Proving they were capable of scoring runs and winning games on a somewhat regular basis before Jarred Kelenic’s name was penciled atop their lineup, though it hasn’t felt like it in recent weeks, the Mariners used home runs from Mitch Haniger and Dylan Moore and a triple from recent call-up Donovan Walton to roll to an easy, drama-free 7-3 win over Cleveland on Saturday night at T-Mobile Park.
“Our offense is starting to come to life a little bit,” manager Scott Servais said. “That’s back-to-back nights where we did some really good things in the batter’s box. It’s great to see it starting to come together, up and down the lineup, everybody is chipping in.”
Similar to the win on Friday night, which was also by 7-3, Seattle picked up a quick first-inning run off Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie to set an early tone.
A night after wowing fans with a homer and two doubles, Kelenic went 0 for 5 with three strikeouts with some tough pitches called strikes that were borderline. Nights like this will happen for any player. And it serves as a reminder to overzealous fans that this game is difficult and failure is common.
After striking out Kelenic looking to start the game, McKenzie had to face Haniger, who homered in his final plate appearance on Friday.
After throwing a first-pitch slider basically down the middle for a called strike that Haniger watched go by with irritation, McKenzie threw the same pitch in virtually the same spot.
It was a mistake.
This time it was McKenzie doing the watching with irritation as Haniger pounced on the pitch, sending a mammoth solo homer off the digital scoreboard above the Mariners bullpen. The majestic blast measured 438 feet and was the longest of his career at T-Mobile Park.
It was Haniger’s 12th homer, which is the most in the American League.
After lamenting the at-bats of his team early in games, Servais has seen some improvement in the approach in the first and second time through the batting order. The Mariners have tallied 18 hits, including seven doubles, a triple and five homers in the last two games.
Said Servais: “I thought they were much better the last couple nights, I thought our plan and approach going into the game (was good) from a team perspective, we had a very clear idea on what we wanted to do based on what we’ve seen out of those two starting pitchers that the Indians have from their most recent outing. That’s what it takes. You’ve got to do your homework, you’ve got to have a plan going into it, and you’ve got to believe in it and then commit to it. We’ve done that.”
They may need more than a plan for Sunday’s finale of the four-game series. Right-hander Shane Bieber, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, will get the start while Seattle will go with reliever Robert Dugger as the opener of a bullpen start.
Seattle looked like it might break the game open when Kyle Seager followed with a double, but McKenzie retired the next six batters he faced.
But the reed-ish right-hander, who stands 6-foot-5 and is listed generously at 165 pounds, fell apart in the fourth inning. He walked Seager and Kyle Lewis to start the inning. Later with one out, Moore continued his slow climb out of an awful early-season slump. McKenzie left another slider down the middle and Moore sent a towering fly ball into the unsuspecting folks imbibing and conversing in The ‘Pen. It was Moore’s third homer in six games.
“Dylan’s got power, ” Servais said. “When he squares it up, he can do some damage with it. But he can’t get into that power mode. He just needs to be a good hitter and then once in a while to get it up in the air and it does get over the fence. Love how he’s trending.”
Seattle tacked on another run in the fifth inning on Jose Marmolejos’ sac fly with the bases loaded.
The added run support was useful for Seattle starter Justus Sheffield, who pitched six innings, giving up two runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts to pick up the win against the team that selected him in the first round of the 2014 draft to improve to 3-3. Was there some added incentive and adrenaline?
“Yeah, for sure,” Sheffield said. “There are a lot of familiar faces over there. I’ve still got a lot of good buddies that are in that dugout. Triston and I, we go way back. We were roommates in strength camp in the offseason. So just being able to match up against him was very special because we’ve talked about it throughout the years of facing each other. Definitely the emotions were pumping and I was pretty juiced up. But I was able to kind of settle down after a couple of innings and lock it in.”
He dealt with some traffic early on – specifically Cleveland’s All-Star third baseman Jose Ramirez, who had three doubles off him.
But he managed to work through the first five innings without allowing a run, getting some help from his defense and executing a few big pitches with runners in scoring position. It helped with an adjustment to his mechanics to keep him in a better direction to the plate after the second inning.
“I feel like I was getting a little quick,” Sheffield said. “My head was pulling out, my shoulder was pulling out. After I got in line, I felt a lot better. I felt like my pitches were moving the way I wanted them to. I was in the zone a lot more than early on in the game. Being able to make that adjustment during the game was huge.”
Cleveland finally got to Sheffield in the sixth. He issued a leadoff walk and Ramirez followed with his third double in three plate appearances against him. With runners on second and third and no outs, Cleveland got a pair of ground balls to first that made it 5-2.
Still, it was a quality start for Sheffield and a bounceback from his previous outing in Texas where he gave up seven runs on 10 hits in five innings.
Seattle got scoreless innings from Drew Steckenrider and Will Vest.
Walton, who was called up before Friday’s game, added some key insurance runs in the eighth inning, tripling into the right-field corner to score a pair of runs.