Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to the Seattle Mariners was meant to add some much-needed left-handed power to the team’s run-starved lineup as much as it was to put fans in the seats at Safeco Field.
Russell Branyan’s signing probably didn’t generate many ticket sales, but his purpose in the Pacific Northwest is the same as Griffey’s.
While baseball’s active home run leader continues to work on his timing following off-season knee surgery, Branyan has been one of the Mariners’ top hitters this spring. Through his first eight games, the 32-year-old was batting .296 with a .556 slugging percentage and was tied for the team lead with six RBIs.
“I’ve always been that type of hitter,” Branyan said. “I’ve been given a shot to play and I’m just real excited about the opportunity.”
Even the slightest production from Branyan would go over well with Mariners fans, who were only too happy to see native son Richie Sexson leave town during the 2008. Sexson, the Mariners’ starting first baseman the past four seasons, hit 73 home runs from 2006-07 before slumping the past two seasons. He was batting just .218 with 11 home runs in 74 games when he was released by the Mariners last July.
Miguel Cairo took over as the Mariners’ primary first baseman, but was not re-signed in the offseason, leading to Branyan.
Branyan, who has 133 home runs in 11 major league seasons, has been one of the Mariners’ most consistent hitters this spring and provided the snapshot moment of the Cactus League season with an impressive hitting display against Arizona on March 8.
After homering in his first at-bat, Branyan appeared to get his second with a towering 500-foot blast that hit a 45-foot high wall in center field at the Mariners’ facility at Peoria and fell back onto the field for a double. Stadium workers said it is just the second time in recent memory that someone has come close to clearing the wall.
Rowland-Smith does all
Ryan Rowland-Smith did the job on the mound and at the plate, singling twice and giving up two runs in four innings as the Mariners defeated the Colorado Rockies 10-5 at Tucson, Ariz.
Rowland-Smith allowed five hits, struck out three and walked none.
Rowland-Smith, who scored twice, hadn’t had a plate appearance in nine years.
“I can’t believe I am sitting here talking about hitting,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like I know what I am talking about, but I did see the changeup (on the first pitch) so I knew he was going to throw me a fastball. I tried to swing and hit it as hard as I could. It was fun.”
Seattle’s Ronny Cedeno went 2 for 4, with a double and a two-run homer. Matt Tuiasosopo was 4 for 5 with a two-run homer, a double and 4 RBIs.
Mariners first baseman Chris Shelton continued his hot hitting, going 3 for 4 with two runs. He is batting .523 this spring in 21 at-bats.