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Mariners Table Setter: Mitch Haniger turns up heat on already torrid start

Mitch Haniger homered in each of the Mariners' three games in Texas. (AP)

The Mariners locked up their fourth series win of the season by taking two of three in Texas over the weekend, moving their record to 11-9 as they headed out to Chicago for a set with the White Sox.

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Here are three storylines to follow this week as their road trip continues with three games in Chicago and concludes with four in Cleveland.

Haniger’s hot streak

When the Mariners acquired Mitch Haniger, the attention wasn’t on him. It was shortstop Jean Segura who headlined the deal, and the two players Seattle sent to Arizona, Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte, were more well-known than Haniger at the time.

Not anymore.

Haniger had a nice 2017 season with the Mariners, but injuries derailed him and he finished the year having played just 96 games. He still had 16 home runs, 25 doubles, an .843 on-base plus slugging percentage and 3.0 WAR, though. And that nice debut with Seattle is why you can read a little more into his torrid start to 2018.

Haniger has been one of the best hitters in the American League through the first 3 ½ weeks of the season. He is second in the league in RBIs (22), tied for third in home runs (seven), fifth in slugging (.671), and sixth in OPS (1.062). He’s been good from the start of the year, but he’s locked in even more now than before, hitting a home run in each of the three games in Texas and going 7 for 12 over the series.

It’s pretty impressive to see Haniger’s name on the AL leaderboards among Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Mookie Betts. And as great as Segura has been for the Mariners since coming over from Arizona, Haniger is doing a great job making people wonder if the Jean Segura trade was really the Mitch Haniger trade.

The rotation-bullpen relationship

The Mariners offense did a nice job in Texas, scoring 19 runs over the three days. But Seattle needed those runs, too. That’s because the starting pitchers are struggling to put together quality starts.

The Mariners are on a run of four straight games without a starter getting through the sixth inning, and they have had a starter record an out in the seventh inning just three times in 20 games. That has taxed the bullpen more than necessary, to the point that Seattle couldn’t send down a reliever like planned when Erasmo Ramirez returned from the disabled list and had to option outfielder Guillermo Heredia to Triple-A instead on Sunday.

The bullpen was expected to be a strength of the team, but that hasn’t come to fruition. In 73 1/3 innings, Seattle’s relievers have a 4.30 ERA, ranking ninth out of the 15 teams in the AL – and that’s with Edwin Diaz’s 10 1/3 innings of one-run ball included.

A little less work so early in games would probably help the Mariners’ bullpen right the ship. That’s going to take the starting rotation putting a few more quality starts together each week than it has been in the early going.

Ichiro Watch

Yes, Ichiro Suzuki is still on the Mariners’ active roster – at the expense of Heredia, who was sent to Triple-A despite hitting .310 with two homers, a double, four walks and four RBIs in 16 games.

There’s no telling how much longer Seattle will be able to keep its 44-year-old future Hall of Famer, though. Not with Ryon Healy expected back soon and manager Scott Servais likely itching to get Heredia back when eligible after 10 days.

Ichiro acquitted himself well Sunday after Heredia’s demotion, going 2 for 3 with two walks in the 7-4 loss to Texas. The fact remains, though, that he doesn’t have the same range in the outfield, speed on the base paths or ability to hit extra-base hits (of which he has none in 12 games) that Heredia does.

It’s pretty unlikely Ichiro will be on the Mariners’ active roster for the entire season. The question now is how long the Mariners will wait until they make a move with him.

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