Stecker’s Three Things: When the Mariners finally get back to full strength, will it be too late?
The Mariners’ road trip takes them to Boston on Friday, and they’re desperate for wins thanks to a five-game losing streak they finally put a stop to on Thursday. Here are three things to keep in mind as the M’s meet the Red Sox for three games at Fenway Park:
1. By the time the Mariners get fully healthy, will it be too late?
Robinson Cano is back, Mitch Haniger and James Paxton should return in the next week or so, and Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly are all making progress in their recoveries from arm injuries. While that can all be seen as good news, the Mariners’ current standing in the American League can’t. Though they left Washington, D.C. on Thursday with a 4-2 win, it came after they tied an MLB record by scoring a single run in each of five straight games – all losses – and at 21-27 they have the second-worst record in the AL. Kyle Seager’s slow start is now nearing two months, the sometimes-dangerous offense is appearing less and less often, and without the Mariners scoring five or more runs on a regular basis it’s becoming harder and harder for the patchwork rotation to rack up wins. The bad luck and inconsistency that has plagued the 2017 Mariners is putting the team in a position where if they make the playoffs it will come with a memorable story to tell the grandkids. That’s not a good place to be.
2. How soon until Edwin Diaz officially reclaims the closer job?
One bright spot of the past two weeks has been hard-throwing reliever Edwin Diaz, who responded well after command issues resulted in him losing his closer job. Since walking four and giving up two runs while recording just one out on May 15, Diaz has made three appearances – all scoreless. The most encouraging outing has to be the latest, which was a save situation against the Nationals’ potent offense on Thursday. Diaz allowed a single to former teammate Adam Lind, but that was it as he notched his eighth save of the year. Manager Scott Servais has praised the work Diaz has done with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. to adjust his mechanics and keep from losing control on the mound, but the skipper is not quite ready to pronounce him the ninth-inning man again. “Edi just happened to be the guy at the end today,” Servais said after Thursday’s win. “We like him in that spot. He’s got great stuff. Hopefully he can build on it.”
3. Is this the last chance for Mike Zunino?
Mike Zunino returned from his latest stint in Triple-A earlier this week, and at this point the question begs to be asked whether that will be the last time Zunino dons a Tacoma Rainiers uniform. There’s two reasons that could be the case. The one that the Mariners would prefer would be because he finally finds his groove against MLB pitching. The other is that after being demoted to the minors in each of the last three seasons, is there much else he can accomplish hitting against Triple-A pitching? Zunino always hits well when he goes down to Tacoma, and this last trip down was no exception as he smacked five home runs and maintained an average near .300 in 12 games. But if struggles again to make contact on pitches in the strike zone over the next month, don’t be surprised if general manager Jerry Dipoto starts looking for a different long-term solution behind the plate.