Ten observations from the Mariners’ first 10 games:
▪ 1. Although it’s tempting to consider modifying the team’s motto from “Whatever It Takes” to “Whatever,” things will get better. Because, hey, they can’t get any worse than turning a 5-0 lead into a 10-5 defeat before 14,479 Safeco Field fans tolerating the 14,479th consecutive rainy night in Seattle.
▪ 2. When utility infielder Mike Freeman went deep for the first time in the majors Wednesday night, it meant the Mariners have gotten more power from a seven-year minor league journeyman than from either Nelson Cruz or Kyle Seager, erstwhile sluggers who’ve combined to hit 410 major league homers.
A few hours after his milestone blast, Freeman was asked if he could tell it was a home run.
“I haven’t hit enough of them,” he answered, “to really know.”
▪ 3. Those of us who didn’t anticipate the train-wreck start forgot that since 2009, the Mariners have posted a winning record over the first 10 games only once. That was in 2014, when Lloyd McClendon’s team broke relatively fast — 6-4 on April 12 — before losing eight of its next nine.
Scott Servais’ calm demeanor — it’s possible, in a past life, he served as band leader on the Titanic — can be attributed to his 2016 managerial baptism. The Mariners were 2-6 under their rookie skipper, seemingly careening toward 2-7, when pinch-hitter Dae-Ho Lee crushed a two-run, 10th-inning homer to beat the Rangers.
▪ 4. Felix Hernandez is staff ace only in title, the baseball version of a professor emeritus. The role of No. 1 starter belongs to lefty James Paxton. A year after Paxton’s dreadful spring-camp numbers forced him to open the season in Tacoma, where he made 10 starts prior to his June 1 recall, the lefty is a front-runner for AL Pitcher of the Month.
▪ 5. No Seattle batting stat is as revealing as the Mariners’ hitting 13 for 90 with runners in scoring position, more of an indictment of their underachieving offense than the .209 batting average and .323 slugging percentage.
“We’ve had a lot of opportunities and haven’t gotten it done often enough,” Servais said Wednesday, citing the stranded runners as “the one stat that stands out” approaching mid-April. “Our guys know that. During those at bats, you want to work yourself into a good count, get a good pitch to hit and not try to do too much with it. At times, guys have gotten themselves a little out of their game and tried to do much.
“Our strikeout numbers also are a little higher than I expected. We’ve got to do a better job controlling the strike zone. It’s gotten a little better recently, but the strikeouts rear their head in bad spots, which kind of ties into the problems with runners in scoring position.”
▪ 6. Edwin Diaz’s painfully laborious attempt to deliver his slider within the same area code of home plate against the Angels last Sunday poses legitimate questions: With his team owning a 9-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth, was the closer mentally unprepared for the call to warm up in a hurry? Or could his troubles be traced to the suspicion AL West opponents began to figure him out last September?
Then again, Diaz and Dan Altavilla, hard-throwing Double-A relievers put on a fast track to Seattle, have as much of a right to appear shellshocked as anybody else in a Mariners uniform.
▪ 7. Leonys Martin’s talent in center field is obvious, but there comes a point when runs scored outweighs defensive runs saved. Almost all hitters endure those funky streaks when every ball off their bat ends up as an out, but Martin is struggling just to make contact, let alone make enough contact to, like, reach first base.
Thanks to a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 12-1, Martin’s on-base percentage (.108) is only a tick higher than his batting average (.083). With Guillermo Heredia in Seattle and Ben Gamel and Boog Powell in Tacoma, it’s not as if general manager Jerry Dipoto is desperate for a Plan B.
▪ 8. The Mariners, already with nine steals, not only will surpass their 2016 stolen base total of 56, they could surpass it by the All-Star break.
Servais isn’t surprised his team is on pace to steal twice as many bases as it did last season.
“I figured that might be the case,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot last year. We have a different club there, guys who can run and have confidence on the bases. They enjoy putting pressure on the other team.”
So there’s that.
▪ 9. Right fielder Mitch Haniger likely won’t end up leading all American League rookies in hits, runs, walks, home runs, RBIs and extra-base hits, but that’s what he was doing Wednesday. Only two Mariners have earned Rookie of the Year honors — Alvin Davis and Ichiro Suzuki — and Ichiro, whose 2001 debut was preceded by a stellar nine-year career in Japan, was anything but a conventional rookie.
If the Mariners go through too many more 2-8 stretches that find them failing to hold onto late leads of six runs and early leads of five runs, Haniger contending for Rookie of the Year and Paxton contending for the Cy Young Award will provide minimal solace.
▪ 10. Next time the Astros are in town, the bullpen won’t resemble the Wednesday night collection of no-names who followed command-challenged starter Yovani Gallardo, enabling the visitors to take two hours of unscheduled batting practice.
By the way, the Astros return for a weekend series beginning June 23. Plenty of good seats are available.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath