Seattle Mariners

Mariners return home with a lot of offense. What we learned from the first month of the season?

Seattle Mariners' Ryon Healy, left, is congratulated by Dee Gordon after Healy hit a solo home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)
Seattle Mariners' Ryon Healy, left, is congratulated by Dee Gordon after Healy hit a solo home run in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

The Seattle Mariners lost one series this month.

That was against the reigning World Series champion Houston Astros. And with Sunday’s 10-4 win over the Cleveland Indians, the Mariners have won two series against a team that led the American League with 102 wins last season.

They also caught a glimpse of how dynamic their lineup can be.

The Mariners’ No. 9 hitter was Ryon Healy. And he hit two home runs on Sunday after his first in a Mariners uniform on Saturday.

Healy went 2-for-24 to start his Mariners tenure before heading to the disabled list with a sprained ankle suffered in a postgame workout.

“It got me hungry, to be honest,” Healy said of his DL stint on 710-AM radio after. He batted .271 with 25 home runs with the Athletics last year.

“I’m really excited to be back on the field and show these Seattle fans the kind of player that I am.”

They had two outs in the second inning, and then ripped four consecutive hits, kick-started by Healy’s double to the left-field wall and ending with Robinson Cano’s missile over the right-field wall to score five runs.

That’s called wall-to-wall hitting.

It’s the batting order the Mariners envisioned this offseason when they acquired Dee Gordon (who was 4-for-5) and Healy via trades and had all their pieces healthy for the first time when they began this series on Friday.

In their four games with their full lineup, the Mariners scored 32 runs (eight per game). And keep in mind, two of those games were against Carlos Carrasco and two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.

“It’s fun, it’s dangerous – 1-through-9,” Healy said. “I think we’re showing there’s really no holes in our lineup.”

In all, the Mariners finished their 10-game road trip with a 7-3 record and improved to 16-11.

This is the Mariners’ best start to a season since they were 17-10 in 2003.

Yet, Sunday wasn’t all about the lineup.

Former Gonzaga University pitcher Marco Gonzales pitched six innings for the second consecutive start, allowing six hits and two runs with four strikeouts.

But instead of let him try to become just the second Mariners starting pitcher to throw at least seven innings, Mariners manager Scott Servais pulled him after 89 pitches in favor of allowing Dan Altavilla to pitch for the first time since Thursday.

“We thought he did his job,” Servais told reporter afterward. “Pitched six innings and with an off day tomorrow we were able to go to the pen and keep those guys sharp as well.”

The Indians then cut the Mariners’ 6-2 lead to 6-4 after Dan Altavilla hit one batter and walked two others.

The Mariners almost escaped without damage when Ben Gamel dived toward the warning track in left field to catch Jose Ramirez’s line drive. But the ball dropped out of his glove when he landed after Ramirez was initially ruled out. So the Indians got two runs out of it.

Yes, it was a two-run game in the seventh inning.

Except Healy followed with a two-run homer and Ben Gamel drove in his first RBI of the season in the eighth and Mitch Haniger hit his 10th home run of the season in the ninth.

"Dee Gordon and Mitch Haniger — what a month," Servais said. "Hopefully that continues for a while.

"Great day offensively. But it starts on the mound and Marco Gonzales gave an outstanding effort again today. Maybe not quite as sharp as he was in Chicago the other day, but it was exactly what we needed."

Here’s three things to take away from the March/April that was for the Mariners:

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Seattle Mariners' Robinson Cano, right, celebrates with Kyle Seager after hitting a two-run home run off Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin in the second inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Big bats

The season started 1-2-3 – as in the Mariners top three in the order of Dee Gordon, Jean Segura and Robinson Cano doing a ton of damage.

Cano’s hit home run No. 100 for him in a Mariners uniform since signing with Seattle five years ago. He hit 204 homers in nine seasons with the Yankees.

Then Mitch Haniger got hot – and has stayed hot. His 10 home runs were tied for most in the majors with the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and the Yankees’ Didi Gregorius.

That’s a pace to hit 60 home runs if Haniger keeps this up for the rest of the season. And only Gregorius had more RBIs than Haniger’s 27, while only Gregorius, the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts and the Orioles’ Manny Machado had a better on-base plus slugging of 1.085.

Not bad from your No. 6 hitter.

And now they have their No. 9 hitter rolling.

Healy has a hit in each of his four games since returning from the DL – with the three home runs.

“He’s got power, no doubt,” Servais said. “When you start contributing like that, you feel like you’re part of the team. Any time you come to a new organization you want to show the guys you can be a big-time contributor. And hopefully this relaxes him and we continue to see those kids of swings from him going forward.”

The Mariners hit four home runs on Sunday, after they hit four home runs on Saturday, too, and two on Friday.

Sunday was the sixth time the Mariners have scored eight runs or more in a game.

“You can’t compare this lineup with any other right now,” Cano said. “We can face any ace in the league. Every batter right now is swinging good and hopefully that continues.”

How about bullpen?

Yeah, that’s been really good, too.

And the back end of it has been elite.

Edwin Diaz leads the major leagues with 11 saves in 11 opportunities. He’s allowed one run in 14 1/3 innings pitched. Oh, and he’s struck out 27.

And his hip attachment, Juan Nicasio, leads the majors with 10 holds.

If you’re counting, the Mariners’ biggest offseason acquisitions, Dee Gordon, Ryon Healy and Juan Nicasio have been big additions so far.

The rest of the bullpen?

James Pazos has seemed to figure things out over his past seven appearances, allowing no runs in 8 2/3 innings pitched. But Dan Altavilla has been hit and miss, throwing wildly on Sunday and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski has struggled against left-handed hitters.

But the bullpen did retire 21 consecutive batters over three games against the White Sox. And the bullpen has only earned two of the team’s losses (both charged to Altavilla).

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Settle Mariners starting pitcher Marco Gonzales delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Sunday, April 29, 2018, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Starter struggles

The new Marco Gonzales mentality: attack.

In the past he might have let up after a 5-0 lead and tried to locate, he said. Just don’t walk batters.

Now?

“I have to try to be aggressive and attack,” Gonzales said. “Going after them and not giving them a chance and get early strikes. That’s my game plan and I have to stick to that regardless of the score.”

And it’s a more competitive Gonzales. He sounded a bit peeved afterward that he didn’t get to pitch in the seventh inning. He had thrown 89 pitches through six.

“I wanted it,” he said. “Any time you start the game you want it to be your game. Skip’s decision. I honored that. And we got the win.”

But the Mariners remain one of four teams out of the 30 in the major leagues that haven’t had more than one starter pitch at least seven innings in a game. The Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers were the three other teams.

They knew their rotation would be their weakness, which is why they committed to an eight-man bullpen this offseason and have toyed with the idea of a six-man rotation.

Mike Leake pitched seven innings against the Indians on April 1.

That’s certainly not an indication of a good or bad start. But if their starters can get deeper into games, that’s going to save their bullpen over the long haul.

Look at what happened against the White Sox on Monday. Mike Leake lasted 3 1/3 innings after allowing eight runs and 12 hits, but Wade LeBlanc saved the day when he pitched the rest of the 4 2/3 innings of the game, allowing two runs.

The Mariners lost, 10-4, but the rest of their bullpen was more fresh the next two games. Edwin Diaz and Juan Nicasio combined for three saves and three holds over the Mariners’ next three wins.

They’d prefer to do that with their starter going longer distances.

And one to watch: Erasmo Ramirez. In his two starts since returning from the disabled list, he hasn’t had the velocity he displayed last year and he’s been tagged for seven home runs in 9 2.3 innings (10.24 ERA). If he doesn’t turn it around quick, the Mariners would have some decisions to make with him out of minor league options.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
@TJCotterill
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