By Todd Dybas The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Last Monday night Kyle Seager was not happy.
The Mariners’ losing streak had been bloated to seven games after the expected dregs of the division, the Houston Astros, smacked around Felix Hernandez. Seager made a crucial drop of a throw at third. His batting average was a .164. Staring sternly after the game, Seager made it clear he’d experienced better days.
Wednesday, he hit two home runs, including a walk-off three-run homer, to trump those same Astros. He continued hitting. Two hits Friday, two hits Saturday, including another home run, then the capper Sunday.
Seager homered in consecutive at-bats in the seventh and eighth inning. His three-run homer in the eighth shoved the Mariners in front of the Texas Rangers, 6-5, at Safeco Field. A rare systematic ninth inning from closer Fernando Rodney made it stand. The Mariners had won a series for the first time since the opening series of the season. The start of the week was swept away.
“There’s nothing like positive results in this game,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said.
Seattle hitting coach Howard Johnson explained that Seager gets too “rotational” when a slump occurs. Johnson said Seager was getting “around” pitches as opposed to swigning through, trying to hit almost strictly by using his upper body.
They worked on top-hand positioning, side flips and attempts at mind-clearing. They adjusted his derriere, too. That was dropping too much during the doldrums.
So, Sunday, when Texas Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando threw a 1-0 changeup with runners on first and second in the eighth inning, Seager had a mechanical fix that has produced an epic week of four home runs in five games.
“This is a good roll, and I’ll try to continue,” Seager said.
Ogando stumbled into trouble because of a strong at-bat from Justin Smoak and bad luck. Smoak hit a 1-2 pitch for a double to left field that bounced just short of the wall. Dustin Ackley pinch-hit for Cole Gillespie. His grounder bounced over third baseman Adrian Beltre and to shortstop Elvis Andrus. With Beltre off the bag, Smoak shuffled into third. Andrus was too far away to throw out the swift Ackley at first. He didn’t throw. Seager, who had hit a solo homer in the seventh inning, stepped up for his second big moment of the day.
The first, like the start of his week, had not gone well. He struck out with the bases loaded in the fourth inning against Texas left-handed starter Matt Harrison. Harrison was making his first start since April 6, 2013. He has had a surgery to repair a herniated disc, a second surgery to stabilize the disc and surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome in his non-throwing arm. With TOS, a rib is compressing a vein, artery, or the nerve bundle. Doctors often remove the rib to provide relief.
Harrison can be tough on left-handed hitters. In 2012, his last full season when he was the Rangers’ pitcher of the year, left-handers hit .209 against Harrison. Seager struck out in the fourth inning Sunday before hitting his home runs off right-hand relief pitchers.
The bullpen kept the Mariners in the game. Starter Brandon Maurer pitched 32⁄3 innings. He allowed five earned runs on seven hits.
Mariner relievers Lucas Luetge, Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar and Rodney pitched 51⁄3 scoreless innings. They allowed a hit. Farquhar earned his first career win, Rodney his fifth save.
“They saved us,” McClendon said.
In nine uneven appearances this season, just twice has Rodney not allowed a baserunner. Sunday was his first 1-2-3 inning of the year.
“It’s hard to get your closer in a routine when you lose eight in a row,” McClendon said. “When he gets the work, he can be sharp. I think he was very determined (Sunday) to get it over with quickly.”
The double doors for the clubhouse exit were propped open after the game. Clubhouse attendants lugged filled travel bags into a truck for the 10-14 Mariners, who are about to start a 10-day road trip.
Wednesday, Seager’s walk-off homer won the game. Friday, a diving stop by Smoak rescued Rodney’s save opportunity. Sunday, Seager struck again. The mood has improved.
“Give us 50 games or so, then we’ll figure out what we got,” McClendon said. “The one thing about that eight-game losing streak, they all figured out that they survived it and they’re still OK. Sometimes, that type of adversity makes you better.”