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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Commentary: Eugenio Suarez’s role in Mariners’ 2022 success more than ‘good vibes’

Sept. 17, 2022 Updated Sat., Sept. 17, 2022 at 5:15 p.m.

Seattle’s Eugenio Suarez celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run against Washington on Aug. 23 in Seattle.  (Getty images)
Seattle’s Eugenio Suarez celebrates with teammates after hitting a two-run home run against Washington on Aug. 23 in Seattle. (Getty images)
By Larry Stone Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Good vibes are great. Great performance is even better.

The Mariners have received an unexpectedly delightful combo in Eugenio Suarez, initially perceived by many as mostly a throw-in in what was deemed “the Jesse Winker trade” in spring training.

But from the day he arrived in Peoria, Arizona, in mid-March, Suarez was a hugely positive presence in Seattle’s clubhouse. And from opening day of the season, the man known as “Geno” has been a welcome and vitally needed offensive force (and surprisingly solid defensive performer) for the Mariners.

That’s why the Mariners are sweating out a finger injury to Suarez suffered in Friday night’s game against the Angels, causing Suarez to leave the game after a painful at-bat in the fifth inning. He initially hurt his right index finger while fielding a hard grounder in the fourth. Initial X-rays were inconclusive. It was announced Saturday that Suarez has a small fracture in his right index finger and is going on the injured list.

The M’s could ill-afford to lose Suarez for any extended period of time. It’s valid to say that after Julio Rodriguez, no one in the Mariners’ everyday lineup has meant more to their nearly completed playoff run than Suarez. And it’s even more valid to say that few are enjoying themselves more than the 31-year-old Venezuelan, who in turn has become one of the most popular players on the team .

“I mean, it’s awesome. And you know, that surprised me,” Suarez said Wednesday, still basking in the glow of his walkoff homer against the Braves on Sunday that provided the most electrifying victory of the season. “I never thought the city was going to adopt me and give me the support they’ve given me.”

Suarez was inundated with congratulatory messages after that game, in which the Mariners blew a 6-2 lead in the ninth, only to tie the score on a Rodriguez homer off Kenley Jansen and then win it on Suarez’s blast off Jansen – the second homer of the game for both.

Suarez hadn’t answered all of them, but he has found himself watching the video of his epic homer numerous times. And not just to relive one of the most glorious moments of his career; no, mainly Suarez wants to remind himself of what made that at-bat so successful.

“I’m still watching it,” he said . “It was a perfect swing on that good pitch. I keep that more as an example of my at-bats, to not try to do too much. Just put my best swing on it, and see the result after.”

That has been a winning formula for Suarez. While Winker has regressed markedly from his 2021 output in Cincinnati (dropping more than 250 points in OPS from .949 to .685 entering Friday), Suarez has had a revival while ably replacing Kyle Seager at third base. After slashing a career-worst .198/.286/.428 with the Reds last year, perhaps still feeling the effects of shoulder surgery from a swimming-pool mishap in 2020, Suarez entered Friday with a .236/.335/.472 slash line. Only Rodriguez, at 5.6, has a higher WAR than Suarez’s 4.6.

More important, he’s become hot right when the Mariners needed a boost for the stretch drive. Since Aug. 1, Suarez’s 15 homers are tied with Aaron Judge for the most in the majors entering Friday. Suarez had hit six homers in his past six games to bring his total to a team-leading 31.

It’s not like Suarez didn’t always have this in him. Entering Friday, he had hit more home runs (160) since 2018 than any other major league player – one more than Judge. But even though Suarez has already set a Mariners season record for strikeouts with 182, breaking Mike Cameron’s mark of 176 in 2002, manager Scott Servais sees a player who has markedly improved. And he attributes that to Suarez’s openness to absorbing some new teaching points in Seattle.

“The good players – the great players – want to be coached,” Servais said. “They always want to get better. Geno’s at a point in his career, new organization, new set of eyes, where he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll listen to what these guys say.’ And all of a sudden, you start seeing the results.”

That also goes for Suarez’s defense, which Servais said has been a bigger revelation than his offensive breakout. As has been the case with so many incoming infielders to Seattle, the coaching of Perry Hill has helped tweak Suarez’s mechanics.

“Geno has improved leaps and bounds,” Hill said. “He’s always had arm strength, but arm strength doesn’t do any good if you can’t control where it’s going. So we just made a little tweak with his footwork. And that made him more consistent. He does the same thing with his feet on every ground ball and not just kind of, like, wing it.”

Suarez famously declared “Good vibes only” at his introductory news conference in Peoria in March. That has proved to be more than a flip slogan. Servais has said many times that Suarez is the focal point of a loose and cohesive clubhouse.

“One thing is, he’s very stable,” Servais said. “You get the same Geno every day, whether he just hit the walkoff homer or he struck out four or five times in the game before.

“The other thing is Geno’s not afraid to talk, have a good time, joke around. The one-liners are outstanding. And he’s just got a great personality. He takes the ribbing. Geno’s very coachable since he’s come here, the things that we have thrown at him, whether it’s been Perry, whether it’s the guys in the cage. He’s continued to make adjustments along the way.

“So he just checks a lot of boxes that you’re looking for. He’ll ask good questions. He has a game plan when he goes to the plate. He’s got history with a lot of pitchers in the league, so he has a good idea. And he doesn’t try to overpower his thoughts on anybody. It’s just Geno. He’s very happy go lucky. He loves playing baseball, and he likes it here. It’s worked out great for us.”

Suarez said the “good vibes only” philosophy comes from his father and helps him keep positive through the inevitable ups and downs of a season. He believes the good vibes have filtered through the roster and are helping to drive them to the playoffs for the first time in two decades.

“I’d say we are a family, not only on the field, but in the dugout and the clubhouse, too. Even outside the field,” he said. “We keep together, we keep close, and we keep the good relationship with each other. So that helps us play better.”

These days, few are playing better than Suarez – and M’s fans hope, without a lengthy interruption. Not bad for a throw-in.

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