SHANNON DRAYER

Playing time has allowed Mariners’ Shawn O’Malley to find his groove

Aug 18, 2016, 10:21 AM | Updated: 12:47 pm

ANAHEIM, Calif. – After two days out of the Mariners’ lineup, Shawn O’Malley’s name was back on the card Wednesday night.

“He’s earned the right to play. There’s no doubt,” manager Scott Servais said before the game, noting that he would probably play Thursday at shortstop as well.

Entering Wednesday, O’Malley was hitting .289/.379/.434 in 32 games since July 1 – terrific numbers for a utility player. And even though he was just 1 for 4 on Wednesday, he still helped out the team, dropping down a bunt single that ended up scoring Leonys Martin all the way from second base. While O’Malley’s steady defense at shortstop was needed when Ketel Marte was out with mono, his offensive production has been an appreciated bonus.

Part of his uptick in numbers is due to getting more consistent playing time. O’Malley has done his part, but Servais has done his as well, making O’Malley feel comfortable and confident in his position on the team. Support from his manager has been key, according to O’Malley.

“They’re really positive, they don’t let me overthink situations,” he said. “They want me to be aggressive and play my game. What’s got me here is being aggressive but not careless. They want me to take chances, be that spark and they have let me know, ‘Hey, if you can get that bag, take it. If you can stretch it into a double, go for it.’ Not putting chains on me, I guess, as far as taking away from me what makes me different. They’ve just done a really good job of building my confidence.”

There isn’t a feeling that any at-bat could be his last. For a guy who has been up and down between the majors and Triple-A the last three years and has yet to make an opening-day roster (although he put up ridiculous numbers this spring), that’s huge. It’s tough to swing a bat when you’re looking over your shoulder.

“The fact that they free you up and say, ‘Just go be yourself. You get a pinch-hit late in the game, don’t sit back and try to take pitches, be aggressive, go after it,'” he said. “It doesn’t mean I have to swing, but it might be I take advantage of a bunt there. The fact that they loosen the reins or just confirm, ‘Hey, just play, be yourselves, do what got you here,’ it’s helped out tremendously and I think you are starting to see everyone relax and get in a groove. It’s contagious.”

O’Malley also believes the Mariners have taken to heart the message that Servais gave them at the beginning of the last home stand. With the trade deadline behind them and two months to go in the season, it was time to play. There’s no more settling in. The work has been done. This is the group. Let’s go.

“I think everyone is just having fun,” O’Malley said. “It’s honestly, we’ve got nothing to lose. We’re the underdogs so it’s like, let’s go out and have some fun and kick some butt. It’s been a blast. I think I spent more time in the dugout laughing (Saturday in Oakland) than paying attention to the game. And it was incredible.

“That’s the kind of atmosphere you want to have. Little kid in the backyard just joking around with your buddies. You always play your best, so we have a good thing going on right now and we are going to keep riding that wave and hopefully we ride it right into October.”

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