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Nigel Williams-Goss and the Gonzaga Bulldogs won the WCC tournament and will head to the NCAA tourney once again, possibly as a No. 1 seed.

Tuesday night’s victory over Saint Mary’s assured the inevitable. Gonzaga is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th consecutive season.

All that’s left for the Zags to sweat about between now and Selection Sunday this weekend is their seeding. At 32-1 on the season, No. 4-ranked Gonzaga is completely deserving of a one seed in the NCAA tournament. Until the brackets are announced, though, there will be naysayers saying the Zags haven’t earned a top seed.

“I have nothing to say to them,” Coach Mark Few said. “I think our results speak for themselves.”

The most recent result, a 74-56 win over No. 19 Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Championship, speaks quite loudly on its own. Gonzaga held Saint Mary’s, one of the nation’s best shooting teams, to 36.8% from the field. The Gaels’ veteran, dual-point guard backcourt normally runs a tight ship. But Tuesday night the team committed 10 first half turnovers en route to a 21-point halftime deficit.

“We were so poor I can't even tell you,” Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said. “In the first half there wasn't a phase of the game we were good at.”

Gonzaga completely dominated a team that has spent every week this year, from the preseason to postseason, ranked in the AP Top 25. In one night the Zags debunked two of the most common criticisms leveled against them: that they don’t play anybody, and that they’re never tested.

“We talked at halftime about how Saint Mary’s is an excellent basketball team,” Few said.

Sure enough, the Gaels fought back. With just over 10 minutes left in the game they had clawed their way to within five points of the Zags. In front of Dick Vitale and a primetime ESPN television audience, the Zags found themselves in challenged in March.

Their response was quick and emphatic.

In just over one minute, three quick plays blew the game wide open. With 5:55 to play Przemek Karnowski (15 points, 10 rebounds) scored and was fouled. He missed his free throw, but Zach Collins was there to put back the miss. Nigel Williams-Goss, who was named tournament Most Outstanding Player after recording 22 points along with six assists, steals and rebounds, followed suit with a basket and foul shot of his own. On the next possession, Silas Melson (10 points) did the same.

Gonzaga’s lead went from single digits to 17 and the sold-out, overwhelmingly pro-Gonzaga room at Orleans Arena went from stressed to screaming. Saint Mary’s had no answer.

“It was a heck of a championship game,” Few said.

Gonzaga's women's team took the WCC tourney title on Tuesday, and they'll head to the NCAA tournament as a result. - GONZAGA ATHLETICS
  • Gonzaga Athletics
  • Gonzaga's women's team took the WCC tourney title on Tuesday, and they'll head to the NCAA tournament as a result.

Gonzaga's women's team might not get the hype of the highly ranked men's squad, but they equaled the men in every way that counts, winning the WCC regular-season title and following it up with a WCC tournament championship.

In fact, the women arguably had a more significant win Tuesday with their 86-75 win over Saint Mary's since the Zags weren't assured a trip to the NCAA tournament without it. Jill Barta set a championship game record by dropping in 37 points, and as a result coach Lisa Fortier and the Zags get to watch Selection Monday next week and find out who they'll play in March Madness. (DAN NAILEN)
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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Zags face familiar foe for WCC tourney championship in St. Mary's; everything you need to know about tonight's matchup

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 9:36 AM

The Mark Few-led Zags are in the WCC tournament championship for the 20th straight season.
  • The Mark Few-led Zags are in the WCC tournament championship for the 20th straight season.

Gonzaga is in the West Coast Conference Tournament Championship Game once again. The Zags have played in this game for 20 consecutive seasons, a streak dating back to 1998.

Nigel Williams-Goss, who led the Zags in points (25), rebounds (8) and assists (5) Monday night against Santa Clara, was 3 years old. Zach Collins, who drained a three-pointer with 47 seconds left to ice the game, was not yet four months old. And current high school seniors heading to Gonzaga this fall weren’t even alive when this streak began.

“That streak is amazing,” head coach Mark Few said. “There are tons of people in Spokane who come down to this, and they literally circle the dates on the calendar back in July or whenever you guys announce it, and spend a good portion of their hard-earned money to come down here for a whole week. Our guys have done an amazing job of making their trips worthwhile.”

Those trips were made worthwhile two-fold Monday night. Gonzaga advanced to the tournament final, and Gonzaga played an entertaining game against four-seed Santa Clara.

Jared Brownridge poured in 32 points for the Broncos, who were just five points back of the Zags with under two minutes to play. But back-to-back threes from Williams-Goss and Collins, both of whom played high school basketball in Las Vegas, put the Broncos away.

For the eighth time in the past 14 seasons, No. 4 Gonzaga (31-1) and No. 19 Saint Mary’s (28-3) will meet in the WCC Tournament final.

These two teams, both ranked in the AP Top 25 for the entirety of the season, dominated the West Coast Conference in 2017, combining for three losses during league play. Saint Mary’s fell twice to Gonzaga, and Gonzaga fell once to BYU — the same BYU team that Saint Mary’s blew out 81-50 on Monday night to advance to the tournament final.

Saint Mary’s, which has won 28 games for the fifth time in head coach Randy Bennett’s 16 seasons, is a tough defensive team that is surgically precise on the offensive end. Point guard Emmett Naar has dished out 11 assists in each of the Gaels’ two games in Vegas. On Monday the entire BYU team totaled five assists.

Junior center Jock Landale led the Gaels with 22 points and 10 rebounds against the Cougars. Landale was limited with foul trouble in both previous meetings with Gonzaga this season, but when he stays on the court he’s hard to stop.

Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, featuring Karnowski vs. Landale, is the ideal WCC Tournament final. The league’s two best teams, two teams who are arch-rivals, in a nationally televised primetime showcase. It’s a classic March match-up.

“I've been here for 5 years,” Karnowski said, “and every year we come here with the same mindset. We know there’s no margin for error in March.”

Gonzaga faces off with Saint Mary’s at 6 p.m. Tuesday, on ESPN, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
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