SEATTLE – The Mariners know their season-long reliance for run production from the top three spots in the batting order isn’t possibly sustainable.
Even as good as Mitch Haniger, Ty France and Kyle Seager have been in the first part of this season, they can’t shoulder that much of the offensive load for another month, let alone an entire season.
The return of Kyle Lewis at the cleanup spot certainly provides some help and presence. But there must be more from the No. 5 through 8 spots in the batting order where most days a hitter with a sub .150 batting average and high strikeout rate is slotted.
So, which of the several struggling hitters in the remainder of the Mariners’ order is going to emerge from their doldrums as April turns to May?
On Friday night, it came from the two players who have had perhaps the most disappointing starts to the season of any players on the Mariners roster – Dylan Moore and Tom Murphy.
Moore smashed a solo homer, added a bloop RBI single and manufactured his own run scored off a walk while Murphy clubbed the go-ahead solo homer and later added an RBI double, leading the Mariners to a 7-4 victory over the Los Angeles Angels in the opening game of this six-game homestand.
Coming into the game, Moore was edging dangerously close to seeing his batting average drop below .100. He had a .108/.244/.215 slash line in 78 plate appearances with 27 strikeouts – second most on the team. The power and hard-hit balls he displayed last season were distant memories replaced by many swings and misses on fastballs up in the strike zone.
Murphy, who finally found the career stability of being an MLB regular for the first time in his career, has looked nothing like the player who earned that status in 2019. Was the missed 2020 season due to injury responsible for his .111/.149/.200 slash line and 18 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances. He’s looked uncomfortable and tentative on his best days and somehow worse on others.
Of course, those guys at the top of the order weren’t going to remain completely quiet. After being held out of the lineup the last two games of the series in Houston due to some fatigue, Haniger returned to the lineup and made his presence felt immediately.
With Seattle trailing 2-0 after starter Chris Flexen gave up two runs in the top of the first, Haniger smashed his sixth career leadoff homer, sending a massive blast over the wall in deep center – measured at 436 feet – off Angels starter Andrew Heaney.
It was Haniger’s sixth homer of the season and it cut the lead in half.
Moore tied the game in the bottom of the second when he got the barrel on one of those high fastballs, sending it deep over the wall in left-center for his second homer of the season.
The Angels retook the lead in the third when Shohei Ohtani hit his eighth homer of the season, muscling a change-up over the right-field wall with an off-balance swing in a display of his raw strength and power.
But Moore erased the lead in the bottom of the inning with a broken-bat bloop single to shallow right-center that scored a hustling Ty France.
Murphy gave the Mariners the lead for good in the fourth, sending a high fly ball over the wall in deep-right center off Heaney for a 4-3 lead.
With Flexen struggling to produce some pitch efficiency and the Mariners needing to make several solid defensive plays, including two nice catches in left field by Sam Haggerty, manager Scott Servais went to his bullpen early. He replaced Flexen, who had thrown 87 pitches in four innings, with Drew Steckenrider to start the fifth inning. The veteran right-hander pitched two 1-2-3 innings, including striking out the side in the sixth, to get credit for the win. Casey Sadler, Anthony Misiewicz and Rafael Montero closed out the win, each working an inning.
With Mike Trout coming into the game hitting over .400 and seemingly at-bat 20 times a game, the Mariners wisely added on after taking the lead.
Moore manufactured a run on his own in the sixth inning. He worked a walk off reliever Junior Guerra, advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third and then hustled home when the ensuing throw from Kurt Suzuki was well out of the reach of third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Seattle tacked on two more runs in the eighth inning. J.P. Crawford and Murphy each notched RBI doubles.
It wasn’t a perfect night for the M’s bullpen. After Sadler and Misiewicz each pitched scoreless innings, Montero closed out the win but did allow a run to score.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.