By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
SEATTLE — The initial returns are erratic, but the Seattle Mariners are convinced their recent roster additions will be enough to generate a legitimate postseason push in the closing weeks.
“If we get a guy like Austin Jackson on the bases,” left fielder Dustin Ackley said, “that’s going to be a good thing. You’re probably going to see better pitches because he’s a threat on the bases. It just helps all around.”
It worked that way Saturday in a 6-3 victory at Baltimore, but the Mariners sandwiched that game between losses of 2-1 and 1-0.
“We’re trying to get adjusted,” catcher Mike Zunino said. “Hopefully, in the next few games, we can start to piece that together.”
The Mariners added outfielders Jackson and Chris Denorfia just prior to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Those moves came a week after reacquiring first baseman-DH Kendrys Morales in a trade with Minnesota.
The result is a lineup that is far less lefty-reliant — Jackson and Denorfia are right-handed and Morales is a switch-hitter. It also adds a legitimate leadoff hitter in Jackson, and a middle-of-the-order bat in Morales.
“Now, we can mix it up,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “We’ve got Denorfia, and we all know he’s a gamer. I like him. You have Jackson, who is a righty. Now, we don’t have to have eight lefties in the lineup. Now, we can have three or four righties because Morales is a switch-hitter. It’s better now.”
Plus all three are veteran hitters after the Mariners spent much of the season’s first four months relying on rookies James Jones, Stefen Romero and Abraham Almonte.
“We still don’t have that big bopper in the middle of the order,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “but we’ve got a lot of professional hitters. Certainly having Jackson at the top of the order, this guy knows the strike zone, he’s not going to panic. I think he has a career .345 on-base percentage. He scores runs and gets hits. Kendrys has a nice track record as well. They can do some things. It stretches out your lineup.
“Adding Denorfia, that’s another guy who is a very professional hitter and has a real good track record. He’s not going to panic in big situations. I like our lineup.”
The Mariners made another recent addition by promoting former Everett AquaSox shortstop Chris Taylor from Triple-A Tacoma. He is off to a 9-for-25 start and, if he keeps hitting, could soon push Brad Miller into a reserve role.
“I like what I see,” McClendon said of Taylor. “He plays a pretty good shortstop. He handles himself at the plate pretty good. He has great instincts for the game. He’s doing a nice job.
“From what I saw in spring training, I thought he was a player who could handle the bat. I didn’t think he would be overmatched. He hasn’t disappointed.”
The Mariners (57-54) trail Toronto by two games in the race for the American League’s final wild-card spot as they prepare to open a nine-game homestand tonight with the first of two games against Atlanta.
They possess the majors’ best pitching staff, with a 3.05 team ERA, but their offense ranks last in the league at 3.79 runs a game. Their bet going forward is that even a modest improvement in run production could produce big results. And while the Mariners lack what McClendon terms a “big bopper,” they do possess a legitimate star to anchor their lineup in Cano, who is batting .330 with a .393 on-base percentage despite just eight homers.
“It does add a lot, from that mojo standpoint, to have that star in your lineup,” McClendon said. “Great players make other players better. I think Robinson Cano makes other players better in a lot of different respects.
“I think a lot of it starts with how you put the uniform on. Whether or not your chest is stuck out a little bit. … Our guys are at a point now where they believe in what they’re doing. That takes you a long way.”
How far? We’ll find out over the next eight weeks.