Rookie Mitch Haniger extended his hitting streak to 13 games with three hits and four RBI, and the Mariners beat the Marlins 10-5 on Wednesday for their fifth win in six games.
Maybe it’s because Jerry Dipoto is so verbose and the words come so easy from him. And when he describes a decision, a move or a choice, he does so with such conviction and charisma that it’s easy to buy into what he’s saying.
And yet, when he started extolling the playing virtues of Mitch Haniger from the day the Mariners acquired him — the night before Thanksgiving — in a trade with Arizona in which the marquee principles were Jean Segura and Taijuan Walker, it was initially met with skepticism. Haniger wasn’t considered a major prospect.
“For us, Haniger became a critical element of the trade,” Dipoto said in December.
Mariners @ Oakland, 7:05 p.m., ROOT Sports
Later in the offseason when Dipoto traded Seth Smith and made it very clear that Haniger — a 26-year old outfielder with 34 games of big-league experience — would be the projected every day right fielder, it seemed a little overly optimistic considering the Mariners were a team trying to win in 2017.
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Who the heck is Mitch Haniger?
Well, he’s been the Mariners’ best player 16 games into the season. That status was solidified in Wednesday afternoon’s 10-5 win over the Marlins that closed out a nine-game homestand of emotional ebb and flow. After a dismal 2-8 start to the season, Seattle righted itself, going 5-1 in the last six games to improve to 7-9.
Haniger went 3 for 4 Wednesday, reaching base five times and driving in four runs when the Mariners needed them most.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” manager Scott Servais said. “We dug ourselves more than a little bit of a hole, but you scratch and claw and climb out of it. You never know what can happen.”
Admittedly, Servais didn’t exactly know how Haniger would fare as an everyday player when they acquired him. But he’s been a huge lift.
For the season, Haniger’s batting .323 (20 for 62) with a .432 on-base percentage, and a .597 slugging percentage with five doubles, four homers, 11 walks, 15 runs scored and 15 runs batted in.
“You trust the people that put trades together, but nobody really knows until you really get around the players and get to know them and how they react to certain situations,” Servais said.
In the second inning with the Mariners trailing 2-0, Haniger stepped to the plate with bases loaded. He slapped a 1-1 fastball into right field to score a pair of runs to tie the score at 2. It extended his hitting streak to 13 games, longest in the majors.
In the fourth inning with the Mariners up 4-3, Haniger broke the game open with runners on first and second. After falling behind 1-2, he worked the count to full, refusing to chase a pair of sliders. It forced reliever Dustin McGowan to throw a fastball in the zone. Haniger hammered it off the wall in left-center, missing a homer by inches for a two-run double and a 6-3 lead.
“Mitch has really played outstanding,” Servais said. “I can’t say enough about him and the quality of at-bats, the walks, the big hits, working into his counts, understanding the situation. It’s been huge for us. It’s really been a boost.”
Haniger will not give an at-bat away. He is relentless in working every pitch and forcing every count to go multiple pitches. The grinding mentality becomes more apparent when he gets behind in counts. It’s not typical of most players with less than 50 games of big-league experience.
“I’ve gotten better at it over the years,” he said of his at-bats. “It’s something I try to do now on every single pitch — have a purpose, have a plan and try to win each pitch. Over time, I got better and better and smarter.”
It’s earned the respect of his teammates.
“He’s taking advantages of his opportunities,” said Jarrod Dyson. “He’s making a name for himself. “
Haniger made his big-league debut as a late-season call up with the Diamondbacks. He showed hints of the potential, hitting .229 (25 for 109) with two doubles, a triple, five homers and 17 RBI, but Haniger said, “I really underperformed and I’m a lot more capable that what I showed.”
But it’s still the same mindset at the plate.
“I felt like my approach was good, but I felt like I was just off a little just as far as feeling my swing,” he said. “I couldn’t really get in a groove last year. Nothing really has changed drastically. You go through these ups and downs as a hitter. It’s just about minimizing the downs and riding out the highs.”
Seattle hitters showed a willingness to work counts against Marlins starter Edinson Volquez and the relievers that followed, drawing 10 walks to go with 11 hits. That allowed Felix Hernandez to give up an avalanche of hits and still make him a winner. Hernandez worked 6 1/3 innings, giving up four runs on 12 hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Facing an aggressive swinging lineup, Hernandez gave up four straight singles in the top of the first to fall behind. The inning could have been worse for Hernandez if not for a key double play on a fly ball to left field. Jarrod Dyson’s perfect throw to catcher Mike Zunino beat Martin Prado, who was tagged on the play, by four steps. Hernandez allowed another RBI single before finally ending the inning. The first inning totals: eight batters, 22 pitches, five singles, a hit by pitch and two run scored.
“You were like, ‘Wow, how are we going to get through this,’ ” Servais said. “But he’s been through it. He’s a veteran. I trust him and he hung in there.”
Hernandez didn’t panic. He just tried to use the Marlins’ aggressiveness to his advantage.
“I was able to still stay in the game and the offense came through,” he said. “I knew I didn’t have my best stuff, but I was going to battle and stay out there as long as I can.”