The ambushes continued Saturday for the Mariners when Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano each jumped first-pitch offerings for home runs in a 4-3 victory over Oakland.
The Mariners have 33 (of their 162 homers) on first-pitch swings. Entering Sunday, only two clubs had more; Baltimore and St. Louis each had 34.
Cano has nine first-pitch homers, which ties Baltimore’s Chris Davis for the major-league lead.
"As a hitter," Cano said, "you want to be ready for that first pitch. You say I have nine homers on the first pitch, but how many outs? You go by the numbers."
OK, let’s go by the numbers.
Cano is batting .432 this season, at 38-for-88, when he puts the first ball in play. His 38 first-pitch hits are the most in the majors. He went 1-for-2 Sunday on first-pitch swings in an 8-4 victory over Oakland.
Cruz said he swung at the first-pitch offering Saturday from Athletics starter Kendall Graveman because "I was looking for something up. His sinker is good because he wants to get ground balls."
When Graveman’s sinker didn’t sink, Cruz drove it over the center-field wall.
"It’s part of the game," Cruz said. "Sometimes, you jump the first pitch, and it’s a ground ball or a pop-up."
Back to the numbers.
Cruz isn’t as productive as Cano on first-pitch swings. For one thing, Cruz takes fewer of them, but he’s batting .317 at 13-for-41 with three (of his 29) homers.
Overall, the Mariners excel at ambushing the first pitch: Entering Sunday’s series finale at Oakland, they led the majors with a .383 average (177-for-447) and a .400 on-base percentage (which included getting hit by 15 pitches).
Their .687 slugging percentage was second to Cleveland’s .692.
"You hear us talk all year about controlling the zone," manager Scott Servais said. "That doesn’t mean go up there for a walk. It means get your pitch in your area and let it rip.
"I think it’s something the majority of our guys have done well all year."
PAXTON ON TUESDAY
Left-hander James Paxton reported no day-after problem with his elbow following a bullpen workout Saturday and remains on track to return to the rotation Tuesday against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
Paxton further tested his elbow by playing catch prior to Sunday’s series finale at Oakland. He experienced a week earlier when hit in the elbow by a line drive in the ninth inning of a 3-1 victory over the Angels at Safeco Field.
"I feel good about where he’s at right now," Servais said. "I’d be very shocked if he didn’t make the start on Tuesday."
MARINERS TO MODESTO?
Will the Mariners’ roster show an increased number of Nuts in future years?
Reports indicate the Mariners could be shifting their affiliation in the Hi-A California League to Modesto — the Nuts — after spending the last two seasons at Bakersfield.
Modesto is currently affiliated with Colorado, but that agreement — like the Mariners’ contract with Bakersfield — expires at the end of the season. The Rockies have been affiliated with Modesto for the last 12 seasons.
The Mariners are known to be unhappy with the conditions at Bakersfield’s venerable Sam Lynn Field, which opened in 1941 and faces west into the setting sun. The configuration often delays the start of night games.
It figures to be a turbulent off-season in the California League, which appears likely to drop from 10 teams to eight prior to next season.
Houston (Lancaster) and Texas (High Desert) are expected to shift their affiliations next season to an expanded Carolina League. Reports indicate the Rockies could shift to Lancaster if the Mariners land in Modesto.
Such as shift would leave Bakersfield and High Desert without affiliations.
If this is the Mariners’ last season in Bakersfield, they are going out with a bang.
The Blaze entered Sunday with a three-game lead in the North Division after a remarkable 14-13 victory over Lake Elsinore (Angels) on Saturday in 11 innings.
Bakersfield trailed 8-0, 10-2 and 12-4 before forcing extra innings by scoring four runs in the eighth and four more in the ninth. Justin Seager tied the game with a grand slam in the ninth inning.
Seager also had a homer earlier in the game and finished with seven RBIs.
After Lake Elsinore scored in the top of the 11th inning, the Blaze rallied again for a walk-off victory on Jay Baum’s two-run single with two outs.
***Six of the Mariners’ seven affiliates entered Sunday in first place. The only exception, Peoria in the Arizona Rookie League, won its first-half division pennant.
It was four years ago Monday — Aug. 15, 2012 — that Felix Hernandez pitched a perfect game in a 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay at Safeco Field.
Hernandez recorded 12 strikeouts in his 113-pitch effort, which was the 23rd perfect game in Major League history. He faced three-ball counts on three hitters.
The Mariners scored the game’s only run on Jesus Montero’s two-out RBI single in the third inning against Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson.
Hernandez recorded the final out with a called third strike on Sean Rodriguez. A crowd of 21,889 witnessed the gem.
Seth Smith was a late scratch as the designated hitter. He is nursing a bruised right foot, which occurred Saturday on a foul ball. Dae-Ho Lee replaced Smith as the DH, while Nelson Cruz started in right field…former closer Steve Cishek is expected to start his rehab assignment Monday at Short-A Everett. He is recovering from a tear in his left hip labrum, which was diagnosed after an Aug. 1 appearance against Boston. Cishek is expected to be activated by next weekend.
The Mariners open a four-game series against the Los Angeles Angels at 7:05 p.m. Monday at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, Calif.
Right-hander Felix Hernandez (6-4 with a 3.39 ERA) will trying for his 150th career victory when he faces LA right-hander Ricky Nolasco (4-9, 5.14). Nolasco is 0-1 in two starts for the Angels since arriving in an Aug. 1 trade from Minnesota.
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners