BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners Takeaways: Ty France injury update, keys to sweep over A’s

Jun 23, 2022, 4:38 PM

Mariners Ty France...

Mariners first baseman Ty France leaves the field after colliding with the Athletics' Sheldon Neuse on Thursday. (AP Photo/John Hefti)

(AP Photo/John Hefti)

Well, it wasn’t pretty and it sure was weird, but the Mariners came away with a series sweep over the Oakland A’s after winning 2-1 on Thursday.

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Though Oakland starter and top trade candidate Frankie Montas took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, the Mariners scored twice in the ninth after walking four times and watching A.J. Puk throw two wild pitches to come away with the win.

The Mariners head to Anaheim to take on the Los Angeles Angels at seven games under .500, and while one of their big-name bats found some success in Oakland he’s hoping to carry forward, Seattle’s best hitter could find himself missing some during the upcoming divisional series.

Here are a few takeaways in the middle of this quick Mariners road trip.

Ty France exits Thursday’s game

The Mariners had a very scary incident in the sixth inning when first baseman Ty France and Oakland’s Sheldon Neuse collided at first base. The collision caused France to lose his glove, and he immediately fell to the ground while clutching his left elbow.

The good news for the Mariners is that manager Scott Servais told reporters after that game that France had an X-ray after he left the game and the results were negative. He added that France will have an MRI on Friday, and though he included that they aren’t totally out of the woods yet, he did say he was “cautiously optimistic” that his star first baseman won’t be out for long. France also told reporters after the game that he thinks he can avoid an injured list stint.

The hope for both France and the Mariners is that the elbow injury isn’t severe and that he’s back in the lineup in the next few days. Simply put, the Mariners really can’t afford to lose him for any extended period of time.

France has been the Mariners’ best and most consistent player this year, and he’s on track to be a first-time All-Star as he’s slashing .316/.390/.476 while leading Seattle in hits, times on base, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and RBIs. He’s also been among the most valuable players in baseball this season, entering Thursday tied for 14th in baseball in wins above replacement (WAR) at 3.1.

Obviously, if France misses any time it would be bad for a Mariners team that’s struggled overall this year to score runs. But a France absence would also be bad because there’s really not much depth at first base for Seattle. Dylan Moore, Abraham Toro and Kevin Padlo are all on the MLB roster as utility guys, but that trio has combined for just 22 games at first base for their careers and none of them come close to France’s offensive production.

Former top M’s prospect and 2020 Gold Glove first baseman Evan White would be most people’s first option to replace France for any extended period of time, but the 2017 first-round pick, who had hip surgery that cost him nearly all of 2021, is taking things slow in Triple-A Tacoma after re-aggravating the injury a few weeks ago. White appeared in a game early last week, going 0 for 4 with three strikeouts on June 14, and hasn’t played since.

If France misses time, the Mariners may have to get creative at first base either through the use of utility players, someone changing positions temporarily, or the promotion of someone in Triple-A with minimal MLB experience like Drew Ellis or Zach Green. Regardless, no one who replaces France at first base or in the lineup will come close to his production or value.

Jesse Winker finding his footing?

The Mariners, their fan base and Winker himself have all been waiting for him to look like the All-Star he was a year ago.

Things had gotten so bad for Winker recently he had multiple games off during the Mariners’ most recent homestand. That time off appears to have worked out for the left fielder, who in the first two games in Oakland clubbed two home runs while driving in five and picking up four hits, three of which were for extra bases.

He also walked twice and scored the game-winning run Thursday.

Servais said after Wednesday’s win that he thought Winker was doing a better job of using the middle of the field and that his confidence is high. Jerry Dipoto said Thursday morning that Winker’s swing is “a lot easier.” Whatever the case may be, the results were there during this series win, and that’s a great sign for both Winker and the Mariners.

“I think we’ve seen the new and real Jesse Winker because there was a roughly five-ish year story told from 2017 to the point where we acquired him where his performance was just phenomenal, and we got something very different than that for a little bit,” Dipoto told Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk Show, pointing to Winker transitioning to a new franchise. ” … What I’ve seen with Jesse these last couple of days is just simply that the swing is a lot easier. He’s not trying to create bat speed, he’s just going out there and whipping it. And it’s showed up and I think his at-bats throughout this series have been great.”

There have been some indications that Winker’s season will turn, such as a very high walk rate and low chase, whiff and strikeout rates. He’s made good decisions with his swings for the most part in 2022, but the results just hadn’t showed up consistently, in part because his average exit velocity was in just the 27th percentile entering Thursday, down from the 74th percentile in 2021.

Winker sure hit the ball hard in Oakland, though, registering four exit velocities over 100 mph during the first two games, including all three of his extra-base hits.

If the Mariners are going to get hot and make things interesting in the wild card race, Winker is going to have to have more series like he did in Oakland. Winker was brought in to be a key middle-of-the-order bat and drive in runs, and his success at the plate would go a long way in the Mariners digging themselves out of the hole they currently find themselves in. Winker getting hot would also be especially important if France misses any length of time after Thursday’s collision.

What a run for the rotation

The Mariners’ recent struggles have certainly not been the fault of the starting rotation, which has been stellar for nearly a month straight.

After Robbie Ray threw six innings of one-run ball on Thursday, the Mariners have had 21 games in a row where their starting pitchers have allowed three or fewer earned runs dating back to June 2. Seattle starters have a 2.60 ERA during that span with 94 strikeouts and 34 walks. Additionally, Mariners starters have tied a franchise record by allowing two or fewer runs in 12 straight starts dating back to June 12.

Focusing on Ray, he’s been stellar over his last three outings, throwing 20 innings, allowing two earned runs, 10 hits and four walks while striking out 20. He’s lowered his season ERA from 4.97 to 4.07 during that span.

A big reason for Ray’s success has been the use of his sinker/two-seam fastball, which he implemented four starts ago in Houston when the Astros were all over his four-seam fastball. The two-seam has not only helped him throw plenty of strikes, but he’s been avoiding barrels and allowing far less hard contact.

Until the Mariners get more consistent production from their lineup, the starting rotation will need to keep turning in solid performances to keep Seattle in games. Expecting the rotation to continue to allow three or fewer earned runs per game isn’t totally fair, but given what the Mariners had been doing offensively prior to the first two games in Oakland, those kind of starts are sort of necessary until the hits and runs are truly coming night in and night out.

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