Kyle Seager is having the best offensive season of his six-year career while simultaneously slogging through his worst defensive season.
Seager committed his career-worst 21st error Tuesday in the Mariners’ 10-7 loss to Texas — and it was a costly error; it led to two unearned runs. No other third baseman in either league, through Tuesday, had more than 19 errors.
"I’m not too happy about it," he admitted. "I’m not exactly sure what’s going on there. That one, I got another tweener, and I wasn’t able to react well enough. I certainly don’t enjoy them."
Seager’s defensive problems amount to a puzzling decline.
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Just two years ago, he won a Gold Glove for defensive excellence when he made just eight errors in 157 games. Even if that represents an outlier, he’s never made more than 16 errors in a full season.
When Seager won that Gold Glove, he made a point to credit former infield coach Chris Woodward in helping to hone his technique. Woodward is now a coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But Seager dismissed Woodward’s departure as a factor in his defensive decline, saying: "Our coaching staff is good."
The Gold Glove-quality work still appears on occasion.
Seager’s diving play behind third and throw to first for the final out Aug. 17 with the bases loaded preserved a 4-3 victory over the Angels in Anaheim. That might be the Mariners’ top defensive play of the year.
But Seager’s 21 errors are already tied for the fourth-highest total in franchise history by a third baseman. Russ Davis holds the record with 32 in 1998, followed by Bill Stein with 24 in 1978. Jim Presley had 22 in 1988 and 21 in 1987.
None of those three players ever won a Gold Glove.
So what is it? A slump?
Hitters go into slumps. Heck, Seager batted just .139 this season in his first 21 games before breaking out — a .320/.396/.560 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) since that slow start.
Is this a defensive slump?
"I don’t know," Seager said. "Apparently, I’m in (one). I’m doing the same things. Taking the same ground balls. I’m just not making as many plays as I should be when it counts.
"I’ve been in a couple of bad situations. In a couple of them, I tried to do too much. You get in bad positions, and that’s what happens."
Taijuan Walker, coming off perhaps the worst start of his career, spent the last few days making a series of mechanical changes under the guidance of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr., in preparation for a start in Thursday’s series finale.
The Mariners, not surprisingly, aren’t exactly open in discussing the changes, but it’s likely Walker will lengthen his stride. Opposing scouts noted he’s shortened his delivery in recent starts, perhaps in response to battling tendinitis in his right foot.
Manager Scott Servais also pointed to an improved attitude from Walker in implementing the changes. Servais previously questioned Walker’s competitive nature, which led to a brief demotion to the minors.
"I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen the last three days," Servais said, "and it has nothing to do (with mechanics). I’m more excited by seeing how he’s carrying himself in the clubhouse. He is absolutely engaged.
"I do think he realized that he needed to make some changes."
Walker enters Thursday’s game at 4-10 with a 4.60 ERA after giving up six runs in two-thirds of an inning in last Saturday’s 10-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. He is 2-10 with a 5.61 ERA in his last 16 starts.
If the rotation maintains its current cycle, Walker is in line for five more starts.
"(They’re) very important," Servais said, "and it’s not just what the stats say. Not how many strikeouts. Not that it’s 95 or 97. Not that it’s a really good breaking ball. Let’s just try to get something going in the right direction."
SMITH OVER AOKI
Seth Smith drew the start Wednesday over Nori Aoki when the Mariners faced a right-handed starter, A.J. Griffin, for just the third time in the last 12 games. Smith also batted leadoff.
"If you look at our corner outfield spots (against right-handers)," Servais said, "we’ve got three guys. I do think we owe an opportunity to Ben Gamel to find out what he can do. So he’s going to play.
"That doesn’t mean he’s going to play every day, but I want to get him in there and see what we’ve got. I think it’s the right thing to do for our organization. The other guys, we’ll get them in there when I think they fit."
Gamel started Wednesday in right field.
The Mariners acquired Gamel in an Aug. 31 trade from the Yankees for two minor-league pitchers. He was the International League player of the year after batting .308 with a .365 on-base percentage at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Servais suggested Smith drew the start, at least in part, because he hit a pinch homer in Tuesday’s loss to the Rangers.
"Smitty had a good at-bat (Tuesday) night," Servais said, "and I want to get him going again."
Right-hander Nathan Karns isn’t likely to pitch this winter, Servais said, in an attempt to build endurance after logging just 94 1/3 innings before a muscle strain in his lower back forced him to the disabled list after a July 29 outing in Chicago.
"He had a pretty significant issue with the back," Servais said, "and we want to make sure it’s 100 percent. To fire him out in a highly competitive situation like winter ball, I don’t know if that’s the best scenario."
Karns is eligible to return in late September from the 60-day disabled list. At this point, that seems a long shot. Servais said Karns’ limited workload this year shouldn’t affect his ability to win a spot next year in the rotation.
"It’s the guys who have never carried the load before," Servais said. "Last year, he threw 147 (innings). And you can add 30 a year, typically. I think the big thing is to get him back healthy and throwing well. We’ll see where it leads from there."
HONOR FOR BLOWERS
Mariners broadcaster Mike Blowers will be among a class of 12 inaugural inductees on Nov. 5 for the Bethel School District Athletic Hall of Fame.
Blowers, 51, played shortstop at Bethel High School in Spanaway before playing collegiately at Tacoma Community College and Washington. He played 11 big-league seasons, including six with the Mariners.
The Hall of Fame ceremony will take place during a luncheon at the Pierce County Skills Center in Puyallup.
Blowers is completing his 10th season as the Mariners’ television analyst for Root Sports.
MINOR AWARDS I
Double-A Jackson outfielder Tyler O’Neill fell short in his quest to win the triple crown in the Southern League, but he was picked by Baseball America to its all-classification all-star team.
O’Neill, 21, led the league with 102 RBIs but finished second with 24 homers and fifth with a .293 average. He briefly led all three categories in late August.
The Baseball America team consisted 15 players: one at each defensive position and designated hitter, five starting pitchers and one reliever. O’Neill was the Mariners’ only selection.
MINOR AWARDS II
Short-A Everett right fielder Eric Filia was picked as the player of the month for August in the Northwest League after batting .424 (42-for-99) with 13 multi-hit performances in 25 games.
Filia, 24, won the league batting title with a .362 average and also led the league with a .450 on-base percentage. He was a 20th-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft.
It was 21 years ago Thursday — Sept. 8, 1995 — that Randy Johnson pitched the Mariners into a virtual tie atop the American League wild-card standings in a 4-1 victory over Kansas City at the Kingdome.
The Mariners pulled even with the Royals in the wild-card race. Johnson improved to 14-2.
Second baseman Robinson Cano was in the starting lineup after exiting Tuesday’s game because of swelling in his ankle from a foul ball…reliever Tom Wilhelmsen is scheduled to throw roughly 25 pitches Thursday in one inning of a simulated game as the final test in his recovery from back spasms. If all goes well, he should be activated this weekend from the disabled list…Seth Smith’s pinch homer Tuesday was the Mariners’ fourth of the season. The club record is five, set in 1994 and tied in 1996 and last season…Smith batted leadoff for the second time this year.
The Mariners and Rangers conclude their four-game series, and their season series, at 7:10 p.m. Thursday at Safeco Field.
Right-hander Taijuan Walker (4-10 with a 4.60 ERA) looks to bounce back from a disappointing start when he faced Texas lefty Derek Holland (7-6, 4.57). Walker gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning last Saturday against the Angels.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on the Mariners Radio Network, which includes 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners
MOST ERRORS BY A MARINERS THIRD BASEMAN
1. Russ Davis (1998): 32
2. Bill Stein (1978): 24
3. Jim Presley (1988): 22
4-T Jim Presley (1987): 21
4-T Kyle Seager (2016): 21*
6. Manny Castillo (1982): 20
7-T Adrian Beltre (2007): 18
7-T Russ Davis (1997): 18
9-T Jim Presley (1989): 17
9-T Jim Presley (1985): 17
11. Kyle Seager (2015): 16
* — through Tuesday.