Mariners lefty Roenis Elias will make his Major League debut, and A's right-hander Jesse Chavez is slated for his first start in two years when the two teams open a four-game series in Oakland on Thursday night.
The Mariners are fresh off a three-game sweep in Anaheim and are 3-0 for just the third time in franchise history and first since 1995, while the A's are 1-2 after splitting a doubleheader with the Indians on Wednesday.
Elias, 25, defected from Cuba to Mexico in 2010 and signed with the Mariners in 2011, then spent the past three seasons working his way up to Double-A ball. He was a Southern League All-Star last year when he went 6-11 with a 3.18 ERA for Jackson, but nobody expected him to compete for a starting role this spring when he came to Mariners camp as a non-roster invitee.
Yet, when All-Star right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, top prospect Taijuan Walker and young right-hander Brandon Maurer all were sidetracked by injuries, Elias grabbed the opportunity -- and the fourth spot in the rotation -- with a strong spring.
"Obviously it's a shame Iwakuma and Taijuan had injuries," Elias said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. "When you look around, you think to yourself, 'Who else?' We all have arms, we're all throwing. Why not?"
Chavez, a long reliever since coming to Oakland late in the 2012 season, stepped up in similar circumstances after Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin went down with injuries.
The 30-year-old went 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in seven games (five starts) this spring. His last Major League start was June 24, 2012, for the Blue Jays.
"I'm pretty excited," Chavez said. "I'm finally seeing myself as a starter again. There's a routine and a normal schedule again. I think that's been easier for me, in terms of going about my business."
The 6-foot-2 Chavez said he's using his changeup more in his starting arsenal.
"I think that's the one thing in my repertoire I'm glad to have back starting again," he said. "I had it for a while, and then a few organizations had me change my arm angle, and I was kind of stuck and lost my feel for it. It still took awhile to get back, and now I'm really comfortable with it. It was something I think I had to have if I was going to be an option to start again."
This will be just the third Major League start for Chavez, but he's pitched 191 games over six seasons in the big leagues with five teams. Elias doesn't have that kind of experience, but the young lefty caught manager Lloyd McClendon's eye from the start of camp, and the new skipper isn't concerned about the jump from Double-A ball or the prospect of being intimidated by Major League hitters given Elias' personal story.
"Getting here was a major accomplishment," McClendon said. "When we talk about the lights coming on, I don't think there's anything that's going to faze this young man. He came off a boat, where he was fighting for his life to get here. I think he'll be just fine. I think he's got a bright future ahead of him."
Elias went 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA in six Cactus League games and expressed confidence throughout camp that he had a chance to make the team despite his lack of Major League experience.
"The decision was obviously not up to me, but in my mind I came here to win a job and was going to do everything I could to not waste this chance," Elias said. "I'm very happy the team has given me this opportunity. Every time I go out there, I'm going to give it all I can with my heart to help the team win."
Mariners: Hart will face right-handers
Designated hitter Corey Hart didn't play on Opening Day against Angels right-hander Jered Weaver as McClendon said he wanted to save him for use against southpaws the next two nights.
But with the A's having three right-handers lined up to face Seattle in the series, Hart will get time against some of those righties as well.
"He's not a platoon player," McClendon said. "We're just trying to work him back into shape as cautiously as we can. We'll play it by ear. A lot of it depends how he feels. If he's feeling good, he'll be in there."
Hart, returning from a year's absence following microfracture surgeries on both knees, went 1-for-4 with an infield single in Tuesday's debut with the Mariners. He missed time late in camp with a sore forearm, but McClendon said everything went fine in his first game back since 2012. He was back in the lineup on Wednesday, going 2-for-5 with a solo home run.
Athletics: Cook close to returning
Right-handed reliever Ryan Cook will make a rehab appearance with Class A Advanced Stockton on Thursday and could be ready to come off the 15-day disabled list when eligible Saturday.
Cook was slowed in spring by shoulder inflammation. Manager Bob Melvin said Cook is "pretty close" to being ready, with the expectation that either Evan Scribner or Drew Pomeranz will be optioned to Triple-A Sacramento when he returns.
Outfielder Craig Gentry can also be activated off the disabled list Saturday, after dealing with a lower back strain since late February. But Gentry's wife, Jordan, gave birth to a girl Tuesday night in the Bay Area, and the A's have not determined whether he'll need more Minor League at-bats upon his return. Gentry was acquired from the Rangers over the offseason.
• Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak became the first player in franchise history to open the season with back-to-back three-RBI games and his six RBIs in Seattle's first two outings equaled his production in his first 38 games of 2013.
• Seattle shortstop Brad Miller hit two home runs on Tuesday to give him 10 in his first 78 games in the Majors. Since July 19, 2013, his 10 home runs are the third most by a shortstop in that span behind only Hanley Ramirez (12) and Donnie Murphy (11).
• For the first time since 2006, the A's opened the season with no rookies on their 25-man roster. Oakland has nine players age 30 or older.