Seattle Mariners

Mariners’ Mitch Haniger joins MLB trend of slugging leadoff hitters

Mitch Haniger saves Mariners late: ‘I take pride in every facet of the game’

Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger scored the go-ahead run after a walk, stolen base and two incredible slides on the bases, and then dived for the final out in a 3-2 Mariners win over the Yankees. Highlights courtesy of Root Sports.
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Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger scored the go-ahead run after a walk, stolen base and two incredible slides on the bases, and then dived for the final out in a 3-2 Mariners win over the Yankees. Highlights courtesy of Root Sports.

Mitch Haniger is not to blame for this struggling Seattle Mariners offense, which has scored only more runs than the San Francisco Giants since July 1.

The Mariners mire, but Haniger keeps hitting, which really took off when Seattle moved him to the leadoff role.

Call this the Mariners hopping on an almost MLB-wide trend. More managers have swapped speedsters out of that leadoff role in exchange for sluggers, and the Mariners moving Haniger to leadoff and sliding Dee Gordon down the order is a prime example.

Since he slotted at leadoff last month, Haniger is batting .318 (42-for-132) with 23 runs scored, 14 doubles, two triples, six home runs and a .377 on-base percentage in 31 games since Aug. 9 – though he’s batted everywhere in the lineup except for the bottom three spots at some point this season.

Haniger’s had an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .968 at leadoff. The only players with at least 30 games batting leadoff with a higher OPS than Haniger are the Braves’ Ronald Acuna (1.123), the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts (1.064), the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter (.978), and Haniger’s just ahead of the Indians’ Francisco Lindor (.874)..

“He’s showing that he’s a good all-around player,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. “We get all excited about his bat and the power and the quality at-bats, but he can defend, he can throw, he runs the bases well …

“He’s a heck of a player.”

Haniger roped a leadoff double to lead off their eventual 8-2 victory over the Angels on Thursday; since Aug. 4, only Oakland’s Matt Chapman and the Dodgers’ Justin Turner have hit more doubles than Haniger.

Actually, Haniger’s 61 extra-base hits this season are the most by a Mariners outfielder since Raul Ibanez had 69 in 2008.

Not that Gordon wasn’t a dynamic leadoff hitter for the Mariners … early in the season, at least, when he was hitting .353 more than a month in with his new team. He could get away with only getting on base by hitting because he was hitting a lot.

But even then, when Gordon was at his best, his on-base percentage was .375 after May 8. Now it’s at .290 because he so rarely draws a walk.

Haniger for the season has a .361 on-base percentage, and leads the Mariners in walks.

The Mariners sacrifice speed, but this gets Haniger the chance for as many at-bats as possible, which is why moving middle-of-the-order hitters to leadoff has become so appealing.

Leadoff hitters account for a higher percentage of all MLB home runs (11.5 percent) this year than any of the past 30 seasons, according to Leadoff hitters also account for the lowest percentage of stolen bases (21.4 percent) in that same time span.

Haniger still has eight stolen bases this year, including one that set up the game-winning run against the Yankees on Sunday. And Haniger’s 10 outfield assists only trails the Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi (11) for most in the American League.

“I take pride in every facet of the game,” Haniger said. “Defense,offense, base-running – everything. It’s something that I was lucky enough to learn from some really good coaches growing up in high school and college and I was taught the game the right way.”

Injury updates

Servais told reporters on Friday that left-hander James Paxton is feeling better while recovering from pneumonia in Seattle and that the Mariners’ ace could join the team as early as Sunday in Anaheim.

Paxton will likely pitch a bullpen session and recover after that before making his next start.

Right-hander Felix Hernandez, recovering from hamstring tightness, threw in Seattle on Friday. Servais said he expects Hernandez to rejoin the team sometime in Houston or Dallas during this road trip, but he wasn’t certain if he would start before they return home on Sept. 24.

On tap

Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (2-3, 5.31 ERA) will start against Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney (9-9, 3.98 ERA) at 6:07 p.m. Saturday at Angel Stadium. The game will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677; Twitter: @TJCotterill

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