KANSAS CITY, Mo. – This was the type of confidence-boosting series the Mariners had long hoped their young hitters could grab hold of before it was too late.
For all the talk of sending young bats to the minor leagues to straighten things out, the Mariners accomplished the equivalent in four games against two Kansas City Royals starters no longer in the majors and a third on his way back to Triple-A any minute now. The biggest beneficiary of all the pitching charity might have been Jesus Montero, who collected three more hits in a 6-1 win on Thursday as his team jumped on Triple-A call-up Will Smith early.
Montero hit a solo home run, a double, single and a sacrifice fly to equal his career high with four runs batted in. He also finished the series with 10 hits – matching his total output of the previous month – as the Mariners scored 31 runs in the four games, winning three of them.
“It means a lot, because I helped the team win,” Montero said. “We scored six runs and four of those were mine. But I’m swinging at the bat well and seeing the ball well. I’m just trying to swing and see what happens.”
The latest scoring outburst by Seattle on the road, in front of 16,706 fans at Kauffman Stadium, provided a much-needed tonic for a young group of hitters trying to work its way out of prolonged slumps. Montero, Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak all had their long-awaited moments here, while Kyle Seager, Casper Wells and Michael Saunders maintained a road groove they’ve shown much of the season.
Seattle’s early-scoring offense also helped Mariners ace Felix Hernandez roll to a relatively easy win. But Hernandez did experience a few challenges during his eight-inning stint on a day that began with a 98-degree temperature and climbed to 102 by the end.
The Royals piled up four hits the first two innings, but Hernandez erased the runners on a pair of double-play grounders. He threw just 65 pitches the first seven innings, then needed 24 to escape the eighth after the Royals, down by four, loaded the bases with one out.
Hernandez struck out Alcides Escobar, then got the dangerous Billy Butler to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the home side’s final threat. Hernandez barely used his sinker, instead using his four-seam fastball to keep getting grounders.
“I knew it was hot, so I was just trying to throw strikes and get some quick outs,” Hernandez said. “I was throwing a lot of fastballs because I realized they were sitting on my change-up and breaking pitch with two strikes. So, I started throwing my fastball.”
In the meantime, the Mariners got the early jump on Smith, the latest Royals left-handed starter pressed into emergency service fresh from Triple-A. On Tuesday, the Mariners had blitzed Triple-A southpaw Ryan Verdugo for six runs in 1 2/3 innings before he was dispatched back to the minors the next day.
Verdugo had been called up after Seattle scored seven off Royals lefty Jonathan Sanchez in 1 1/3 innings of the series opener. The Royals designated Sanchez for assignment the following day.
Montero didn’t realize his second-inning homer off Smith on Thursday had cleared the yard. Royals center fielder Jarrod Dyson was so busy racing back for the ball that he lost track of the wall and collided with it – while the ball easily cleared the fence.
Dyson fell to the ground in a heap but was otherwise fine in a rather comical moment.
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