CINCINNATI — Put this in the less is more category.
The Mariners believe one key, perhaps the main key, to unlocking center fielder Leonys Martin as a productive hitter is to get him to throttle down his swing.
"He doesn’t have to swing hard," manager Scott Servias said. "He just has to square it up. He’s got a lot of ability. We certainly see it defensively every night. We’d like to see a little more consistency offensively. It’s coming."
Maybe it is.
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Martin entered Friday’s series opener against Cincinnati with hits in six of his last seven games, including home runs in his last two games. His average, which had dipped to .182 earlier in the month is up to .214.
It’s a start.
"I don’t have to swing so hard," Martin acknowledged. "I just have to make good contact. That’s all I need to put together a good at-bat."
The Mariners acquired Martin primarily because of his defense, and he hasn’t disappointed. He is already on pace to save 17 runs above what would be expected from an average center fielder over the course of the year.
A year ago, the club’s center fielders rated out minus-26.
That projected 43-run swing underscores why Martin is going to play, pretty much regardless of his offensive contributions — particularly since the Mariners have no viable full-time alternative.
"That’s one of the most important things," Martin said. "Every single day, I prepare myself to play. I know my name is going to be in the lineup. Scotty is giving me the confidence to be playing every day."
That also eases the day-to-day urgency for Martin to get his swing going. His work with hitting coach Edgar Martinez can proceed without the need for immediate results.
"I’ve got a better feeling right now," Martin said. "I’ve been in the cage a lot. Edgar has been helping me put things together."
With one overriding point of emphasis: Ease up. Just a little.
Martin is trying.
"As good a defender as some of these guys are," Servais said, "they still want to hit. They want to contribute offensively."
The stat-crunchers are warming to the Mariners.
Houston rated as the second choice, despite its poor start, at 20.5 percent, followed by Texas (17.6), Oakland (7.5) and Los Angeles (3.0).
The Mariners were also given a 61.9-percent chance, including wild-card possibilities, of ending their 14-year postseason drought, which is the longest current streak for any franchise.
The folks at www.BaseballProspectus.com are even more bullish on the Mariners, whom they rate as a 64.6-percent chance to win the division and a 73.6-percent chance to reach postseason while finishing 87-75.
It rates Houston (14.7) and Texas (14.2) as a near dead-heat battle for second place, followed by Oakland (3.5) and Los Angeles (3.0).
In addition to favoring the Mariners in the AL West, Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus also agree on the favorites for the other five divisions.
Fangraphs: Boston (70.4 percent in the AL East), Cleveland (55.4 in AL Central), Washington (53.9 in National League East), Chicago (95.0 in NL Central) and Los Angeles (48.9 in NL West).
Baseball Prospectus: Boston (55.3 in AL East), Cleveland (48.0 in AL Central), Washington (53.5 in NL East), Chicago (92.5 in NL Central) and Los Angeles (52.1 in NL West).
This weekend’s series against the Reds are the first of 20 interleague games for the Mariners, who have an all-time record of 178-166 against National League clubs.
That includes a 10-2 advantage against the Reds.
But the Mariners haven’t finished with a winning interleague record since going 11-7 in 2009. They were 9-9 in 2010 and 2011 before going 8-10, 8-12, 9-122 and 8-12 over the last four years.
Right-hander Jose Santiago, who spent last season at Short-A Everett, received a 76-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance in violation of baseball’s drug program.
Santiago, 22, was 2-3 with a 5.74 ERA last season in 13 games, including 11 starts, for the AquaSox. The suspension takes effect with the start of the Northwest League season in June.
A Dominican native, Santiago signed with the Mariners as a free agent on Feb. 18, 2013.
Right fielder Alex Jackson, 20, hit a home run Thursday in five at-bats in his season debut at Lo-A Clinton in a 9-4 loss at Quad Cities (Astros).
Jackson was reassigned earlier in the day from extended spring training to the LumberKings. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft and ranked No. 1 for the last two years in the TNT Top 10 preseason list of the organization’s prospects.
Hi-A Bakersfield right-hander Andrew Moore was cited as No. 7 on Baseball America’s Prospect Hot Sheet, which seeks to identify the 20 prospects who are currently performing the best.
"With an 88-92 mph fastball," Baseball America noted, "Moore is more pitchability than stuff, but the 2015 supplemental second-round pick has gone 3-1, 1.65 through nine starts in a tough pitching environment at Bakersfield."
Moore, 21, delivered a seventh straight quality start Thursday and did it in cruise control as the Blaze rolled to a 17-2 victory at High Desert (Rangers). He was the 60th overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Bakersfield left fielder Arby Fields went 3-for-4 with a grand slam and six RBIs in leading the rout.
It was 20 years ago Saturday — May 21, 1996 — that Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 200th career homer with a 439-foot blast to right-center field at Fenway Park in a 13-7 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
Griffey finished his 22-year career with 630 homers, which ranks sixth on the all-time list. He hit 417 of those homers while playing for the Mariners, 210 while playing for the Reds and three while playing for the Chicago White Sox.
In 64 days, Griffey will become the first player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame primarily because of his accomplishments while playing for the Mariners.
The Mariners’ seven-eight-nine hitters have combined for 15 homers this season, which is tied with Tampa Bay for the third most in baseball. Oakland and St. Louis have 17…the Mariners’ 10-2 lead over the Reds in the all-time series, entering the weekend, is the fourth-best since 1900 for any matchup involving at least 10 games. The Athletics had an 11-1 edge over the Pirates; the Angels have a 9-1 edge over the Phillies; and the Red Sox have a 9-1 edge over the Reds.
The Mariners and Reds continue their three-game series at 1:10 p.m. Pacific time Saturday at Great American Ball Park. Right-hander Felix Hernandez (3-3 with a 2.47 ERA) will face Cincinnati lefty John Lamb (0-1, 5.79).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners