SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: What happened on Mariners’ rough road trip, what’s next and injury updates

Sep 26, 2022, 1:06 PM | Updated: Sep 27, 2022, 10:05 am

Mariners Dylan Moore...

Mariners CF Dylan Moore looks up to watch Los Angeles Angels' Luis Rengifo's home run on Sept. 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

(AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

After a good year on the road for the Mariners, going 41-29 prior to their final trip, the Mariners stumbled badly in their final 10 regular season games away from T-Mobile Park. With the off day Monday, it’s an opportunity to take a closer look at what the heck happened and what comes next.

Where Mariners’ quest for playoff spot stands after collapse in KC

“Not a great road trip certainly I think is an understatement,” manager Scott Servais said after the Mariners blew a nine-run lead and fell 13-12 Sunday to the Royals in Kansas City. “Disappointing loss, but we haven’t played good baseball on this trip.”

Servais held a brief team meeting after the game where he stressed that the Mariners needed to get back to playing their brand of baseball, the baseball that up until two weeks ago had them on track to finish the season north of 90 wins and quite possibly the second-best record in franchise history.

He also stressed that they couldn’t let what this team had done in the past 10 days define their season. It shouldn’t, but the danger that it could is there. Just as easily, reasons that it shouldn’t are also there.

First, the obvious. The Mariners were missing their top three WAR players for the majority of the trip. Eugenio Suárez broke his finger in Game 1 of the 10-game trip. Julio Rodríguez missed seven of the 10 games with back issues, and Cal Raleigh was limited by a jammed thumb and able to start just five games. These are significant losses that had ramifications beyond the batter’s box as they had to be replaced in the field, as well. The somewhat stable daily lineup, gone, and it might not be a coincidence we saw one of the longer stretches of sloppy play we have seen this year.

Everything can’t be put on those who are missing, however. We’ve seen some pretty big slumps from key contributors on offense. Mitch Haniger is in a horrific stretch, slashing .219/.306/.250 in his last eight games and generating a negative WAR. Haniger has always been streaky so the optimist can choose to believe the upswing is right around the corner. For as tough a trip that Haniger had, Abraham Toro, Adam Frazier and Sam Haggerty had worse, posting wRC+ numbers of 47, 41 and 13, respectively.

Ty France has not been himself at the plate in the second half. Health is a factor. France has dealt with nagging “play through” type injuries throughout the second half. While he will not admit it, there is no doubt this has contributed to him hitting just .222 with a wRC+ of 69 from the All-Star break to the start of this road trip. He has however made a recent change at the plate that may be paying off. He’s gone 8 for 18 in his last four games, posting a 1.143 OPS. An even better sign is he has no strikeouts in those games. In his struggle we saw him swinging at pitches he normally doesn’t offer at. He seems to be back in his approach.

There were other positives. J.P. Crawford has rediscovered the walk at the top of the order and posted a 163 wRC+ on the trip. Jarred Kelenic has stepped in nicely for Julio, and if he continues to show the approach he has shown at the plate will look good in left field when Rodríguez returns. Dylan Moore is showing a different approach, hitting .313 in 21 plate appearances with five walks and four strikeouts.

As for the pitching, we saw it stumble at times. Over the next 10 days we will find out if what we saw on this trip was an anomaly or trend. Every starter had at least one rough outing, some easier to let go than others. Luis Castillo on Sunday in Kansas City admitted he wasn’t able to adjust after spending a long top of the fifth inning sitting on the bench while the offense scored eight runs. The two runs charged to him earlier followed a sun ball miss in left that would have been out No. 3 and a dropped ball at first base that would have kept the speedy Bobby Witt Jr. off the bases. With so much else to worry about, I’m going to choose to believe the two rough Castillo starts on the road trip were an anomaly.

I’m saving my concern for the young pitchers. Logan Gilbert’s stumble followed a game where he recorded a career-high in both strikeouts and swing and misses. In truth, my concern here is more caution. We saw one of his best fastballs in his game against the Angels, top of his game stuff. The caution comes with the innings. At 177 2/3 this season, he is nearly 50 innings ahead of where he was a year ago. I don’t think we are seeing a falloff but it’s hard not to keep an eye on that number.

More concerning: George Kirby, who has thrown over double the innings in 2022 (146 2/3 combined between MLB and minors) than he did in 2021 (67 2/3). If not for the numbers, I wouldn’t think twice about his two-inning outing in Oakland. Kirby rolled not just a Rookie of the Month but a Pitcher of the Month-worthy performance in August into September with just the one hiccup. He does not have a specific innings limit; rather, he’s being watched carefully, and by carefully I mean not just numbers but biometrics, as well. My concern might be a little too rooted in the old school. The information available now goes well beyond hard innings limits that may or may not have helped in the past.

When it comes to the bullpen, it was not too far off numbers-wise of what they have done since June 21. Situationally, the relievers were put in more tough spots in a shorter amount of time than they typically have been due to some rough outings by starters, poor play in the field, and little to no wiggle room due to lack of offense. Their regular usage was also upended due to lack of leads. There were some individual struggles, however. Those with track records will likely be trusted in their current roles. Those without will have a closer look taken at their roles. I don’t see anybody being replaced but I am curious to see if we see anything different in usage.

The good news going forward is the Mariners remain in good position to break the postseason drought. While Baltimore is four games behind them in the standings, the Orioles would actually have to be one game better as the Mariners hold the tiebreaker over them thanks to their 4-2 season series record. A run at the top wild card spot is not out of the question either with the teams posing competition from the AL East all facing tough opponents. Nothing is guaranteed, however, and nobody wants to see this team limp into the postseason. They simply have to play better ball this week.

Mariners notes

• Eugenio Suárez (right index finger fracture) is expected to be activated from the IL on Tuesday. He will be limited to designated hitter as he has been able to take batting practice wearing a special guard on his finger but has yet to throw a ball.

When Suárez saw a hand specialist last Monday in Arizona, he was presented with the option of having a pin placed in the broken finger that would have helped with healing but likely ended his season. Suárez elected to go without. At the time there was not much optimism he would be able to return to the field, but that optimism has picked up this week. Suárez has been taking glove work at third but not throwing. He is expected to try throwing later this week. Regardless, his return to the plate should help stabilize the lineup and what we see in the field somewhat as the DH spot will not be open to give others a break.

• Should Suárez not be able to return to the field, the Mariners appear comfortable keeping Ty France at third base. France spent a good amount of time in the minors at third but moving across the diamond after not playing there on a consistent basis is not easy. The angles are completely different, as is the speed of the game, as Scott Servais pointed out with a chuckle.

“He’s really tired ’cause he’s not used to diving all over the place,” Servais said. “And it’s not just physically but a little bit mentally. It’s a new position and you are moving around a lot more. ‘Does this guy bunt? Okay, one strike, back up.’ Now he gets a ball on his back hand, next he’s diving on his belly, gets up and throws. ‘Where am I at now? Now I have to stand at shortstop? Now I have to run back here?’ It’s a little different gig, he’s done a great job with it.”

• Julio Rodríguez returned to Seattle on Friday to receive treatment for his lower back strain. He is eligible to return from the 10-day IL on Monday, Oct. 3, which is the day of the Mariners’ first game of their final series of the regular season, a four-game set in three days against Detroit that includes a doubleheader on Oct. 4.

Fann: Fair or not, Mariners players carry burden of franchise’s playoff drought

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