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June 9, 2011 at 8:51 AM

Miguel Olivo delivering above and beyond from non-traditional power spot during Mariners revival

Six weeks and two days ago, the Mariners arrived in Detroit a last-place team sporting a record of 8-15. The offense, with a couple of rare exceptions, was failing to average even three runs per game.
Today, the Mariners return to Comerica Park with a 32-30 record, in second place and trailing the AL West leading Texas Rangers by only 2 1/2 games. In 39 games since beginning that initial series in Detroit, the Mariners have gone 24-15, thanks largely to some outstanding pitching.
The pitching has been so good that the slowly-improving offense doesn’t need to score a whole bunch of runs to win. In fact, the Mariners are now 17-2 since starting that first series in Detroit in games where they score at least four runs.
Seattle’s only losses during that stretch were a pair of blown saves by Brandon League in which the Mariners entered the final inning with a lead.
The Mariners are 7-13 over the same stretch when they don’t score at least four, regardless of how well the pitching has sometimes been. So, it’s been in the team’s best interest to reach the four-run plateau.
Leading the way offensively for the team over that stretch has been catcher Miguel Olivo.

Since the Mariners played their first game in Detroit on April 26 and began winning consistently for the first time all season, Olivo has hit for a .286 average, .333 on-base percentage, .524 slugging percentage and a .857 on-base-plus slugging percentage with six doubles, eight home runs and 26 runs batted in.
His .857 OPS and home run total over that stretch leads the team by a fairly big margin, ahead of Jack Cust and Adam Kennedy.
The Mariners hoped to get better offensive production from their catching position when they signed Olivo to a two-year deal last December. But they never imagined he’d be leading the club in the important power-hitting categories this late in the season. Never imagined he’d be leading a resurgence by the club to the point where it now has a shot at contending in the second week of June.
Olivo’s power surge and overall hitting has been a desperately needed boon for a team that – by design – lacks power in two traditional spots on the diamond. Ichiro in right field and Chone Figgins at third base, even when they’re doing what they are paid to by getting on base and scoring runs, lack the power typically found at those spots.
That requires the Mariners to find power at non-traditional positions if they are to field even a competent offense. And the catching position certainly qualifies as one where teams traditionally don’t have all that much power.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge said last night that he allowed Olivo to swing away in the 10th inning despite an obvious bunt situation with two on and none out. Part of that is the respect Wedge has for Olivo’s ability to bear down and focus in key situations.
“With the way Miggy’s been swinging the bat, and knowing he’s going to be aggressive, I gave him a chance to swing it and he came through for us,” Wedge told me. “He’s always been the type of guy that gets big hits. I’ve been on the other side of the field against him for a lot of years and he’s a step-up type player.”
And Olivo has stepped up for his team when it’s most needed. His head-first dive into first base for an infield hit in extra-innings against the Yankees has come to typify the scrappy attitude of the Mariners as they’ve clawed back into a race they were all-but-out of the last time they arrived in Detroit.
Sure, no coach would ever recommend a player dive into first. Even Wedge admitted he discourages it.
But Wedge also pointed out something that the naysayers and boxscores won’t tell you. That when a player is going about trying to win a game, he doesn’t have time to stop, think and weigh all the options beforehand. That, in the heat of the moment, when a player needs that base to secure a hit and set up a potential winning run, diving into first doesn’t always seem like a bad idea.
Whatever it takes, is the attitude.
“That’s what winners do,” Wedge said.
The Mariners haven’t had too many “winners” around here in quite a while. Not a collection of them at the same time, in any event.
It’s one thing to pad a record in September and finish with 85 wins when you’re comfortably ensconced in third place and no threat to make the playoffs. Quite another thing to stay within striking distance of the top.
The Mariners of 2009 managed to do that until late July. The current team is still about six weeks shy of that mark, though it hopes to keep things going quite a bit longer.
And to accomplish it, they’ll need to score at least four runs in most games. They will need Olivo to supply power from a non-traditional spot. Adam Kennedy is giving the team some power from another non-power spot at second base. Franklin Gutierrez hasn’t really done so yet from center field, though his double last night was encouraging.
Make no mistake: without Olivo, this team might be dead. Those four-run games would be happening a lot less frequently.
It would help immensely if the power spots that aren’t supplying power – third and right field – could actually do more to get on base and show off speed. Ichiro put some better swings on the ball last night in again going hitless. Figgins lined a clean single and also worked a walk.
It’s a start. But the team needs a whole lot more.
Because Olivo carrying the load is a nice bonus for any team to have from the catching position. And just like the stellar starting pitching, it would be a shame for that Olivo factor to be wasted.

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