The Seattle Mariners (23-26) avoided a series sweep with a 7-4 win over Minnesota on Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park.
Here are three takeaways from the win.
1. KIKUCHI QUALITY AGAIN
How has rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi adjusted to pitching in the majors? He has tossed five consecutive quality starts after a Mariners loss, and Sunday afternoon snapped a three-game Seattle skid against the Twins.
“He’s really adjusted well,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’re in the middle to end of May, and already he’s a guy, that can take the ball and stop this losing streak. He’s very competitive.
“He takes all of the information in that he’s getting from our advance scouts, pitching coach, catcher, and putting it all together. And, I’ve said from Day 1, Yusei Kikuchi is a learner. He’s continuing to learn and it’s fun to watch.”
Kikuchi (3-1, 3.43 ERA) posted his fourth consecutive quality start overall against the Twins, completing six innings while allowing three runs (one earned) on five hits, striking out six and walking two on 93 pitches.
Kikuchi observed Minnesota’s success against Mariners pitchers during the first three games of the series, during which the Twins tallied 36 runs. But, he used his fastball-slider combination to keep Minnesota’s explosive offense in check.
“The past three days I saw them as a hot-hitting team that is really strong against the fastball,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak. “My strong point is actually my fastball, too. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to throw it. I was just trying to overwhelm them more with my fastball tonight.
“Most of my strikeouts were actually on my slider today, but that was really well setup with my fastball. I was able to throw it inside on them. Even if it wasn’t a strike, I was able to set up my slider really well using my fastball.”
2. EXCELLENT ENCARNACION
Encarnacion’s three-run shot off Twins reliever Trevor May provided a floundering Seattle bullpen a four-run cushion in the seventh.
After Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach drew back-to-back walks with two outs in the inning, Encarnacion crushed May’s 2-2 curveball to center to make it 7-3.
Encarnacion is tied with Vogelbach with a team-leading 13 home runs this season, which also ranks tied for third in the American League. The Mariners join Houston as the only two teams in the AL with a pair of players who have 13 or more homers.
“I feel great at the plate,” Encarnacion said. “I’m seeing the ball good. I’m looking for my pitch and swinging at my pitch. That’s where I want to be right now and continue to do it.”
Encarnacion also made a pair of impressive plays at first base. In the first, he stretched to grab an errant throw from Kikuchi. C.J. Cron was initially called safe, but replay review ruled that Encarnacion kept his foot on the bag long enough to record the out.
That play, and a diving grab he made in the middle of the infield in the second, helped Kikuchi work a pair of 1-2-3 innings.
“The whole thing with (Encarnacion), he’s so in tune to the game,” Servais said. “He’s played a lot of baseball obviously, at the major league level. But, his instincts are outstanding.
“Anticipating where guys are going to hit the ball. How to position himself. You watch the little things he does, even running the bases, for a guy that’s been around as long as he has. It’s just really neat to watch.”
Encarnacion also singled and doubled, and recorded back-to-back three-hit games Saturday and Sunday for the first time this season and sixth in his career.
Mitch Haniger and Daniel Vogelbach hit back-to-back home runs to give the Mariners the lead for good in the fifth. It was the fifth time this season Seattle has hit back-to-back homers.
Shorstop J.P. Crawford led off the inning with a double, and Haniger knocked him in on a two-out, two-run homer to center. Haniger’s homer was his 12th of the season, and tied the game at 3-3.
Vogelbach promptly followed with a solo shot to right center to give the Mariners the lead. Vogelbach hit safely in five of the six games he played in during the homestand, including homering in four of the five games.
“It was really big,” Servais said of the momentum swing in the inning. “Certainly Haniger’s home run gets us right there. Vogey jumps on another one. He continues to swing the bat well. Really important. We just hadn’t played well the first three games of the series, and the guys were locked in today.”
The Mariners have scored 137 of their 258 runs this season via the long ball, and are 16-8 in games when they hit three or more homers.