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Drayer: 3 things to watch with the Mariners in the 2nd half

Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi has had a bumpy first season in the big leagues with the Mariners. (Getty)

Ready or not, here comes the second half of the Seattle Mariners season. Here are three things I will be keeping an eye on.

1) Roster moves

We start with the obvious. There will be moves, as there is no doubt general manager Jerry Dipoto would like to trade those on the roster on shorter-term contracts and would listen on just about everyone else – for more on that check out my vodcast with James “Boy Howdy” Osborn.

One thing to keep in mind is post-trade deadline deals are no more as MLB has eliminated waiver trades after July 31. The single deadline should make for more activity in the remaining weeks of July. There will also be September call-ups, which could give us our first look in Seattle of a few of the young players of the Mariners’ future, some of whom we could see arrive before the final month of the season.

2) The progress of Yusei Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield

Kikuchi and Sheffield are two pitchers the Mariners hope to build a rotation around and both have struggled mightily in their first months with the organization.

As I mentioned on the the vodcast, the Mariners have been taking a different approach with Kikuchi in recent weeks, moving beyond the “let him get settled in and adjusted to his new surroundings and competition” phase to becoming more hands-on in tackling his problems on the mound. In addition to the intensive work that is being put in on Kikuchi’s mechanics with director of pitching development Brian DeLunas, they are also encouraging use of the changeup, a pitch he has not thrown much in the past but could benefit him now.

With Sheffield, his move to Double-A appears to have benefited him, as he has allowed just five runs in five starts while walking seven and striking out 34. What is next remains to be seen, but the Mariners would love to be able to get him to the big leagues sooner rather than later this season. If they see what they need to see in Arkansas, will they call him straight up off of success or will they look for him to try and replicate that success in Triple-A? It will be very interesting to see how they handle Sheffield going forward.

3) Moving on from stage 1 of the “re-imagination”

In my mind the Mariners are now in stage 2. Three of the priciest veterans who were acquired in the offseason to offset salaries in their respective trades (Edwin Encarnación, Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak) are gone. The bumps that were expected – not quite to the extent of what we saw in May, but nonetheless expected because of the roster construction – are hopefully in the rear-view mirror. The Mariners very well could have three losing months to finish the season, but how they play those games will be of more importance to the future than the win-and-loss tallies.

Will we see the early defensive work that is ongoing pay off in the form of cleaner baseball? While it will take a miracle for the Mariners to not lead baseball in errors this season, they no longer are at the bottom in Defensive Runs Saved – in fact they are now ahead of two teams, the Mets and Orioles. Nothing to hang your hat on but it is improvement.

With a battered bullpen and the very real possibility of losing Mike Leake and Roenis Elías before the trade deadline, it is hard to see it being anything but rough on the pitching side. It very well could get uglier – not a good thought heading into the second half. Perhaps we see the offense carry a bit.

My hope heading into the season was that we would see the club finish on some sort of uptick heading to the offseason. We very well may need to separate the pitching from everything else or focus on key individual performances to make that call. The pitching will have to be addressed at some point but it is still relatively early in the process. Regardless, there is a lot that can be learned in the next two and a half months that will help shape plans for the second offseason of the re-imagination.

The M’s could make some changes in the outfield, and soon

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