Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais has been consistent in his opinion of a newer MLB trend. He likes the “opener” concept, and based on Sunday’s positive results in Anaheim, it’s a strategy the Mariners will continue to test as the season progresses.
“I think in the right spot, based on your personnel, it can be very valuable,” Servais said recently. “There’s a chance we continue to do that with a few guys.”
The Mariners (28-41) have used a true opener in three games this season — not including rookie starter Yusei Kikuchi’s abbreviated start in April — all in the past week to help break up a starting rotation that currently includes four lefties. Has the approach worked? Can it help the Mariners win more games this summer?
The first two tries were shaky, and both resulted in losses, but both relievers were making their first career starts. Cory Gearrin got the nod in last week’s series opener against Houston, serving up three earned runs in one inning. Austin Adams opened the finale, allowing three earned runs in 2/3 of an inning.
In each of those outings, the second pitcher worked deep into the game with reasonable pitch counts. Wade LeBlanc tossed a season-high eight innings in the first game, allowing one earned run on three hits. Tommy Milone tossed 5 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on three hits.
Servais finally saw a more complete result between opener and second pitcher Sunday in Anaheim. Adams pitched a scoreless first, striking out both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. LeBlanc then tossed the next six innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits.
“I thought he was much more under control today,” Servais told reporters in Anaheim. “I think by design he wanted to slow it down a little bit, and he executed his pitches today, which was great to see. One inning, you get him out of there, turn it over to Wade, and Wade got on a nice roll.”
Servais has suggested Seattle could again turn to Adams, who has voiced intrigue about the strategy, or another reliever in upcoming games when LeBlanc or Milone start. Milone is scheduled to pitch Wednesday in Minnesota.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Adams said recently. “I’m not going to shy away from it. If they ask me to do it again, I’ll go out there and do it again.”
BACK IN FRONT
Home run numbers in the majors continue to climb at a rapid pace, and Seattle is back in front of the pack after clubbing a season-high six homers during Sunday afternoon’s series win in Anaheim.
The Mariners have 126 home runs entering Tuesday’s series opener in Minnesota, just ahead of their opponent. The Twins are second at 125.
Sunday’s six homers were enough to catapult the Mariners back into the top spot. Edwin Encarnacion and backup catcher Tom Murphy each hammered two, and Kyle Seager and Daniel Vogelbach added one each.
Encarnacion’s second blast was also the 400th of his career, making him the 56th player all-time, and third active player, to reach that benchmark of the more than 19,500 players that have reached the majors.
His team-high 20 homers this season also led the American League entering Monday.
“Everybody in our dugout knew what was going on and how important it was to him,” Servais said. “He’s just been a true professional since we got him. And I’m happy for him. It’s been unbelievable. He’s been on fire.
“He’s done it for a long time. It’s really the consistency, the longevity, staying on the field, staying on top of your game for as long as he has says a lot.”
The Mariners have homered in 58 of their 69 games this season, including their past 12 consecutive, and have launched multiple long balls in 34 games.
It was a given that the return of longtime Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager would offer a needed boost to Seattle’s defense — which still leads the majors with 71 errors — but his bat seems to be coming around, too.
Seager is slashing at .230/.338/.459 in 16 games since returning from the 60-day injured list with six extra-base hits, six RBIs, nine walks and 14 strikeouts. He notched his fifth multi-hit game of the season Sunday in Anaheim, and hit 3-for-8 with two homers and three RBIs in the final two games of the series against the Angels.
“Nice to see Seager get going,” Servais said. “I said to Vogey when he hit the last one out, ‘I’d love to see this guy get hot again.’ … His swings have been pretty good, pretty consistent, so hopefully he can continue it here on the rest of the road trip.”
Seager has 609 career RBIs, and is three away from tying Raul Ibanez (612) for sixth-most in Seattle’s franchise history.
TWO IN A ROW
The Mariners took two of three games from the Angels over the weekend to win their first series since sweeping Oakland in a two-game set on May 13-14. They had gone 0-6 in the series’ in between.
It was also their first series win of three or more games since they won three of four on their last trip to Anaheim between April 18-21.
With Tuesday’s opener in Minnesota, the Mariners have a chance to string together two consecutive wins since that two-game sweep of the A’s.