Obviously each team has one player that the Mariners are trying to not let beat them and avoid facing in key situations.
HOUSTON — When manager A.J. Hinch put out his lineup on Saturday afternoon, there was an important name missing from the top of the batting order — Jose Altuve.
The all-star second baseman was being given his first day off while dealing with a swollen index finger on his throwing hand.
“Even superhumans need a day off every now and then, and today’s his,” Hinch told the media before Saturday’s game. “He’s been battling this finger soreness for a day and he didn’t look very comfortable. When I talked to him last night, you could tell he was in a little bit of pain. So, we’ll give him the day to recover, or at least the first part of the game off, and then see how it goes.”
The Mariners weren’t exactly sad to see Altuve out of the lineup. The diminutive hitting machine has tormented Seattle pitchers in his career, which isn’t good since Seattle faces Houston 19 times per season.
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In 57 career games against the Mariners, Altuve is hitting .325 (77 for 237) while posting an .852 on-base plus slugging percentage along with 21 doubles, a triple, five homers, 34 RBI and 17 stolen bases. This year against the M’s, he’s hitting .450 (9 for 20) with a 1.472 on-base plus slugging percentage with four doubles, two homers, four RBI and six runs scored.
“Altuve is a great player at any time and he’s swinging the bat really well, so it makes him really tough,” said Mariners catcher Chris Iannetta. “You can’t really pitch around him because if you put him on base, it could be a triple. It’s challenging. You try to make good pitches and limit him to singles and hope he hits at somebody when he’s hot like this. He’s locked in right now.”
Listed generously at 5 feet 5, 160 pounds, Altuve has very few weaknesses.
“He’s got a great swing,” Iannetta said. “He’s got great plate coverage. He’s really tough to go inside on because his hands are so quick. He’s just a great player.”
Altuve is quickly earning the mantra as the player that Mariners and their fans least want to see stepping into the batter’s box in a close game.
“Altuve is just a different animal,” said Mariners catcher Steve Clevenger. “He’s got length outside. He gets his hands inside. He’s got a quick swing when you go in. He gets on top of the high pitches, and he hits the low ball. You just have to mix and match with him — in and out, up and down, really don’t repeat any patterns and you still have to make good pitches to him.”
The Mariners still have 13 more games against Altuve and the Astros this season.
But what about the remaining American League West teams? Obviously each team has one player that the Mariners are trying to not let beat them and avoid facing in key situations.
Here’s a closer look:
Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Perhaps it’s more instructive to wonder which teams Trout doesn’t torment. But the perennial MVP candidate has done plenty of damage against the Mariners. In 87 games against Seattle, Trout is hitting .311 (100 for 311) with a .914 OPS that includes 14 doubles, six triples, 15 homers and 47 RBI.
“We pitch him up in the zone,” Clevenger said. “That’s been our game plan.”
Trout might be the best low-ball hitter in baseball from the right side. His fast hands, compact swing and swing plane allow him to destroy pitches in the bottom half of the strikezone.
“You can execute down and away on him once you get him conscious of being up in the zone,” Clevenger said. “But our plan is to continue to go up until he makes the adjustment.”
What makes matters worse for the Mariners is that Trout is the biggest nemesis to Felix Hernandez. Trout has beat up on Hernandez since coming into the league. He is hitting .368 (25 for 68) with a 1.106 OPS and four doubles, two triples, five homers and 15 RBI.
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Rangers
A stalwart at third base, Beltre has been a problem for Seattle. The overall numbers aren’t as gaudy as Trout’s line. In 111 games, Beltre is hitting .267 with a .768 OPS, 20 doubles, 15 homers and 53 RBI. He’s shown the knack for the big hit against Seattle. Earlier this season at Safeco Field, Beltre went down and golfed a slider that was about six inches off the ground and headed for his back foot over the wall in left field. It’s that kind of unpredictability that makes him difficult.
“He’s a good big-league hitter, and you have to keep mixing and matching,” Clevenger said. “You can make a good pitch and he’s still going to get you.”
Stephen Vogt, C/DH/1B, A’s
The A’s don’t really have one dominant player that causes the Mariners issues. They have multiple players that can be nagging at different points. For example, shortstop Marcus Semien has hit seven homers in 23 games against Seattle, but also struck out 18 times. In 10 games against Seattle, Danny Valencia has four homers and 14 RBI as a member of the A’s.
But Clevenger said that left-handed hitting catcher/designated hitter/first baseman Stephen Vogt is considered one the most troublesome hitters for the staff. In 35 games, Vogt is hitting .268 with a .730 OPS with seven doubles, a triple and two homers.
“He has the potential to do the most damage with power numbers and driving in runs,” Clevenger said.
Like Trout, Vogt has his best success against Hernandez with a .423 batting average (11 for 26) with a 1.118 OPS.