Even now, Jean Segura is viewed primarily as a hitter. Some scouts still insists his defensive skills are borderline average for a big-league shortstop. Many still see him as a better fit at second base.
Metrics support this.
Prior to Monday, Segura rated minus-3 runs in total zone fielding and minus-1 run in defensive runs saved. But he made three marvelous defensive plays Monday in the same inning before the Mariners pulled out a wild 9-7 victory over Houston.
"Those plays he made saved the game," catcher Mike Zunino said. "Just to make those plays, that ability is unbelievable."
Third baseman Kyle Seager added: "Segura made some absolutely unbelievable plays."
Unbelievable was the word that kept circulating through the Mariners’ clubhouse in assessing Segura’s defense in the ninth inning.
Let’s reset a moment. This game was loaded with big moments.
Seager and Danny Valencia provided the winning margin with back-to-back homers in the 10th inning against Astros reliever Tony Sipp. That came after homers by Nelson Cruz and Zunino erased an earlier 6-5 deficit.
Before those homers, the Mariners battered Houston starter Lance McCullers, a
recent nemesis, for five runs in 4 2/3 innings. McCullers had never permitted more than three runs in any of his previous 27 career starts at Minute Maid Park.
All of it, though, was either prologue or epilogue to Segura in the ninth inning.
It was 6-6 when the Mariners turned to demoted starter Yovani Gallardo because they had blown through the rest of their bullpen. Trouble started immediately when Josh Reddick pulled a double into the right-field corner.
Then Segura took over.
***Play No. 1: Segura made a spectacular rolling stop on a Marwin Gonzalez grounder — a nice play just to keep the ball in the infield and prevent Reddick from scoring. But Segura threw across his body from one knee and retired Gonzalez.
Manager Scott Servais called it the key play of the inning because it recorded the first out. Segura said: "I reacted. I got it. Then get rid of it as quick as I can."
Even so, Reddick moved to third.
***Play No. 2: Segura’s first play prompted an intentional walk to Yuli Gurriel, who stole second. The Mariners shortened their infield, and Segura handled a sharp grounder by Nori Aoki and threw out Reddick at the plate.
Nothing spectacular here, except it was a bang-bang play in real time, a clean pick-up and an accurate throw that Zunino could handle with the game on the line. One teammate called it "big-league play."
Segura said: "That’s what spring training is for. To practice those plays to be consistent."
***Play No. 3: After an intentional walk to Brian McCann loaded the bases, Alex Bregman hit a grounder into the short-third hole. Segura reached the ball, turned and threw to second for an inning-ending force.
"It was a baseball play," Segura said. "I was just trying to catch the baseball. I knew the only chance I had was a force at second. It’s the last out. Just go get it. If I boot it or make an error, they win the game."
Segura said the final play was the toughest of the three.
Additional point: Segura went 2-for-5 and raised his average to .349, which leads the American League. He now has enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting race without adding 0-fers to his totals to bridge the difference.
Three takeaways from Monday’s victory:
***Circle the wagons: The Mariners sucked 18 1/3 innings from their bullpen in four games since returning from the All-Star break but aren’t planning to summon any immediate reinforcements.
Their only anticipated roster move Tuesday will be to recall rookie right-hander Sam Gaviglio from Triple-A Tacoma to rejoin the rotation. Gaviglio will start Tuesday against the Astros.
The Mariners plan to clear space for Gaviglio by optioning outfielder Boog Powell to the Rainiers. The only reliever who didn’t pitch Monday is rookie Emilio Pagan, who worked 2 1/3 innings in Sunday’s victory over the White Sox.
***Back to .500: The Mariners have won five in a row and, at 47-47, are back to .500 for the first time since a June 25 loss dropped them to 39-39. Their high point came this year came two days earlier when they were 39-37.
The Mariners are also just 1 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees for the final American League wild-card berth. The Yankees arrive Thursday at Safeco Field for a four-game series.
***Zunino breaks out: After getting 31 RBIs in June, Zunino entered Monday with only one RBI through his first 10 games in July. So maybe he was overdue.
Zunino had a two-run double in the fourth inning, which broke a 2-2 tie, and a solo homer in the eighth inning, which broke a 6-6 tie.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners