OAKLAND, Calif. — Sure, the season is a mere 10 percent complete, but it’s getting harder not to view Seattle Mariners right fielder Mitch Haniger as the clear early favorite to be the American League’s Rookie of the Year.
Haniger entered Thursday’s series opener at Oakland leading all AL rookies in virtually every meaningful offensive category, including runs, walks, extra-base hits, on-base percentage, doubles, RBI, hits and OPS.
“You can’t say enough about him,” manager Scott Servais said. “The quality at-bats. The walks. The big hits. Working into his count. Understanding situations. It’s been huge for us. When the guys behind him get rolling, we play really well.”
As one of those guys, Nelson Cruz, noted: “That could be special because he’s on base a lot.”
Haniger entered Thursday leading the Mariners in all three Triple Crown categories: four homers, 15 RBI and a .323 average while also showing the plate discipline to draw a club-leading 11 walks.
“I think I’ve gotten better at it over the years,” he said. “It’s something now where I try on every single pitch to have a purpose, have a plan. I try to win each pitch. Just over time, I’ve gotten better and better and smarter.”
Haniger also leads all AL position players — all players, not just rookies — with a WAR (wins above replacement) rating of 1.4 through Wednesday’s games.
In second place is some guy named Trout.
Zeroes from Zep
While nearly every member of the Mariners’ bullpen has experienced at least one hiccup this season, lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski is a notable exception.
When Rzepczynski got the final out in Wednesday’s victory over Miami, it marked his seventh scoreless outing of the season. Further, he has given up only one hit in that span, which covers 4 2/3 innings.
The Marlins had a run in and two runners on base when Rzepczynski replaced Evan Marshall and threw one pitch in a left-on-left matchup against Justin Bour. The result was a grounder to second baseman Robinson Cano for the final out.
“I’ll take one pitch,” Rzepczynski said. “Anytime.”
Rzepczynski, 31, was the Mariners’ only major free-agent signing in what was a busy offseason. They shelled out $11 million over two years with the hope of solving their need for a matchup lefty.
“It’s the veteran presence as much as anything,” Servais said. “We have a very young bullpen — young literally and who don’t have much experience in this league on top of it.”
Rzepczynski’s current success continues a run that began last August while pitching for Oakland and, after a Aug, 25 trade, Washington: two earned runs in his last 29 outings — an 0.84 ERA while limiting opponents to a .186 average.
“Being a veteran,” Servais said, “Zep goes about his business and knows how to prepare. And when he takes the mound, he’s been attacking them. He’s been going right after them. He certainly trusts his stuff, and he’s had good results.”
— Right-hander Nick Vincent is also on a recent roll. He has retired all 13 batters faced in his last four appearances, including eight on strikeouts.
Three things to note heading into Friday’s pitching matchup between right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma and Oakland lefty Sean Manaea:
— Iwakuma is 9-5 with a 4.14 ERA in 16 career games against the Athletics, including 6-1 with a 3.12 ERA in seven starts at the Oakland Coliseum. Manaea is 2-0 with 4.76 ERA in three career starts against the Mariners.
— Khris Davis is just 3-for-16 (.188) in his career against Iwakuma, but two of the hits are home runs. Jed Lowrie is 7-for-23 (.304), and Stephen Vogt is 8-for-29 (.276) but Rajai Davis is 1-for-11 with six strikeouts.
— The sample sizes are small, but the Mariners, generally, haven’t had much success against Manaea. Robinson Cano is 1-for-9, and Kyle Seager is 1-for-8 with four strikeouts (although that one hit was a homer). Nelson Cruz is an exception at 2-for-5 with a homer.
Shortstop Jean Segura will begin what projects as a three-game rehab assignment Friday at Double-A Arkansas before rejoining the Mariners for Tuesday’s series opener in Detroit.
Segura suffered a strained right hamstring April 10 against Houston after batting .313 (10-for-32) in the first eight games. He is eligible to return Friday from the 10-day disabled list but will spend the weekend in Little Rock.
— Hi-A Modesto center fielder Braden Bishop extended his hitting streak to 12 games Thursday with a leadoff single in the first inning of a 3-2 victory over Stockton (Athletics).
Bishop, 23, went 3-for-4 and raised his average to .327. He has a hit in every game since going 0-for-6 in the season opener at Lake Elsinore (Padres). The Mariners selected Bishop in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft.
The Mariners had 11 hits and 10 walks in Wednesday’s 10-5 victory over Miami. It marked the 33rd time in franchise history that the Mariners had 10 or more hits and walks in a game. … The Mariners lead the American League with 13 stolen bases. They’ve only been caught once. … The Mariners are tied with Texas for the most defensive double plays in the majors with 22. … Mariners starting pitchers allowed only two walks in 37 2/3 innings over the last games.
It was five years ago Friday — April 21, 2012 — that Chicago White Sox right-hander Philip Humber pitched a perfect game against the Mariners at Safeco Field. It was the 21st perfect game in Major League history.
Humber, then 29, required only 96 pitches while striking out nine batters. He ended the game by striking out Brendan Ryan on a check-swing.
It was the third no-hit loss in Mariners’ history. It was also the most recent — thanks to Haniger’s one-out double in the ninth inning Tuesday in a 5-0 loss to Miami.
Humber was 16-23 in an eight-year career from 2006-13 with five clubs. He made just 41 career appearances after his perfect game and compiled a 4-13 record with a 7.59 ERA.
The Mariners and Athletics continue their four-game series at 7:05 p.m. Friday at the Oakland Coliseum when right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (0-1 with a 5.40 ERA) opposes Oakland lefty Sean Manaea (0-1, 5.51).
The game can be seen on Root Sports Northwest and heard on 710 ESPN and the Mariners Radio Network, including mariners.com (for subscribers to MLB.tv).