The Mariners made it four in a row Monday when three homers backed lefty Ariel Miranda in a 6-1 victory over the Miami Marlins (VIDEO LINK) in Ichiro Suzuki’s return to Safeco Field.
Back-to-back homers by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the first inning provided Miranda with an early 3-0 lead, and he responded with seven shutout innings.
Three takeaways from Monday’s victory:
***Some middle heat: Cano and Cruz aren’t exactly hot, but they show signs of moving in the right direction. Cano has 11 RBIs in his last eight games, and Cruz has hits in his last seven games.
"That’s what drives the train, the middle of our lineup," manager Scott Servais said. "Hopefully, we can get them in a nice, consistent rhythm. That would be great."
***Miranda puts down a marker: While Miranda didn’t gain a spot in the rotation until an injury to Drew Smyly created a opening late in spring training, he is just 28 and projects as a long-term fit.
The key is, and remains, whether Miranda can turn his slider into a reliable third pitch alongside his fastball and changeup. He showed an effective slider Monday against the Marlins, and the result was seven shutout innings.
Even if Smyly returns at some point in June, as the Mariners hope, there’s no reason the guy he bumps from the rotation has to be Miranda.
***Showing his age: Whenever Ichiro Suzuki retires, five years later he figures to enter the Hall of Fame. He will almost certainly do so as a Mariner, where his skills, for 11-plus seasons, made him an iconic player who embodied the franchise.
Suzuki’s every move Monday brought cheers from a Safeco crowd that recalled his numerous career highlights. He is now 43 and says he wants to play until he’s 50. Who knows? Maybe he can pull it off.
But Monday night, he started for just the second time this season. His at-bats consisted of three weak ground-outs to the right side. He is now 1-for-15 this season and looking every bit of his age.
It’s possible the next two games might be the final time that Suzuki ever plays at Safeco Field, but what the crowd emphasized Monday is he’ll always be a star here.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners