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Seattle Mariners

Mariners sweep Reds behind another Bryce Miller gem

By Adam Jude Seattle Times

SEATTLE – This … this is more like it.

This is the brand of baseball the Mariners envisioned when they put this roster together.

“We’re in a good spot right now,” said Mitch Garver, who hit his first home run with the Mariners, a go-ahead blast in the sixth inning to help power a 5-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday afternoon.

Bryce Miller was dominant for a third consecutive start, Julio Rodriguez had two hard-hit doubles, and the Mariners (9-10) completed a three-game sweep of the Reds (9-9) to start to climb out of their early-season malaise.

“Our team as a whole, we have our head above water right now and we have not been hitting the baseball like we know how – and that’s a good thing for us,” Garver said. “We are right there, right where we need to be.”

Cal Raleigh added a solo homer in the second inning, and Josh Rojas hit a pinch-hit homer to lead off a three-run seventh inning that helped put the game out of reach.

After an uneven – and, at times, uneasy – stretch of baseball to open the season, the Mariners appear to have settled down and opened up the sort of playbook manager Scott Servais had expected to deploy coming out of spring training.

It’s a familiar script for what this club has been, and what has worked, for the past few years: solid (if not spectacular) starting pitching, a lockdown bullpen, good defense and grind-it-out at-bats.

“That looks like Mariner baseball as we know it,” Servais said.

Miller (3-1) allowed only one hit – an Elly De La Cruz solo homer that just cleared the right-field wall in the second inning – over six brilliant innings, and he earned his third win of the season after Garver’s homer with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Trent Thornton, Gabe Speier and Austin Voth came out of the M’s bullpen and each tossed a scoreless inning to close it out.

Mariners pitchers held the Reds to five runs in the three-game series; the Reds came in averaging 6.1 runs through their first 15 games.

“What can you say? Awesome pitching series for us,” Servais said.

The 25-year-old Miller came into the game with a streak of 14 1/3 scoreless innings pitched, and he has allowed only one earned run in his past 20 1/3 innings, lowering his season ERA to 1.85.

“I like where I’m at,” Miller said.

He gave up only one hit Wednesday, with one walk and seven strikeouts – all while not feeling like he had his best stuff through the first few innings.

“As the game went on, I definitely feel like I got better,” he said. “If it was last year, whenever I felt like this, I just felt like I was just in a hole. Whereas now, it feels like if something’s not working, I can go to something else.”

Miller didn’t have his usual command of his four-seam fastball – pulling the ball to his glove side – and relied on his sweeper to get ahead of hitters and his two-seam fastball to put them away.

The two-seamer is a pitch he developed late in his rookie season last year. He remembered the first one he threw in a game last September was on a 3-2 pitch that froze Dodgers star Mookie Betts for a strikeout.

He threw that two-seamer 19 times Wednesday and got eight called strikes with it – striking out Reds leadoff hitter Jonathan India with it three times.

“He continues to learn,” Servais said of Miller. “Last year, he just didn’t have a whole lot of Plan B to go to. But his ability to land off-speed pitches early in counts – when he struggled to do that at times last year – he’s just grown so much as a pitcher.”

As important as anything in this series, Rodriguez began to flash some of his old form.

After being picked off at first base to end Sunday’s series against the Chicago Cubs, Rodriguez effectively saved Tuesday’s victory with three incredible plays in center field.

On Wednesday, he scorched a double to center field in the third inning – 107.6 mph off the bat – for his first extra-base hit since his very first at-bat of the season on March 28, a streak of 67 at-bats without one.

It took just two more at-bats for another one – when he laced a 104.8-mph double to right field in the eighth inning.

Raleigh’s home run in the second inning, off Reds left-handed starter Andrew Abbott, was his third of the season.

Garver was the Mariners’ most expensive offseason acquisition – signing a two-year, $24-million free-agent deal – but he’d struggled early to settle in with his new team. He said he’s felt better at the plate the last handful of games, and even when he got out in his first two at-bats against Abbott, he still liked his approach.

When he got an elevated 93-mph fastball in his third at-bat, he didn’t miss it, sending it 393 feet over the scoreboard in left field.

“I think we’re getting back to [the] kind of the player I have been,” Garver said. “Pretty much just dominating fastballs is kind of my game plan. [And] being able to lay off the spin.”

Mariners hitters walked seven times and struck out nine times – with 20 walks and 31 strikeouts total in the three-game series – an indication that they’re seeing the ball better and generally sticking with a consistent plan at the plate.

“I mean, we’ve seen it over the past four or five games – walks are up, and usually when guys start walking, they start hitting,” Garver said. ” … The pitching has been keeping us afloat. We’ve been winning some tight games. But if we can continue to do what we did today [offensively] – which is lay off the balls; hit the strikes – we’re in a good spot.”

Rojas hit his first homer of the season in the seventh on the first pitch from Reds reliever Lucas Sims, and the Mariners took advantage of Sims’ four walks to score two more runs.

Rookie Jonatan Clase, in his third big-league game, walked, stole second base and scored on a sharp single from Mitch Haniger to make it 4-1.

Haniger has hit safely in eight straight games.

Sims then issued three straight walks to Garver, France and Raleigh, who gets credited with an RBI to score Haniger from third base, pushing the Mariners’ lead to 5-1.