Seattle Mariners

With an eye on improving defense, Mariners shake up their outfield positions

Seattle Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith, right, reacts after he dove for, but couldn’t catch, a single hit by Houston Astros’ Josh Reddick during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Monday, June 3, 2019, in Seattle. At left, right fielder Mitch Haniger reaches for the ball to make the throw.
Seattle Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith, right, reacts after he dove for, but couldn’t catch, a single hit by Houston Astros’ Josh Reddick during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Monday, June 3, 2019, in Seattle. At left, right fielder Mitch Haniger reaches for the ball to make the throw. AP

Mallex Smith in left field, Mitch Haniger in center and Domingo Santana in right. That’s how the Seattle Mariners’ outfield will look for the next stretch of games, in an effort to counter season-long defensive issues. Entering Wednesday, the club had committed an MLB-leading 69 errors in 64 games. Of those, 15 have come from the outfield.

“We’ll see what happens,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I don’t think any of the guys had an issue with it. ... I don’t think it’s something we’re going to switch back and forth every other day. I want to see how this looks.”

Santana has played most of his games in left field this season, departing from regular appearances in right during the first four years of his MLB career. The transition this season has often left Santana too far out of position on the run, and unable to track down fly balls that would generally be outs.

His nine errors are tied for second-most on the team — behind infielder Tim Beckham, who continues to lead the majors with 13. Santana has more errors than any other outfielder in baseball, and a .920 fielding percentage.

“I actually think Domingo, the last three or four days, has played pretty well in left field,” Servais said. “His reads have been better, his first steps have been better. ..

“His first step has been much more on time and a little bit quicker. He’s been making the plays out there. But, just a combination of the whole thing I want to take a (different) look at it.”

Smith, whose three errors are tied for the most among center fielders, has shown improvement defensively since returning from a stint with Triple-A Tacoma last month, but it’s still a work in progress. He’s come up short diving for some balls in recent games, and hasn’t read some others well.

He logged significant innings in all three outfield positions with Tampa Bay last year before returning to his regular role in center in his first season with the Mariners.

Haniger has played most of his career in right field, and is consistent there, committing just one error in 523 1/3 innings this season — and only 17 in nearly 3,000 innings his career. That’s why Servais feels comfortable moving him to center.

“Domingo has been a right fielder predominantly most of his career. Mallex has played all three (positions). Haniger is very comfortable in center field,” Servais said. “I thought I’d mix it up a little bit, looking for a little bit better results.”

BAUTISTA IS BACK

Seattle reactivated right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista from the 60-day injured list Wednesday. His first appearance will be his first of the season, after straining his right pectoral late in spring training.

He appeared on rehab assignment with both high Class-A Modesto and Triple-A Tacoma, and posted a 2.57 ERA in five games and seven innings with the Rainiers. His powerful fastball often reached triple digits during his stay.

“Anxious to see him out there,” Servais said. “He had a really good spring training for us, and got shut down right at the end of spring. He’s healthy. He’s ready to go. He’s throwing the ball pretty well, and throwing it hard, I know that. He does that regularly, so hopefully it’s a lot of strikes.”

Servais said the Mariners focused on helping Bautista get his secondary pitch — his slider — working well in spring training, and saw some successes there.

“I think you’ll see pretty good usage of the slider in different counts, to kind of go back-and-forth with the fastball,” Servais said. “From some of the information that our analysts had, it was a pitch we thought, by using it more, it could really help his results getting people off the fastball a bit.

“Even though he throws it that hard, as you often see in the big leagues, it’s not how hard you throw, it’s what else you’ve got to go with it. Hopefully the combination works well.”

Right-hander Andrew Moore, who started his first game since 2017 in Tuesday’s loss to Houston, was returned to Double-A Arkansas in a corresponding move.

KIKUCHI RETURNS SATURDAY

Rookie left-hander Yusei Kikuchi returns to the starting rotation Saturday in Anaheim after being skipped in his last start to rest his arm, which will bump Wade LeBlanc’s scheduled start back to Sunday.

“I think hopefully just giving him a little down time to get his stuff back (will help him adjust),” Servais said. “Yusei has a good routine. ... He’s throwing a bullpen today. I think he feels fine physically, but getting his pitches working like they should be is really important for him. His slider has not been as effective the last couple times out, so hopefully he gets that going again. I just think skipping the start will really help him.”

Servais said the Mariners will continue to stick to their plan of giving Kikuchi abbreviated starts or possibly skips several weeks apart throughout the season to preserve his arm in his first MLB season.

After Kikuchi’s first abbreviated start back in April, Servais said he saw an uptick in velocity during the next outing.

“I thought it looked really good when he came back from that abbreviated start, just the one inning he had that time,” Servais said. “We’ve seen Yusei. He’ll sit 91-93, then all the sudden there’s two strikes or it’s a big at-bat, and he’ll bump up to 94-95. He’s got a little bit extra in the tank that he can go get. That maybe hasn’t been the case the past couple times out.”

INJURY UPDATES

Outfielder Braden Bishop was placed on the 10-day IL with a lacerated spleen about two hours before game time. He left midway through Tuesday night’s game with cramping.

Outfielder Mac Williamson, recently signed as a free agent after refusing an assignment to the minors by the San Francisco Giants, was selected from Triple-A in a corresponding move. He hit .118 in 51 at-bats with the Giants and owns a lifetime slash line of .207/.283/.359 in 357 career at-bats.

Closer Hunter Strickland (lat) and starter Felix Hernandez (lat) have both thrown bullpen sessions, and are scheduled to throw again Thursday.

Strickland will then throw a live BP, likely with Tacoma, on Sunday. Hernandez will also likely throw a live BP with Tacoma in the next several days.

Second baseman Dee Gordon (wrist), first baseman Ryon Healy (back) and shortstop J.P. Crawford (ankle) are on track to head out on rehab assignments this weekend, possibly in Modesto or Tacoma.

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.
  Comments