A couple of thoughts from Monday’s game:
- Michael Saunders‘ return is welcome for a number of reasons, but one that might be overlooked is that it adds some much-needed speed to what tends to be, in spots, an excruciatingly slow lineup.
Saunders made a splashy return with a home run on his first swing last night, but I was more taken with his sprint around the bases in the sixth to score on Kyle Seager’s triple. Saunders is a guy who could have 30-30 potential, and the Mariners really need that speed element, particularly with Franklin Gutierrez on the DL. Endy Chavez, Dustin Ackley and Brendan Ryan have decent speed, but Saunders is really their only stolen-base threat. In fact, the Mariners have just two players on their active roster with stolen bases, Saunders with three and Ryan with two. Their two other steals this season, one apiece, belong to Carlos Peguero (currently in Tacoma) and Gutierrez (on the DL).
The seven steals rank 30th — dead last — in the majors. They are tied for first in grounding into double plays, with 30 in 28 games. Not exactly the “Go-Go Mariners.”
- Eric Wedge raved about Justin Smoak’s double in the seventh, culminating an at-bat in which he fell behind 0-2, worked the count full, fouled off a pitch, and then hit it hard to left.
“I thought his last at-bat was maybe the best at-bat I’ve seen from him in long time,” Wedge said. “I loved how free and easy his swings were, I loved the way he saw the baseball, I loved the bat speed, the position he was in. There were a lot of good things for him to take from his AB.”
Smoak had two hits in the game, both with the bases empty. When he came up with two aboard in the fourth, however, Smoak popped up, continuing a trend of struggling with runners on base and in scoring position. Smoak is hitting .130 (3-for-23 with 11 strikeouts) with runners in scoring position, .121 (4-for-33 with 13 strikeouts) with men on base, and .279 (17-for-61 with 11 strikeouts) with the bases empty. All four of his extra-base hits (three doubles and a homer) have come with no one aboard.
- Another struggling hitter, Brendan Ryan, struck out with one out and two runners in scoring position in the fourth. But in the sixth, Wedge sacrificed two runners into scoring position for Ryan, who came through with an important RBI single to stretch a 3-2 lead to 4-2.
“That’s big,’’ Wedge said. “Brendan beats himself up; it’s Groundhog’s Day with that. Hopefully, at some point in his lifetime, he’ll get beyond that, but it was a big hit. Less is more for him up there. When he’s under control and quiet with his bat, he has a pretty good swing.”
Ryan, meanwhile, made numerous outstanding defensive plays to back Joe Saunders, including a couple he accomplished so smoothly it was hard to notice how difficult the play was. That is why it is so hard to keep him on the bench even when his average is hovering around .154. And why the Mariners are so invested in lifting it up to a respectable level.
- Jason Bay continued his hot hitting with three hits — his first three-hit game since Aug. 31, 2011 with the Mets. And the out might have been the hardest ball Bay hit all night, a smash right at third baseman Manny Machado. Bay is 7-for-14 over his past four games, and has a solid .790 OPS for the season (.367 OBP, .423 slugging). You’d have to say that so far, the Mariners made the right call in keeping Bay over Casper Wells, who has drifted to his fourth team, the Chicago White Sox, as he attempts to get out of DFA purgatory. But Bay is not ready to declare himself a cured hitter after his struggles in recent seasons.
“I feel pretty good and I’m getting results, and that’s nice,” he said after the game. “I’m hesitant to say everything is hunky dory. The moment you do in this game, it will knock you back down. I’m really trying to build every day, tweaking a few things. Some guys have gone down so I’m getting more consistent playing time and I’m able to put to use something things I’m working on, and I’m getting results.”
I’ll be curious to see if Bay gets more playing time even against righties, or if Wedge will stick with Raul Ibanez, mired at .161, to try to get him untracked. Tonight’s lineup against Baltimore right-hander Jason Hammel will be indicative.