Seattle Mariners

Mariners knew infield defense would be a challenge. It has been, but players are looking to grow

Dylan Moore fields ground balls during Mariners Fan Fest at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, March 23, 2019.
Dylan Moore fields ground balls during Mariners Fan Fest at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

What happened in the ninth inning Saturday night at T-Mobile Park was an anomaly, Seattle Mariners veteran Jay Bruce says.

With two outs in the ninth inning, and the Mariners holding onto a four-run lead, rookie third baseman Dylan Moore recorded three consecutive errors.

The Boston Red Sox capitalized with three runs, and it was only after right-hander Nick Rumbelow struck out Xander Bogaerts for the final out, not allowing the ball to be put into play, that the Mariners could breathe, escaping with a 6-5 win.

“That stuff almost never happens,” Bruce said.

Bruce, who is one of the Mariners’ oldest players at 31, would know. He’s played major-league baseball since 2008.

What does happen though, Bruce acknowledges, are errors. And, for the Mariners, there have been an unusual amount early on.

“There obviously are going to be some situations that you would have liked to see be more crisp in the early goings here, but we work,” Bruce said. “We go out there and we practice and we’re a group of guys who take a lot of pride in both sides of the ball.

“Defense and base running and little things like that have never been valued more in the game. So, I think it’s very important that we continue to have a focus on that, and that’s how we’re going to win games.”

Including Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Red Sox, the Mariners have committed nine errors in six games, and all nine have come from the infield — Moore with three, Bruce with two at first base, shortstop Tim Beckham with two, and Ryon Healy with two while playing third.

The last time the Mariners opened their season with nine or more errors in their first six games was 1998, when they had 10.

“We certainly have areas of growth there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We knew it was going to be a challenge for us early on with our infield defense. It has been.”

The Mariners recorded at least one error per game through the first five, in part because of some players shifting outside of their primary positions.

“It’s a very fast game as it is, and mistakes heighten a lot of those things,” Healy said.

Longtime third baseman Kyle Seager (left hand) was placed on the 60-day injured list Saturday, as he continues to cover from surgery. He has been out since early March, which has forced the Mariners to try different infield combinations, including having Moore enter at third mid-game some days.

In four seasons in the minor leagues Moore, who was making his first career major-league start Saturday, logged most of his inning at shortstop (1,387 1/3), first base (791) and second base (726 1/3). He played 536 1/3 innings in 69 games at third. Moore won Seattle’s super utility job this spring.

“He’ll learn from it, and we’re going to give him opportunities to continue to play and go out there, but there’s nothing you can say,” Servais said. “You feel bad for him. It’s baseball. The ball has a way of finding you. It doesn’t back off.

“And the next time he’s out there, good chance the first ball is going to be hit at him. And he’ll catch it and he’ll throw it over and it’ll be fine. It’s part of the game.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the infielders have also had to make adjustments. Beckham is new to the Mariners this season, and second baseman Dee Gordon is back to starting there after spending about half of his 2018 season in center field, before Robinson Cano’s suspension.

Healy, who was the club’s everyday first baseman last season, but spent significant time at third base in two seasons with the Oakland A’s before arriving in Seattle, has logged most of his innings at third to begin the season.

And Bruce, who has played more than 1,400 games in his career as an outfielder, has played significantly more first base to open 2019. Including Sunday’s start, he’s played just 41 games at the position in 12 seasons.

“The adjustments are definitely tough, and I think that the people who have the highest expectations for us is us,” Bruce said. “I think that we want to go out there and be perfect, and we’re doing everything we can daily to make sure to speed up that process, and get that learning curve out of the way.”

Servais said the infielders will continue to work with coach Perry Hill to iron out the early miscues.

“Perry Hill is one of the best in the game for a long time, and he takes it very personal,” Servais said. “Perry was the first one in here this morning watching video, and we’re going to continue to work and get better.”

‘WE’VE ALL HAD THAT GAME’

Servais said Sunday he was impressed with the positive support teammates, especially veteran players, gave Moore after his error-riddled inning.

“You play this game long enough, you are going to have that game,” Servais said. “We’ve all had that game.”

For Servais, a former major-league catcher, the game he remembers came in Triple-A, when he recorded three passed balls in an inning.

“It was a left-handed pitcher with a nasty split finger that came out like a knuckle ball, and I missed it,” he said.

Servais said the best thing Moore can do after Saturday night is shake off the outing and show resilience.

“This game is about perseverance,” Servais said. “Can you overcome adversity? That really defines your career.

“A lot of guys can come up and make a splash that everybody gets all excited about, but as soon as adversity hits, what happens? That’s where you find out a lot about people. That’s when your character shows up.”

STRICKLAND’S LAT STRAIN ‘SEVERE’

Mariners closer Hunter Strickland could be out “for up to a couple months,” Servais said.

Strickland was pulled with tightness in his right shoulder after giving up the go-ahead three-run home run against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of Friday night’s loss.

He was placed on the 10-day injured list Saturday afternoon with a right lat strain, but is now expected to miss more time.

“He tried to tough it out and pitch through something the other night that wasn’t right,” Servais said. “So, he will be down for a little bit.”

With Strickland out, Servais said the Mariners will likely close games by committee.

“We’ll just go with the same plan like we (Saturday) last night,” Servais said. “Try to match up the best we can and put the right guys in there. It will be a different guy at the end of the game almost every night, unless somebody just takes it and runs with it.”

KIKUCHI RELEASES STATEMENT

Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi released a statement through the organization Saturday night about his father.

“I learned today that my father, Yuji Kikuchi, passed away following a long and valiant battle with cancer,” the statement reads. “During my recent visit to Japan, my father expressed his desire for me to remain focused on baseball and to help my team win.

“Although difficult, I will honor his wishes and dedicate the rest of this season to him.”

Servais said Kikuchi will make his scheduled start Thursday on the road against the Chicago White Sox.

“It’s hard, it’s really hard for players, and sometimes we get caught up into thinking these guys are bigger than,” Servais said. “They’re human. They have families and it is very hard. I think in Yusei’s situation, he’s handling it as best he can.”

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