Three things: Will playing time for Mike Zunino benefit the Mariners?
The Mariners come out of the holiday weekend at 43-40 after a four-game sweep of the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles, though they dropped the first of three in Houston to an Astros team they’re fighting for a wild-card spot.
Here are three things to consider this week:
1. Will Mike Zunino’s promotion benefit both him and the Mariners?
There’s no doubt Mike Zunino’s return to the Mariners’ lineup was a special moment, the 25-year-old catcher ripping a pair of home runs Saturday at Safeco Field after 10 months out of the big leagues. It took three games into his promotion to get him some action, however, and the front office has made it clear that playing time is the most important thing for Zunino at this stage in his career. That could work to the Mariners’ advantage, though. Chris Iannetta has played in 65 of Seattle’s 83 games, which puts him well on pace to see more than his career-high of 115 games. In the long-term, the Mariners need Zunino to be a competent major-league hitter. In the short-term, they need to give Iannetta more days off than they have been. As long as Zunino hits enough to get himself in the lineup two or three times a week, there’s good reason to think this arrangement will work out for both sides.
2. Take a bow, Seth.
Seth Smith put together a five-day stretch that made manager Scott Servais ditch his platoon plans for the time being, going 10 for 21 with four homers, 11 RBIs and five runs from last Wednesday through Sunday. That included his first-career grand slam, which capped off four straight games with a homer for the 33-year-old outfielder. Smith raised his average from .258 to .280 over the five games, and even though he crashed to Earth on Monday with a hitless, three-strikeout game, you have to think it will be pretty tough for Servais to keep him out of the batting order until the All-Star break.
3. Is the pitching … OK?
Over their last five games, the Mariners’ starting pitchers have been – at the very least – serviceable. All but one member of the current rotation made it six or more innings in his last start, and the lone outlier, James Paxton, fell just one out short. Though Seattle lost 2-1 on Monday, it was through no fault of Wade Miley, who was much more effective in his second start back from the disabled list than in his first, holding the Astros to two runs on seven hits and two walks over 6 2/3 innings. On Sunday, Hisashi Iwakuma received solid run support and kept the Orioles at bay by allowing four runs over six frames. Paxton didn’t have much to worry about Saturday after being staked a 5-0 lead that later grew to 8-1. Wade LeBlanc limited Baltimore’s powerful offense to two runs over six innings of three-hit, one-walk baseball on Friday. And Taijuan Walker worked through the pain of his foot issue to hold Baltimore to one run on four hits and no walks in 6 1/3 innings Thursday. As the starters go for the Mariners, so should the rest of the team. The bullpen’s workload has shrunk as a result of the rotation’s recent success, which allowed Seattle to get back to a four-man bench on Tuesday. And, oh yeah, Felix Hernandez should be back after the All-Star break.