PEORIA, Ariz. — This is what the Mariners wanted to see from Nathan Karns and what they want to keep seeing from Robinson Cano.
Karns worked six solid innings Monday in his final extended start when the Mariners rallied for a 6-4 victory over a Kansas City split squad at Peoria Stadium.
"It was much appreciated to come out and do what I did today," said Karns, who learned earlier in the day that he’d beaten out James Paxton for the final spot in the rotation despite a rocky spring.
"I wanted to have a good positive one before the season started. This is just something I can build off of."
Cano hit another homer, his seventh of the spring, and it was a another boomer.
"Wow, that was a bomb," manager Scott Servais said. "I know the wind’s blowing, but the balls that he and (Nelson) Cruz hit today…”
Yep, Cruz also had an impressive blast, but it was minor-league infielder Brock Hebert, on a one-day promotion, who had the decisive blow — a two-run homer in the seventh.
The result was a fifth straight victory, which lifted the Mariners to 15-12-2 with four games remaining in their Cactus League season.
The key was Karns, who had give up 15 runs (12 earned) in his previous 16 innings. He gave up four in six innings against the Royals, but two were unearned and another scored largely due to an error.
"Much better," he said. "I felt like a pitcher out there."
It didn’t start well. Alcides Escobar whacked Karns’ first pitch over head of center fielder Leonys Martin for a triple. Escobar scored on Kendrys Morales’ one-out grounder to deep second.
The Royals (13-18) extended their lead to 3-0 in the third inning after Clint Barmes led off with a line single to center. He scored when third baseman Kyle Seager threw wild to first after fielding Escobar’s high chop.
Escobar ended up at second on the error and scored when Alex Gordon flicked a soft single into short left field.
The Mariners got two runs back in the fourth inning.
Cruz led off by crushing a 91-mph fastball for a homer and, after an error and a walk, Martin delivered a two-out RBI single.
Cano pulled the Mariners even with a one-out homer in the fifth. Ketel Marte added an RBI single later in the inning for a 4-3 lead, but the Mariners missed the chance for a big inning by leaving the bases loaded.
An error by minor-league shortstop Rayder Ascanio enabled the Royals to pull even in the sixth, but that only set the stage for Hebert, who rocked his game-winner to the right field.
PLAY OF THE GAME: Center fielder Leon Landry, after replacing Leonys Martin, robbed Clint Barmes of extra bases with one out in the seventh inning.
Landry ranged far into the left-center gap and made a diving backhanded catch. He is likely to open the season at Double-A Jackson.
PLUS: Robinson Cano hit the ball hard in all three at-bats. He had a line single in the first inning and a sharp grounder to second in the third before hitting a homer in the fifth…Joaquin Benoit, Vidal Nuno and Joel Peralta each pitched one scoreless inning after starter Nathan Karns departed…Ketel Marte continued a recent surge by going 2-for-2 with a walk. He is 10-for-20 in his last seven games.
MINUS: Karns allowed leadoff hits in each of the first three innings…shortstop Rayder Ascanio, after replacing Marte, made a wild throw after fielding a routine grounder to start the sixth. It led to an unearned run, which tied the game…Dae-Ho Lee was hitless is two at-bats, which dropped his average to .239 (11-for-46).
STAT PACK: Kansas City was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. The Mariners were just 2-for-12 and stranded 11 runners…Karns did not have a walk in his six innings. Neither did any of the three relievers.
QUOTABLE: There’s already a growing belief that utilityman Luis Sardinas is the best defensive first baseman on the projected roster. (OK, it’s not the highest bar; Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee are know for their bat.)
Sardinas played three final innings at first base and looked smooth.
"This guy, there is no panic in his game," manager Scott Servais said. "He’s just out there having a good time. Kind of like playing a pickup game. That’s how he goes about it, but he looks very natural. No doubt."
UP NEXT: Right-hander Taijuan Walker makes his final spring start when the Mariners play a Cleveland split squad at 6:05 p.m. Tuesday in Goodyear.
Walker is lined up to start the Mariners’ home opener on April 8 against Oakland at Safeco Field.
Tuesday marks the Mariners’ final spring game against an American League opponent. They close their Cactus League schedule by playing San Diego on Wednesday and Colorado on Friday and Saturday.
The Indians list right-hander Josh Tomlin as their starting pitcher. The game will not be televised by Root Sports Northwest but can be seen through the MLB.tv subscription package.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners