Stecker’s 3 Things: The hits keep on coming for Mariners
Another roller-coaster homestand is in the books for the Seattle Mariners, who are back under .500 at 39-41 as they’ve lost four straight on the heels of a six-game winning streak. Here are three things to think about as the M’s get ready for a quick three-game set in Anaheim before returning home Monday.
1. The hits just keep on coming (now on repeat).
The 2017 Seattle Mariners, at their core, are a good baseball team. That has been evidenced by the fact that they have been able to get to .500 a few times this season. But as much as their talent has been a part of this season’s story, the injuries they’ve been subject to – and the obstacles they’ve presented – own the bigger headlines. The players that have seen significant time out of action this year have been numerous, many of them key contributors like Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Jean Segura, James Paxton and Mitch Haniger. And then there’s the case of Drew Smyly, who not only hasn’t had a chance to pitch for Seattle since being acquired in January but may never after news broke Wednesday that he would need Tommy John surgery. That not only rules out the 28-year-old lefty for the rest of 2017 but also puts his 2018 season in jeopardy, and with him set to be a free agent after next season he very well could leave town without ever throwing a pitch for Seattle. Even worse, Smyly is the second member of Seattle’s intended starting rotation to suffer a setback in recent weeks while trying to come back from the disabled list. Hisashi Iwakuma, who is entering the twilight of his career at 36 years old, has been out since early May, and though he did recently appear in a rehab game for Triple-A Tacoma, he’s been dialed back as the Mariners wait for his shoulder to feel ready to continue. The Mariners’ luck has been so bad this season that they’ve been by the same injury twice on two separate occasions, and it has left their starting pitching in an uneviable situation.
2. Felix Hernandez gives the Mariners something to smile about.
OK, so Felix Hernandez has a 4.66 ERA this season, and that includes a combined 4.50 ERA in his two starts since returning from the disabled list for shoulder bursitis. And I’m going to make a leap here, so forget that he’s surrendered three home runs in those two starts, and forget that he owns one Cy Young Award and probably should have another in his trophy case. But consider this: In his two games back, he’s thrown two quality starts. He gave the Mariners more than enough to beat the mighty Houston Astros 13-3 last Friday, and he was in line to get the win in Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to Philadelphia until Edwin Diaz blew the save in the ninth. Felix will never be the pitcher he once was, but there is plenty of value in a veteran pitcher who maybe gives up a home run here or there, or weathers the storm of a bad inning every once in a while, but in the end goes at least six innings and gives up no more than three runs. With the offense the Mariners have this year, they’ll take that kind of performance on the mound any day of the week. It may be coming from the former best pitcher on the planet, making those numbers look a little less palatable, but when you get them from a 31 year old nearing 2,500 MLB innings, they’re more than you can ask for.
3. The adjustment period begins for Seattle’s young outfielders.
Keep an eye on Haniger and Ben Gamel over the next few weeks. The Mariners’ promising young outfielders have been revelations this season, both having strong starts to their seasons and entering their names into the Rookie of the Year race. It would appear opposing pitchers are now reading newly-written scouting reports on the pair, as Gamel is 1 for 12 after putting together an impressive 15-game hitting streak, and Haniger’s average has finally dropped below .300 as he’s gone 3 for 21 since June 22. They were never going to hit as well as they have been forever, and now is when the real work starts. It’s been a problem for many young Mariners over the years, Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin being two prominent examples. After a strong first impression in the majors, pitchers adjust, and the hitters have to adjust back. Ackley and Franklin never really did – the former is now a 29-year-old minor leaguer and the latter was designated for assignment by the Brewers earlier this week. Now it’s up to Gamel and Haniger to prove that they are just as proficent with the mental aspect of hitting as they are with the physical.