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Stecker’s Three Things: Mitch Haniger takes the Mariners by storm

Mitch Haniger entered Thursday tied for third in the American League in three categories. (AP)

The Mariners’ first homestand of 2017 is in the books, and while they’re still two games under .500, it was a successful stretch where they found some much needed momentum by going 6-3 on their home field.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind as the 7-9 M’s head down to Oakland for a four-game set with the 7-8 A’s.

1. Everybody’s pretty excited about Mitch Haniger.

Based off early returns – and granted, that’s not really how trades are judged – it looks like the Mariners made off like bandits in their offseason blockbuster with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Oh, and that’s even considering that the centerpiece of the deal for Seattle, shortstop Jean Segura, has been on the disabled list for more than a week. Mitch Haniger, however, is giving all those people who wondered aloud if the swap was really “the Mitch Haniger trade” plenty to crow about. The 26-year-old rookie who had all of 34 games of experience heading into the season has played like a star in the making, hitting .323 with four home runs. He’s tied for third in the American League in three big categories, too – doubles (five), RBIs (15), and, most impressively, walks (11). He’s looked like a cagey veteran at the plate not only with his patience but his ability to keep at-bats alive, which is not something you typically see out of a rookie. “Mitch has really played outstanding. Can’t say enough about him,” manager Scott Servais said after Haniger drove in four runs on three hits in Wednesday’s 10-5 victory over Miami. “The quality of at-bats, the walks, the big hits, working into his count, understanding situations, it’s been huge for us and really a boost. … I think the nice thing (is) Mitch understands his swing, he understands who he is, he understands where he’s at on our team and he’s just going out and having fun.”

2. Here comes the offense we heard about.

Haniger, who has been hitting out of the second spot, isn’t the only Mariners hitter who produced later on in the homestand. The near-no-hitter on Tuesday notwithstanding, the bats of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager showed signs of breaking out of their slow starts in the Marlins series. On Wednesday, those three players that take up the 3-4-5 spots were a combined 6 for 10 with five walks, two doubles and four RBIs – all the runs batted in coming from Seager. Not only that, they all had a multi-hit game that day against Miami, and they’ve each had at least two multi-hit games over the last week. That’s not the only bit of good news for the offense, either. Segura, Seattle’s leadoff hitter and the player who produced the most during the struggle that was the first week of the season, is set to be back from his DL stint for a hamstring strain early next week when the Mariners arrive in Detroit. Suddenly the offense that looked so fearsome in spring training is starting to materialize.

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3. A team of grinders?

Something that stood out to me after the Marlins series ended was that the word “grind” kept appearing in Servais’ postgame comments. Haniger is grinding out at-bats. Felix Hernandez grinded out a win after a rough first inning in a game in which he didn’t have his best stuff. The offense as a whole grinded out 10 walks against Marlins pitching on Wednesday. And the team as a whole clearly grinded out a series win over a very talented Miami team. The Mariners may have come within two outs of being no-hit on Tuesday night, but they sandwiched that loss with a pair of nice wins on either side of it. Servais wants the Mariners to be a team that controls the zone and plays with some passion, and that’s what they did against the Marlins to grind out their second straight series win.