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Salk: Mariners’ Scott Servais recently did 3 things his players responded to

Scott Servais' Mariners won the first two series on their current road trip. (Getty)

Ever since the Mariners began their road trip back on Aug. 13, they’ve been on a nice little roll.

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First, the Mariners took care of business in Detroit, taking a three-game series 2-1 from the lowly Tigers. Then they moved on to Toronto, where they bounced back from a Game 1 loss to take two straight from the Blue Jays. And on Monday they arrived in Florida, where they promptly took the first game from a Tampa Bay Rays squad currently in line for a wild card spot.

Not only have the Mariners been playing some of their best baseball since their torrid 13-2 start quickly turned into an especially rough 2019 season, but 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mike Salk points to three things that manager Scott Servais has recently done that he thinks may have played a factor in getting some players or the team in general into gear.

Here’s what Salk had to say during Monday’s edition of Brock and Salk.

Kyle Seager responded to getting dropped in the batting order.

On July 23, longtime Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager was slotted into the No. 8 spot in Seattle’s batting order. There was good reason for Seager, who has generally hit fifth during his time with the Mariners, to be dropped that low. He was hitting just .190 with a .611 OPS at the time. That wouldn’t be the last time Servais penciled him in eighth in the order, either – Seager started two more times in the spot. It would be the last time Seager looked like he belonged there, however.

Since then, Seager has hit .349 with nine home runs, four doubles, a triple, 20 RBIs and a 1.127 OPS (.394 on-base plus .733 slugging) in 23 games. That includes the first three-homer game of his career on Aug. 13 in Detroit.

“(Servais) dropped Kyle Seager to eighth in the order and since then he’s been the best player in baseball,” Salk said, perhaps with a bit of hyperbole. “How good has Seager been?”

“On fire,” answered co-host Brock Huard.

“Do I know that that happened because he was dropped to eighth in the order?” continued Salk. “No, of course not, and maybe he made some swing adjustments and I think he has done some stuff, but they certainly coincide. His numbers since that day have been spectacular.”

Seager’s overall numbers for the season are much healthier as a result, too. His average has climbed 51 points to .241 and he has 16 home runs, making his eighth straight 20-homer season seem all but a certainty even though he missed the first two months of the season due to hand surgery.

Yusei Kikuchi had his best start after being publicly called out.

Kikuchi was the prize signing of the Mariners’ offseason, a 28-year-old star lefty pitcher out of Japan. His first season in the big leagues has been a disappointment, however, as he sits with a 5.19 ERA after 26 starts. He showed on Sunday what he’s capable of, though, throwing a two-hit complete game for his first MLB shutout in what was far and away his best outing for Seattle.

Oh, that also just happened to come in Kikuchi’s first start since Servais showed frustration with him with public comments.

“I’ve said all along that he’s going to go through some growing pains and it’s a big learning curve,” Servais said, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. “As we go through these steps and he’s learning, I just don’t want to have these conversations again. If we keep making the same mistakes over and over again, we aren’t getting any better. And that can’t happen.”

Salk thinks Servais finally reached a point where calling out Kikuchi in public was his last option, and it appeared to work.

“(Servais) wasn’t too wild about what he’d seen from the young pitcher in his first four months in the league, wasn’t too impressed with the way that he had made adjustments and then forgotten about them,” Salk said. “He calls him out publicly and what happens? Well, Kikuchi goes out and throws his best game (in the majors) not by a little – by a lot. By far his best game.

“… Do you think that’s the first time he talked to Yusei Kikuchi? No. That was after months of trying to get him to understand it privately and then finally when it reaches the point where your only real option left is to talk about it publicly, well hey, that’s what’s always in the back pocket of a manager. In this day and age where for the most part the manager doesn’t have a lot of juice, that’s one of the few things they have left open to them, and it looks like the team responded.”

The M’s won three straight after Mallex Smith was benched.

Finally, we get to the case of Mallex Smith, who Servais not only sat after the young Mariners outfielder made several mental errors but also explained why, again in public.

Smith was on the bench for the final two games of the series in Toronto – the two games the Mariners won against the Blue Jays.

“(Servais) was asked about it – ‘Hey, what’s going on with Mallex Smith?'” Salk said. “‘Yeah, he made too many mistakes. We talked about it, there’s gotta be accountability for it.’ And since he benched Mallex, guess what? The team goes out there and wins two straight games and plays some pretty darn good baseball over the weekend in Toronto.

“Now, are those things connected? Again, I can’t prove that they are, but it sure seems like Scott’s pushing all the right buttons right now.”

You can find the full conversation in this podcast of Monday’s edition of Brock and Salk starting around the 25:30 mark.

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