By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
SEATTLE — On a perfect summer night when they weren’t particularly crisp in the field, committing three errors and looking shaky on a few more plays, the Seattle Mariners slugged their way to a victory.
That isn’t something that has been said too often in year’s past. But this is the new, current version of the Mariners — a team that actually totals up hits and scores runs in bunches.
A day after their eight-game winning streak was snapped, the Mariners took their first step to starting another streak on Thursday night, routing the Minnesota Twins, 8-2 at Safeco Field.
Seattle banged out 11 hits, including a season-high seven extra base hits, including six doubles, for their ninth win in their past 10 games, while inching closer to .500 at 49-53.
The Mariners chased Twins starter Kevin Correia in the second inning by scoring six runs. Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley started the barrage with back-to-back RBI singles, Brad Miller snapped an 0-for-13 streak with an RBI double to center and Nick Franklin punctuated the inning with a three-run home to right field.
“Honestly, 0-2, I was just trying to make contact and put the ball in play,” Franklin said of his eighth homer of the season. “The infield was in and I was looking to get the ball in the air and get that run in somehow.”
The Mariners tacked on two more runs in the fifth as Henry Blanco, who replaced Mike Zunino, doubled to left-center and Ackley followed with his third hit of a game — an RBI double to right-center. Ackley had doubles to both sides of the field in the game.
“When you’re feeling right and hunting the fastball, those types of things happen,” Ackley said. “There’s no surprise that when you’re aggressive at the plate and doing things like that, you’re getting good pitches to hit. Tonight, I didn’t miss a couple.”
Of course, the Mariners didn’t need all that offense.
Hisashi Iwakuma gave them another solid outing against the Twins, which has become quite common. Despite dealing with all the extra base runners from booted balls in the field, Iwakuma still pitched six shutout innings, giving up four hits, while striking out nine and walking one to improve his record to 10-4n. He has not given up an earned run against the Twins in 262⁄3 innings, covering four starts dating back to last season.
“I don’t know if I’m good against this team in general,” Iwakuma said through translator Antony Suzuki. “I’m just able to pitch my game, keeping the ball down in the zone, getting ahead with my first pitch and just being aggressive with my fastball. That’s been very effective against this team.”
That’s very effective against any team.
Iwakuma got away from that for about a five-start stretch. But he seems to have figured it out now, winning three straight starts and posting a 2.25 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in that span.
“I think his ball was up during those times,” acting manager Robby Thompson said. “He’s human, and he went through a spurt most guys go through, whether it’s offensively, defensively or pitching. He went through that. I think he’s going to be fine.
Iwakuma dealt with runners in every inning but one. And since his teammates weren’t fielding the ground balls he coaxed from Twins batters, he simply struck them out instead.
“Well, you know, stuff like that happens in this game,” he said. “It’s the long course of a season. When stuff like that happens, you just have to go from there and see how much you can cover up as a pitcher. That’s what I had in mind.”
Thompson labeled it “damage control.”
“We put him in a situation they could have done damage, and he was the one that controlled that,” he said. “He kept his composure which he always does, he stayed with his game plan and pitched like Iwakuma can pitch. He really picked us up tonight.”
But there were two negatives in the dominant win. Zunino left the game after taking a foul ball off the left wrist for the second time in three days. He had x-rays and they showed no broken bones.
“Nothing too bad,” Zunino said. “Everything came back all right. I’m looking forward to getting re-evaluated tomorrow.”
Thompson won’t know Zunino’s status till before game time. But he’s hoping they won’t have to make a roster move.
“We’ll re-evaluate Mike and see what his availability is,” Thompson said. “We have Henry back there and we’ll go with the flow. Hopefully, Mike will be available. We won’t know until the afternoon.”
The other negative was the defense. Thompson labeled the effort as “lackadaisical.”
“I wasn’t too pleased with our infield play,” said Thompson, who was a solid second baseman with the Giants and Indians. “Obviously, you guys are watching the same game. I’m a little bit disappointed with that. When you get situations where there’s three ground balls for double plays, and Iwakuma gets them, they should be turned. I’m not frustrated. I think they need to be turned.”
Thompson made sure that the players understood his disappointment.
“I’ve already talked to them about it, but it is the game,” he said. “Sometimes that happens, and sometimes we don’t have an answer for it. We’ll tighten that up tomorrow.”