Monday, May 13, 2013
SEATTLE — When the Mariners visit New York this week, they’ll hit the quarter pole in the 2013 season. To date, it’s been six weeks in which sweeping conclusions are elusive, other than that the top two spots in their rotation are nails, and the M’s are at least viable and relevant after an ominous 8-15 start.
But if you’re of the glass-half-full persuasion, there’s another take: Seattle has steadied the ship without any real consistent offense from its two biggest offseason acquisitions, Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse.
They each had a hand in the M’s 6-1 victory over Oakland Sunday at Safeco Field, a reminder of how easy it can look when they’re producing. And it came just a couple of hours after manager Eric Wedge said they were trying to do too much.
“You can only do what you can do,” Wedge repeated after the game. “Sometime, you’ve gotta lay the bat down (walk) and let the next guy try.”
On this day, Morales laid it down only after he struck a three-run, first-inning homer to give Joe Saunders an early cushion, and Morse had two hits — his first multi-hit game this month — and the M’s won their fourth series in the last five (they split two games in Pittsburgh).
“I thought Morse had better swings,” said Wedge, “and of course, Morales coming through big early ... the double Michael hit was a good indicator, and his takes were better.”
Wedge stuck Kyle Seager in the No. 3 hole, but in the perfect world, he’d probably go with Morales and Morse 3-4, in either order.
“I’m playing around with it a little bit,” Wedge said before the game. “I still stand by the fact, Morales and Morse are trying to do too much. They know they’re ‘the guys’ here.”
Morales entered Sunday hitting .262, but with a modest three homers and 14 runs batted in. Morse has nine home runs — a Ruthian pace by the standard of some recent Mariner teams — but was hitting only .220, after three years of .289, .303 and .291 with the Nationals.
“My timing was a little better today,” said Morse. “It’s just been frustrating. I haven’t been hitting the ball like I should.
“Maybe I am pressing.”
Maybe, and there are other possible explanations, like the transition between leagues or the pitch that broke his pinkie finger in April, seemingly putting the brakes on a fast start.
“A lot of these pitchers, I haven’t seen before,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of off-speeds (pitches), and I’m trying to make adjustments. It’s still early.”
Through an interpreter, Morales offered no visionary insight into the first quarter of the season, saying, “We’re all working hard to improve in the batting cage.”
Morales’ blast created an early hole for A’s lefty Tommy Milone, who had allowed only four earned runs over his previous three starts.
“Awesome,” Joe Saunders called that later, and he worked through some anxious moments in the second and third innings to keep the A’s at bay. His biggest challenge came in the second, just after Morales’ blast, when he looked like he might give it all right back.
Josh Donaldson and Luke Montz stroked back-to-back doubles leading off and Derek Norris lined a third straight hit to left to move Montz to third. But Wedge played the infield up and Nate Freiman hit a slow grounder to Brendan Ryan at short, and he elected to come to the plate, where catcher Jesus Montero got Montz.
“He about took my head off,” Saunders smiled, referring to Ryan’s throw home. “It was nice. It saved us a run. Looking back, I probably would have traded that run for a couple of outs, but it was a heads-up play.”
Especially since the double play was a questionable proposition. In any case, Saunders retired Brandon Moss and Michael Taylor, and it stayed 3-1.
The M’s tacked on three more, Saunders’ 6-1/3 innings was backed by some solid relief, and the veteran left-hander sustained a pattern of excellence at Safeco Field, where he is now 3-0 with a 0.94 earned-run average this year.
Now his challenge is the road, as is the M’s, off on a nine-game trip.