BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Takeaways: What stands out from 3-3 homestand to start season

Apr 7, 2021, 6:34 PM
Mariners Kyle Seager...
Kyle Seager had a three-run double in the Mariners' 8-4 win Wednesday. (AP)
(AP)

The Mariners were able to avoid a series sweep against the Chicago White Sox after a seven-run sixth inning resulted in an 8-4 Seattle win on Wednesday.

Mariners use 7-run inning to avoid sweep, top White Sox 8-4

Some things that were positives and strengths of the Mariners in the opening series against the Giants went against them against Chicago this series, however.

So, with the first homestand in the books and the Mariners sitting at 3-3, let’s look at some key takeaways from this most recent three-game series.

Dominated in the zone

After the Mariners wrapped up their series win over San Francisco, manager Scott Servais made it very clear what he was most happy about with his team during that series. That takeaway was Seattle dominating the strike zone on the mound and at the plate.

That wasn’t at all the case against a very good White Sox team.

During the three-game set, Mariners hitters struck out 37 times while drawing 11 walks. On the mound, Seattle hurlers struck out 26 Chicago batters while allowing 20 walks.

That comes on the heels of Seattle drawing 16 walks and striking out 29 times against the Giants while recording 32 punchouts to just 10 walks on the hill.

“We pride ourselves on controlling the strike zone on the mound and we didn’t do that today,” Servais said after Wednesday’s win.

In the series finale, the Mariners walked 11 batters. Right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn surrendered eight walks in 4 2/3 innings while allowing three runs. Four of those walks came in the fifth inning, ending a stretch where Dunn retired eight of nine White Sox.

“You can’t walk four guys in an inning,” he said. “That’s probably going to be the end of your day.”

It didn’t take the Mariners out of the game Wednesday, however, as they scored eight runs to win the series finale and avoid the sweep. But with Seattle’s hitters recording nearly half their outs via strikeout and Mariners pitchers struggling to throw strikes, it’s not surprising that the series tipped in Chicago’s favor overall.

Young starters have some work to do

Staying with Dunn, Servais said the pitcher’s “stuff was good” but his command was well off, and that resulted in his day ending after allowing four walks in the in the fifth inning. Dunn struggled with command as well last season, walking 31 batters compared to 38 strikeouts in 10 starts.

Servais pointed to the mental side of the game in terms of where Dunn needs to improve after Wednesday’s start.

“Part of that is focus,” Servais said. “You’ve got to get in the strike zone, you’ve got to be able to make adjustments a little bit quicker in this league or typically you’re not going to have very good results. We got lucky today in that regard.”

Dunn told reporters after the game that he had a hard time when the White Sox got runners on base and he had to pitch out of the stretch. Part of that was due to trying to keep runners close to first base and prevent them from stealing.

“I probably put too much of an emphasis on controlling the running game and not executing pitches,” Dunn said.

Like his manager, Dunn was pleased with his stuff but knows he has to be throwing more strikes to be effective. Dunn’s fastball had better velocity than last year and his slider had its moments at times against the White Sox.

“When it’s on the plate I get swings and misses, I’m getting action,” Dunn said. “Tip my cap to them, I didn’t command the ball and they did a really good job and making me throw pitches.”

Dunn wasn’t the only young Mariners starter to struggle against the White Sox, as lefty Justus Sheffield had his issues Monday, going five innings while allowing eight hits, five runs, two walks and recording five strikeouts.

The White Sox really hit Sheffield hard, which was something he avoided last season in his 10 starts. His command wasn’t quite to Dunn’s level, but he fell behind hitters and that caused him to lean on his fastball rather than his slider. Additionally, he struggled with his changeup, which is a key pitch for him against right-handed hitters.

Dunn and Sheffield’s struggles came after Yusei Kikuchi and Chris Flexen dominated the strike zone against the Giants last week. Starting pitching was a weakness for Seattle against Chicago, with Dunn and Sheffield having their issues and James Paxton leaving Tuesday’s game with an injury after just 24 pitches.

Dunn and Sheffield will look to rebound when they get the ball next week. As of now, both are slated to pitch in Baltimore against the Orioles.

Lineup struggles with consistency

Like Seattle’s win on opening day, the Mariners got a big inning late in the series finale against the White Sox, which was huge in the team’s 8-4 win.

The seven-run sixth inning was a welcome sight for Seattle, who entered the inning down 4-1, not only because, well, runs are good, but because the lineup through six games has really had just three consistent hitters.

Obviously you take six games with a grain of salt, but when you look at the Mariners’ box scores and stat lines, the only three guys doing any sort of damage are Mitch Haniger, Ty France and Kyle Seager, who hit first, second and third in Seattle’s lineup.

Haniger is hitting .280 with a home run and four RBIs while France is hitting .318 with a home run and three RBIs. France also had what Servais called the moment of Wednesday’s game with his 11-pitch walk that he drew in the sixth inning with two outs, keeping the inning alive.

That walk was especially valuable as it not only loaded the bases, but the next batter, Seager, hit a three-run double to give Seattle the lead. Seager is hitting .250 with three RBIs.

After those three, a lot of Seattle’s hitters’ averages are in the low .200s or even below that.

The good news for Mariners fans? Servais hopes to have 2020 American League Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis back for the next homestand, which starts next Friday, April 16 against the Houston Astros. Lewis’ presence in the middle of the lineup would help tremendously to lengthen the Mariners’ lineup as well as add another threat for opposing pitchers.

Rookie Taylor Trammell’s struggles stand out. It was a welcome sight when he smacked a first-pitch fastball into right field in the Mariners’ seven-run inning Wednesday, but in five games (he had the first game of the White Sox series off), Trammell has just two hits, two RBIs, four walks and 11 strikeouts in 21 plate appearances.

Dylan Moore and J.P. Crawford, who have been hitting in the back half of the lineup, have also had relatively slow starts at the dish. Seattle will need more consistency top to bottom from the lineup going forward.

Another note: Seattle has just two home runs so far, with both coming in Saturday’s win over the Giants.

What’s on tap?

The Mariners will hit the road for the first time in 2021, starting with a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins. The opener is set for 1:10 p.m. Thursday, with coverage starting at noon on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Marco Gonzales will get the start for his second appearance of the year for the Mariners while the Twins will roll out All-Star right-hander Jose Berrios.

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