PITTSBURGH — Shed Long batted first and played second in the Mariners’ series finale Thursday against the Pirates at PNC Park.
And there is at least a decent possibility that that is how Long opens the 2020 season — as Seattle’s regular leadoff hitter and second baseman.
Certainly there will be a lot to shake out in the offseason, but Long is looking more and more like a capable bat at the top of the lineup.
“I feel good there,” Long said this week. “It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that they trust me to be at the top of the lineup, to be the tone-setter to open the game, you know. It definitely feels good to have their trust with that. I’ve just got to keep building off that.”
Thursday was Long’s eighth start in the leadoff spot, and he came into the day with a hit in six straight games as the leadoff hitter, batting .393 (11 for 28) with two home runs, two doubles, five RBI and three runs scored.
Since his call-up in early September, he is hitting .326 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .937 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 43 at-bats.
Those numbers are likely unsustainable, but Long figures to be given every opportunity in spring training next year to become a regular in the lineup.
“He’s got pop in his bat,” manager Scott Servais said. “He can drive the ball. We’ve seen him take the ball out to the opposite field at our place, which is not easy to do at T-Mobile (Park). So he’s a threat at the top of the lineup who can hit a double or a home run.”
Clubs view the leadoff role differently these days, and while on-base percentage is certainly important, having a guy with some power at the top of the lineup is a priority too. Servais noted that Mitch Haniger was one of the regular leadoff hitters for the Mariners in 2018.
“The game’s definitely changing,” Long said. “There’s not a lot of guys stealing bags now or constantly laying down bunts, stuff like that that you would usually see from a quote-unquote leadoff hitter. But there’s definitely still the idea of seeing pitches and letting (his teammates) know what the other guy (is throwing) for sure.”
Long missed most of July and August with Class AAA Tacoma because of a broken finger. He was eager to get back.
“I know September is huge for me,” he said. “Every day that I go out, I want to prove that I belong here — that you can trust me being here.”
Long began his minor-league career in the Cincinnati organization as a catcher, before converting to second base. He’s spent time this year learning left field, and might be most valuable to Seattle as a super-utility type.
Or — depending on what happens to veteran second baseman Dee Gordon this winter — perhaps Long is indeed the Mariners’ long-term answer batting first and playing second.
“It’s good experience for Shed, and we’re kind of looking at how he fits with us going forward,” Servais said Thursday morning. “Second base is probably his more natural position … but he’s got the skills and ability to run around in left field. It’s just a comfort factor. We’ll keep running him out there until he gets comfortable.”