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Drayer: Despite injuries, Mariners get the good start they hoped for

Mariners 2B Robinson Cano: "You can't compare this lineup with anyone right now." (AP)

Robinson Cano couldn’t help himself when talking about the Mariners lineup following their 10-4 win over the Indians Sunday.

“Our 9 hitter today, he hit two homers, he was the player of  the game,” Cano said, unable to contain a laugh. “That’s the team. It’s not only about one guy, it’s the whole team. That’s what you want and we got going from the get-go.”

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Since the return of Ryon Healy, who was the No. 9 hitter Sunday in Cleveland, the team has been complete for all of four days. The disabled list, finally empty. Despite the early injuries to the Mariners’ offense with Healy, Mike Zunino, Nelson Cruz and Ben Gamel all missing significant time, the Mariners more than survived their absence, finishing the first month of the season 16-11, just two games behind the division-leading Astros.

“Everyone here is grinding, we are giving it everything we got,” said Cano, who started all 27 games in April. “We know we can compete with anyone and the good thing is this year we just go out from the first day. If we want to make it to the playoffs we have got to start winning games from April.”

With the injuries and a brutal April schedule that provided both tough opponents and no rhyme or reason with off days and game times, a good start entering opening day was defined by many to be .500 ball (or just don’t get buried) the first month. The Mariners were able to do more, in large part because of their offense.

Mariners batters finished the month tied for fifth with the Red Sox in the American League in wRC+ behind only the Yankees, A’s, Rays and Astros, and fifth in offensive WAR. The fact that the Mariners managed to do so with Cruz missing nine games, Zunino 17 games, Gamel 15 games and Healy 16 games makes the start that much more impressive – and, if you dare to dream, encouraging.

While you won’t see it every game, the offense the Mariners showed in four games in Cleveland was stunning. Indians manager Terry Francona was taking no chances with it, leaving two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber in a game he had a six-run lead in Friday. Francona didn’t see that as an opportunity to save his ace a few pitches by perhaps lifting him after the seventh. No, there he was in the ninth protecting a four-run lead that in a blink of an eye turned into a one-run lead after Francona went to his closer, Cody Allen, with two outs. For good measure, the Mariners would go on to score 22 in the next two games.

This is your 2018 Mariners offense. Don’t look for them to work walks, for the majority of the month they were dead last in the league in free passes. Don’t look for them to strike out very much either, as they finished April with the sixth-best strikeout rate in the American League. For his part, Mariners manager Scott Servais is not too worried about his team’s disdain for the walk and propensity to swing.

“C the Z (control the zone) is something I feel very strongly about, but when we acquire certain players and that is not really their skillset I don’t want to ask those players to change who they are,” Servais said. “The Dee Gordons, Jean Segura is a very aggressive hitter, but our team is built around hitting, putting the ball in play. I don’t want to get caught up in numbers – it’s hard for me not to because I believe in it, but when your team is built the way we are you stick with your strengths. We are built to hit, we are not built to walk so much.”

With the exception of closer Edwin Diaz, who is a perfect 11 for 11 in save opportunities, there is work to be done on the pitching side. The most glaring issue right now is the No. 5 starter spot, but as the month came to a close we saw the rest of the starters inching closer to consistency, which should lead to longer outings and in turn will benefit the bullpen.

James Paxton is hitting his stride, Felix Hernadez is pitching well and has not been overextended and Marco Gonzales may be opening eyes. The offense gave the pitching a chance to come around in April and looks prepared to do the same in May if necessary.

“It’s really good,” said Cano. “You can’t compare this lineup with anyone right now. We can face any ace in the league. Everyone is battling, and swinging good. I hope we take it into the next month.”

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