Banged-up Mariners have 4 big question marks at crucial time

Sep 19, 2022, 4:31 PM | Updated: 4:41 pm

Mariners France Suárez...

Eugenio Suárez celebrates his home run with Ty France on Sept. 7. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners had a rough weekend, and while they rebounded with a blowout win over the Angels on Monday afternoon, there are unfortunately a number of big questions marks right now at a particularly inopportune time.

It all has to do with the offense, too.

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Seattle remains somewhat comfortable in an American League wild card spot, though it isn’t the top spot that comes with guaranteed home playoff games. Bumps, bruises and general struggles with a number of their key hitters could make it tough for them to overcome the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays in the postseason race.

Monday morning on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, they broke down several big question marks for the team with only five series left for the Mariners in the regular season. You can listen to their conversation in the player below. After that, let’s take a close look at what they had to say.

Question mark No. 1: The Mariners lineup’s health

“Their five best hitters are hurt. I’m not exaggerating,” said Mike Salk.

And he’s right.

The list: third baseman Eugenio Suárez, is the worst, on the 10-day injured list with a fracture in the tip of his right index finger; outfielders Julio Rodríguez and Mitch Haniger have been ailed recently with back issues; catcher Cal Raleigh has received some time off after jamming his thumb; and first baseman Ty France has an ongoing wrist problem that dates back to last season.

Salk thinks the Mariners might be best off letting them all rest so they’re healthy when October rolls around.

“I’d put all five guys on the IL,” he said. “Yes, you’ve got a four-game lead and you’re gonna have to kind of struggle your way through it. But (the other wild card contenders) all play each other. … Suck it up for as long as you have to and then get your guys back.”

Question mark No. 2: Left field

It’s no secret that 2021 National League All-Star left fielder Jesse Winker hasn’t been what the Mariners hoped for at the plate this season. He doesn’t add much on defense or on the basepaths, either, and it has Salk wondering if a call to Triple-A to bring Jarred Kelenic back up might be in order.

“Everybody else wrote him off ages ago,” Salk said about Winker, “and they’ve been ready to go with Sam Haggerty full-time in the outfield, this and that. And even as recently as last week I was saying let Jesse Winker play until the end of the year – you’ve got enough offense elsewhere and if he can turn it around then it would obviously be a huge benefit to you in the postseason.”

That, of course, was before the Mariners got nailed with all the health issues over the last week.

“Maybe now you gotta let him play because you’re hurting with Haniger not 100%, Julio not 100%, etc. But I think I’d rather see Jarred Kelenic (than Winker),” Salk said. “(Kelenic) is dominating Triple-A once again, but that’s not why I’d rather see him. I mean, Jesse Winker has become comical in left field. … If you’re gonna play like that in left field, you better have that .900 OPS that he’s had the last few years. Instead, he’s sub-.700. Now, that’s still 200 points higher than Jarred Kelenic, who’s got a .450 OPS this year in the big leagues, but he can play the outfield, he runs, he hustles, he brings value.

“I don’t know that I can say this with my chest, but I could say it with, like, a knee: I think I’d like to see Jarred Kelenic in the outfield over Winker.”

Why is Salk just now thinking it’s time to play someone in left other than Winker?

“I’ll tell you what took me so long: his history. His track record has been phenomenal, and because of that you give a guy like that every opportunity you can to try to get what he’s always been in the big leagues, which is a devastatingly good hitter. But he’s not done it so far this year, and it’s Sept. 19, and his defense is so bad. It’s so challenging and it’s costing you games.”

Question mark No. 3: Ty France’s swing.

France had a big day Monday, hitting an RBI double into the left field corner and adding a three-run homer to left-center.

What those two things have in common, though, is France was pulling the ball. It seems he’s not able to spray the ball over the field like Mariners fans have been accustomed to seeing from him, which could be a result of less trust of his wrist.

“The Ty France one is the one that’s killing me more than any other,” Salk said. “I think Julio will be fine. Suárez, obviously, what are you gonna do? The guys injured. There’s nothing to be done about it, but it’s super frustrating. Cal Raleigh’s got a thumb issue. I’d love to see him get a few more days off, and if it means that I have to see Luis Torrens for a little while, that might be better than a guy that’s hurt. But the one that is just so (crucial) – you’re nothing without Ty France. You’re just not the same team. When he’s healthy, he’s the best hitter on this team. … I think Ty France is the best flat-out hitter right now on this team at this stage in his career, and he’s not himself.”

Added Brock Huard: “This is watching a guy that sprays the ball all over the field when he’s right. This is watching a guy that you have seen – the second half of last season, the first half of this season – when he is right, he is patient. He trusts his bat speed. He trusts his hands, he trusts his wrists. He lets the ball (travel) so he can drive it to all fields. He’s not done any of that really post-All-Star break, and it’s a hard offense to watch with this many guys dinged up.”

Salk pointed to a plate appearance on Saturday from France that exemplifies the issue.

“The Ty France that we know doesn’t come up in the eighth inning on Saturday and meekly ground out to the pitcher in that spot with a couple men on and one out. That’s not Ty France. He gives you good at-bats, and I don’t want to hear any garbage about how he’s swinging at bad pitches. No kidding. (It’s) because his wrist is hurt.”

Question mark No. 4: Can Eugenio Suárez contribute when he returns?

Suárez has been Seattle’s best run-producer in 2022, so losing him on Friday to a finger fracture was very bad news. There has been hope he could come back to play designated hitter once his required 10 days out on the IL are over, but Huard has his doubts based on his own experience with finger injuries from his football career.

“I’ve had that a couple of different times and nine days feels overly optimistic (for a return),” Huard said. “… I think three weeks is a possibility. … If it was significantly fractured then you put a pin in it, then you’re done. So I’m optimistic in that way.”

Responded Salk: “Even when he comes back, you think he’s gonna be 100%? Heck no.”

Suárez had been on a hot streak before the injury, which is unlikely to continue if he does return.

“From a timing perspective, he was just in such a rhythm at the plate, and he’s a rhythm/timing guy, it feels like,” Huard said.

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Banged-up Mariners have 4 big question marks at crucial time