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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

April 15, 2013 at 6:00 AM

All told, the Mariners holding own despite plenty of initial setbacks

Kyle Seager has had a rough start hitting-wise, but started to pick things up over the weekend against the Texas Rangers. Photo Credit: AP

Kyle Seager has had a rough start hitting-wise, but started to pick things up over the weekend against the Texas Rangers. Photo Credit: AP

ADDITIONAL NOTE: If you missed my Talkin’ Baseball segment on Sports Radio KJR this morning, you can click on the box below and hear the replay.

You’ve got to hand it to the Mariners as they enjoy their first off-day in two weeks this morning. Given everything that’s gone wrong this early season, their record could be much worse than the 6-8 mark they came out of yesterday with.

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That was a hard-earned split versus the Texas Rangers and neither team gave anything away to the other. The Mariners have faced three pretty good clubs to start the season and had they not botched that series with the Astros, we’d all be feeling a lot better about 2013 right about now.

But they did botch the Astros series, so their record reflects it. All told, it could be going a lot worse.

For one thing, a week ago we were pretty concerned about the starting rotation. Right now, though, this third time through it, things are looking a lot more stable.

Felix Hernandez is still rounding into his old self and I’ve yet to see the dominant ace we witnessed for much of last summer. The team needs Hernandez to get his stuff up to A-grade pretty quickly these opening two months so we’ll see what he does from here.

After that, Hisashi Iwakuma has been about as good as any team needs a No. 2 starter to be.

And other than his opening game in Oakland — when he complained of the baseball slipping out of his hand — Joe Saunders has been pretty solid as the No. 3 guy.

We finally saw something from Brandon Maurer yesterday that looked like his spring training performances, so that’s a bit of a relief. He doesn’t have to win every time out. He just can’t get blown up by the fourth or fifth inning every time, either.

As for the fifth spot, we’ll see how Aaron Harang does. It’s the fifth spot, so perfection isn’t what’s being sought. Just a decent five or six innings.

Still, compared to where things were a week ago, this is looking a whole lot better.

As for the hitting, there isn’t much any team can do with three of the top bats in a lineup missing in action.

The Mariners hopefuly get Michael Morse back this week because they really need another bat in the middle of the order. Franklin Gutierrez also has to get back on the field. The inability of Gutierrez to stay healthy as a full-time player has to be addressed by the ballclub at some point — and probably should have been this past winter. I would have liked to see Michael Bourn added as the team’s full-time center fielder and leadoff man but that was apparently a price the Mariners were unwilling to pay and now, they will have to live with that decision.

So far, it’s been tough living with it. Gutierrez has looked good when he’s on the field, but simply can’t be used too many days in a row. That’s not a problem when Michael Saunders is healthy and can platoon in center a bit, but it makes Gutierrez a real liability if Saunders is out with any type of an injury like he is now.

Going forward this year and beyond, the Mariners will have to decide who their full-time center fielder is going to be. If it’s Saunders, then great, but if it’s Gutierrez, he’d better be able to demonstrate he can play five or six days per week at the price his option for 2014 is going to cost.

Overall, if the Mariners can get out of April and May playing .500 ball with the schedule they face and all the early season adversity, it will leave them well-positioned heading into the warmer months.

This is a team still struggling to find an identity and one of the most positive signs that came out of the weekend was the contribution by Kyle Seager, one of the young bats this team needs to get going as we head into Week 3. It’s been all vets so far on the offensive front, with Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez playing far more than expected early on because of all the injuries. Neither Bay, nor Ibanez is going to carry this team playing six days per week any more and Kendrys Morales can’t do it all by himself.

That means, the young players — Seager, Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero — have to kick it into gear and help the lineup out with bats that are supposedly what this team was being built around. With some of the bigger bats slowed by injury, the young core has to pick up the slack. If they do, the Mariners should be able to ride out this early season crisis as bodies start to get healthy again.

They are not out of the woods yet. But the improved pitching we saw the latter part of the week and weekend has enabled them to at least get their compass pointed in a direction that might help them find a clearing at some point.

There is a lot of baseball still to be played. The Mariners, for now, have to make sure they don’t let themselves get buried too deep early on. Things don’t get any easier with the Detroit Tigers coming to town. And they won’t get any easier in the bullpen with Stephen Pryor likely to miss some time with that upper body injury.

Nobody knows what starting pitcher Harang will bring to the table tomorrow. But once the front end of the rotation gets back out there, the offense will have to start doing more from the younger end of the spectrum to give this team a chance. That’s all this team can do right now. Get production from the guys still out there playing until some of the injured bodies return.

 

Comments | More in performances | Topics: kyle seager; justin smoak; jesus montero; dustin ackley

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