BRENT STECKER

At crucial stretch in Mariners’ season, Mitch Haniger rising to the occasion

Jul 25, 2021, 11:52 AM | Updated: 12:06 pm
Mariners Mitch Haniger...
MItch Haniger hit two home runs and a double in Saturday's 5-4 Mariners win. (AP)
(AP)

What the surprising Seattle Mariners have done this season is not something that can be pinned on one player, especially when it comes to their lineup. But if you had to pinpoint a batter who is carries the most important in their offense, there’s really no arguing that the answer is Mitch Haniger.

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The evidence is in how Haniger has risen to the occasion during a crucial point in the season for the 53-46 Mariners’ playoff chances. The Mariners are 8-4 over their last dozen games, nine of which have been against division rivals, and Haniger’s bat has been in the middle of it.

Haniger came out of the All-Star break last weekend on a tear, earning American League Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career after going 5 for 11 with two home runs, a double, two walks, a hit by pitch, seven runs scored and six RBIs in a three-game series against the Angels. But his hot streak didn’t just start there, and it hasn’t showed signs of stopping, either.

The 30-year-old right fielder was one of the heroes of Saturday’s dramatic 5-4 win over the Oakland Athletics, hitting two home runs and a double (that nearly also left the ballpark), and he was at the plate when A’s reliever Lou Trivino uncorked a wild pitch with the bases loaded that allowed Jarred Kelenic to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

That was just the latest strong game for Haniger, who is on quite the streak over his last 13 contests dating back to a series against the New York Yankees. Over that stretch, he has a slash line of .367/.439/.837 for a 1.235 OPS, and he’s been flexing his power more than at any other point this season with seven home runs, two doubles and 15 RBIs. No homer was bigger than the grand slam he hit in the eighth inning on July 9, lifting the M’s to a 7-3 win over the Angels that sent a Friday night T-Mobile Park crowd into a frenzy.

Thanks to his latest tear, Haniger now owns a .268/.323/.524 slash for the season for an .847 OPS with 25 homers, 18 doubles, a triple and 62 RBIs.

There were serious questions about how Haniger would hold up this year after missing half of the 2019 season and all of 2020 due to injury. Considering this stretch that he’s on 94 games into his season, which is about as good as any he’s had during his five MLB seasons, those questions have been answered.

“When Hanny gets going, it’s really fun to watch,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Tuesday on 710 ESPN Seattle’s weekly Scott Servais Show. “I think the biggest thing is that Hanny never gives away at-bats, even when he’s not going well. He’s a grinder, he’s constantly thinking about how other teams are going to approach him and how they’re going to pitch him. And then when he starts squaring up balls, they’re not singles, they end up being homers.

“Obviously he had a great weekend over in Anaheim. He really played well all six games against the Angels (three before the All-Star break and three after). He was key, got some huge hits when we were home before the break. … Another guy, where would we be without him? He’s just been awesome all year long.”

Questions about Haniger’s future with the team have been a theme of the season, and not just because of his health concerns.

Seattle has plenty of young, promising outfielders – Jake Fraley has been a breakout player in 2021, reigning AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis is expected to recover from knee surgery before the end of the season, and the Mariners’ future is built around prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez – causing speculation that Seattle could move Haniger in order to further stock its farm system at positions where they may have more of a need. Haniger’s contract still has one more year of club control, however, and with Seattle hanging around the playoff race, he’s proving why his value to the Mariners on the field right now is most likely bigger than anything he could get net them in a deal before Friday’s MLB trade deadline.

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