HOUSTON — It’s nights like this — a 10-4 victory Monday over the Houston Astros — when it’s intriguing to speculate just what the ceiling might be for these Seattle Mariners.
They produced some serious pop by hitting four homers for the first time this season and, after a rocky start, got a solid outing from right-hander Taijuan Walker, their top prospect, in his injury-delayed season debut.
The result: The Mariners, at 45-38, are seven games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2009 season.
“I think we all really believe that our best baseball is ahead of us,” said shortstop Brad Miller, who contributed to the long-ball chorus.
“I think we learned a lot early, and we learned that, ‘Hey, we’ve got something good here.’ We’ve just got to keep playing. But I think everybody believes that — that we have something good here.”
Walker (1-0) returned Monday from Triple-A Tacoma after battling a sore shoulder for the past five months, and surrendered a monster two-run homer in the first inning to George Springer.
“It was one of those,” catcher Mike Zunino said, “where you ask for a new ball real quick.”
Walker gave up another homer, to Marwin Gonzalez, in the second inning.
But nothing more.
“Today was really good for me,” Walker said, “because I had to rely on my off-speed (pitches) to get through six innings. I had to throw first-pitch change-ups. I had to throw breaking balls when I was behind in the count.”
Most important: No concerns with the shoulder problems that first surfaced in February and forced him into an extended rehab regimen.
“No problems,” Walker confirmed. “I feel good.”
The Mariners, meanwhile, countered Springer’s bomb with a two-run shot in the second by Zunino. They erased Gonzalez’s homer, and took the lead, on a two-run drive by Michael Saunders in the fourth.
Miller added a two-out homer in the fourth that extended the lead to 5-3. All of that came against Houston starter Collin McHugh (4-7), who pitched through the sixth.
McHugh entered the game with a 2.86 ERA for his previous 12 starts. Had he enough innings to qualify — he falls just short — he would have ranked eighth in the American League.
So he’s been good.
The Mariners then jumped all over reliever Josh Zeid in the seventh. Endy Chavez led off with a bunt single and went to third on James Jones’ third single of the game.
Robinson Cano followed with a three-run homer to left, and the lead jumped to 8-3, which is where Walker handed the game to the bullpen.
Tom Wilhelmsen breezed through the seventh and eighth before the Mariners spanked Jerome Williams for two more runs in the ninth.
Wilhelmsen then gave up one run before closing out the Mariners’ 11th victory in 15 games. Wilhelmsen also got his first save since July 28, 2013.
Jones contributed a career-high four hits, all singles, to an 11-hit attack. He also stole three bases, which gives him 17 in 18 attempts.
“I’m going to leave the home runs to everybody else,” he chirped. “I know my role, and that’s just to get on base. Just create havoc out there.”
The Mariners recalled Walker prior to the game from the Rainiers. The move became official a few hours after he was selected as the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the week after a complete-game shutout in his last start.
No shutout here.
Walker started the first by retiring Jose Altuve on a grounder to second before Alex Presley lined a single to center. Springer followed with a booming homer on a 2-0 fastball.
Absolutely crushed. The estimated distance was 421 feet.
The Mariners, though, turned it into a footnote by hitting four homers. All charted at less than 400 feet. Zunino’s game-tying drive barely clawed over the left-field wall.
“When I hit it,” he said, “I thought there was no chance. But, hey...”
And that, as much as anything, sums up the Mariners right now: Hey!