SEATTLE — As the longest tenured members of the current roster, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales expect the Seattle Mariners will have more meaningful games later this season.
That doesn’t diminish Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Cleveland Guardians, which was the start of an important stretch against another playoff contender and a potential postseason preview.
“This is what I guess we envisioned. As a player you want it to happen sooner. You’re hoping for this season every year,” Haniger said. “But we’re right in the mix.”
Haniger hit a three-run home run in the first inning to account for all of Seattle’s offense and Gonzales tossed six strong innings in the opener of a key four-game series between playoff contenders in the American League. The teams will play six more times over the next 10 days.
Julio Rodríguez walked to open the game and Jesse Winker singled before Haniger stayed hot at the plate, taking Cleveland starter Triston McKenzie deep to left-center field just three batters into the game. Haniger’s fly ball appeared to be a long out off the bat but carried on a warm afternoon.
Haniger has homered in three of the past four games and is hitting .313 in 17 games since coming off the injured list.
“Timeliness of home runs are huge,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “Three-run homers are beautiful. They’re awesome. Whatever you want to call them.”
Cleveland’s only run off Gonzales (9-12) came in the first when Steven Kwan doubled and scored on José Ramírez’s infield groundball. Gonzales got a key groundout from Josh Naylor to end the first and then settled into a groove.
Gonzales retired 16 of his final 18 batters — including 12 straight before walking Ramírez on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the sixth. Gonzales got Oscar Gonzalez to flail at a 3-2 changeup to end the inning, the last of his four strikeouts and the conclusion to one of his better starts this season.
“I feel relieved because that’s definitely how I felt and to get the result and match up with that feels good,” Gonzales said. “Obviously, I’m not satisfied because I think we have a long way to go.”
Andrés Muñoz struck out Ramírez with runners at first and second to end the eighth inning and struck out a pair in the ninth for his third save.
“I saw 102, and then a slider. That was pretty filthy stuff,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think you have to be in the game for 40 years to know that that was pretty special stuff.”
McKenzie (9-10) found his own groove after giving up the home run. McKenzie retired 11 straight after the homer and 18 of the final 20 batters he faced, giving up a single to J.P. Crawford and a walk to Carlos Santana.
McKenzie struck out four and allowed just three hits. Francona said McKenzie woke up with a stiff neck and the team had Bryan Shaw on alert to potentially make an emergency start.
“The first inning didn’t look real good, he wasn’t locating,” Francona said. “Fortunately, once he got the blood flowing and everything I thought he pitched pretty well.”
Seattle 1B Ty France left the game after the second inning with a right calf bruise.
France had an awkward collision with Ramirez trying to grab a high throw in the first inning and appeared to have his leg clipped by Will Benson as tried to beat out a grounder in the second inning.
“The calf is my main concern right now,” France said, then clarified, “I wouldn’t call it a concern. It’s just where I feel most the pain I guess.”
France is tied for the AL lead in hit by pitch and has also had wrist and elbow injuries this season.
Mariners: Servais is hopeful IF/OF Sam Haggerty (shoulder) will be back in lineup sometime this weekend. Haggerty came on as a defensive replacement late in Wednesday’s game and as a pinch-runner Thursday. … LHP Matthew Boyd continues his rehab assignment at Triple-A Tacoma and seems a likely option to join the team when rosters expand Sept. 1, especially with Seattle uncertain if LHP Ryan Borucki (forearm) uncertain to return this season.
Guardians: RHP Shane Bieber (8-7, 3.10) has won four of his past five starts. He took the loss in his last start against the White Sox despite allowing only one earned run in 6 1/3 innings. Bieber has a 1.62 ERA over those five starts.
Mariners: RHP Logan Gilbert (10-5, 3.52) looks for his first victory since July 5. Gilbert is 0-2 with a 5.61 ERA over his past eight starts. Gilbert has not make it through six innings in three of four starts this month.