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Table Setter: Ben Gamel is back with Mariners, but will it make an impact?

Mariners outfielder Ben Gamel hit well during a recent stint in Triple-A. (AP)

Well, that was a rough weekend for the Mariners.

In a three-game series against the Dodgers, Seattle was outscored 23-2 in two losses and only won the other game after blowing a 4-0 lead and having the Dodgers hand them the victory on – of all things – a walkoff balk.

Segura, Gamel return; Mariners option Heredia, Festa

So the Mariners enter Monday 3 1/2 games back of the Oakland Athletics in the wild card race and 4 1/2 behind Houston for the American League West lead. The Astros are in town for three games, however, so there is an opening for Seattle.

Here are three things to keep in mind about the M’s this week.

Ben Gamel is back.

The decision to keep Guillermo Heredia on the Mariners’ roster over Ben Gamel wasn’t a popular one when it happened. Or at any time while Gamel was feasting on Triple-A pitching over the last two-plus weeks. Or even after Gamel was recalled and Heredia sent to Tacoma on Monday.

Will Gamel’s return make an impact?

I mean… maybe?

The furor over Gamel’s demotion resulted in some pretty extreme opinions, and it would be a mistake to think his return is suddenly going to jump-start the Mariners’ offense. Sure, he has a .290 average and .360 on-base percentage in 72 games with Seattle this year, but he’s hitting .216 against left-handers and has just 15 total extra-base hits. Is he better at the dish than Heredia? Sure. Is he going to be a difference-maker for an offense that scored in just four of the 38 innings it played in the series against the Dodgers? That seems like a problem that won’t be fixed just by adding a contact hitter to the bottom of the order.

Don’t get me wrong, though. The return of Gamel does give the Mariners a better chance of winning on a day-to-day basis. Maybin is about as good of a defender as Heredia in center field, and you’re not sacrificing a ton in the field when you have Gamel or Denard Span in left. They are all considerably better hitters than Heredia, so it does seem like the Mariners are putting their best foot forward in the outfield after a stretch where it really didn’t seem that was the case.

Remember all those concerns about the starting rotation before the season?

Yeah, they’re back. And at an especially inopportune time of the season to be having those concerns, too.

For the second time in three years, James Paxton is trying to work his way back from being nailed on his pitching arm by a comebacker. So there goes your ace.

Marco Gonzales is getting some extra time between starts, and he very much needs it considering he is nearing his career-high of innings pitched as a pro and appeared to hit a wall when the calendar turned to August.

Then there’s Félix Hernández, back in the rotation after just one appearance out of the bullpen – and he’s only starting again out of necessity.

That means the Mariners’ two most reliable starters right now are Mike Leake, who has actually been really good as of late, and Erasmo Ramirez, who only has two starts of five innings under his belt since his return from a long stay on the disabled list.

The state of the Mariners’ starting pitching was on full display in Sunday’s loss to the Dodgers. Roenis Elias was activated from the disabled list to make a spot start, giving up five runs in the first inning, pretty much sealing Seattle’s fate with three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw waiting on the other side of the frame. The lack of depth in the starting rotation was a real thorn in the Mariners’ side in that game and might stay that way down the home stretch.

Now would be a good time to do something.

The Mariners had a great first half of the season, sitting at 58-35 in mid-July. Then they lost four straight going into the All-Star break and really haven’t recovered.

The Mariners have scuffled to the tune of a 13-19 record since July 11, losing their grasp on the American League’s second wild card spot and the momentum that had come with it. Of course, the A’s have blown past them, and the only reason they’re still in reach of a postseason berth is because of how well they played during the first half of the season.

Even so, it’s kind of getting to the point that if the Mariners don’t do something now, they might just play themselves out of contention.

The sweep of the Astros in Houston earlier this month was huge at the time, and you can see now how absolutely critical it was. The Mariners didn’t capitalize on the opportunity that created, either, having lost four of six since, including two of three to the A’s.

Houston is in town for three games starting Monday, and it’s another pivotal series that could leave Seattle down and out if it doesn’t show up.

M’s notebook: Paxton injury update, why Pazos was sent down