SEATTLE — The average fan might not have noticed them immediately. They sort of dress like businessmen skipping the afternoon to take in a ballgame. Their notebooks and charts aren’t always dead giveaways. And with the reliability of stadium radar guns and tracking data, there is no reason to carry portable radar guns to these games, which always used to be the great identifier.
Within the larger than expected crowd of 28,163 — a solid afternoon showing for a team going nowhere slowly in the final months of the season — scouts were in their midst.
Sprinkled into the middle section of seats right behind home plate at T-Mobile Park, a handful of rows back from the luxuries of the diamond club, were at least eight professional scouts from various teams. With the July 31 trade deadline now a week away, these well-traveled baseball lifers representing the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals and others were in Seattle to scout available talent.
Wednesday afternoon’s starting pitching matchup featured a player most of their organizations would happily add to their rotations but doesn’t want to be traded against a pitcher who wants to be a traded from a struggling team looking to deal him.
In the end, the pitcher who would be viewed as a consolation prize to most suitors outdueled the coveted one in the Seattle Mariners’ 5-3 victory over the Texas Rangers.
Mariners right-hander Mike Leake, who has made it known often that he would prefer to find a new organization, pitched seven innings, allowed three runs on nine hits with no walks and seven strikeouts to win his second straight start and improve to 9-8. He’s 6-2 in his past eight decisions and has pitched seven-plus innings, allowing three runs or fewer in three of his last four starts.
Meanwhile, Rangers lefty Mike Minor, who is viewed as one of the top starters available on the trade market, pitched six innings and allowed five runs on eight hits — including a pair of Daniel Vogelbach solo homers — with a walk and five strikeouts. He’s allowed four runs or more in his last three outings. He’s still got a 3.00 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 135 innings pitched.
It’s an interesting contrast. Leake knows that the trade deadline is looming. He knows the Mariners’ plans for the future and realizes his isn’t a part of them. He’s been open about being moved on multiple occasions. Minor has been less than enthusiastic about being traded after signing a two-year, $19 million contract with the Rangers this offseason.
Asked if he felt like he’s auditioning for teams, Leake was candid.
“I feel like I’ve been auditioning all year just because they were trying to trade me in the offseason for a little bit,” he said. “I definitely think I’m on the radar.”
Leake is scheduled to start again on July 30, one day before the deadline against the same Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. Given his no-trade clause and his need to approve the deal and many decisions going right up to the 1 p.m. PT deadline on July 31, Leake expects to take the mound for his next start.
Asked if there were any reservations to make him exercise the no-trade clause and nix a deal, Leake said there were no automatic dealbreakers. He’d prefer to play closer to the West Coast and his home in Arizona and he’d prefer to go to a team that trains in Arizona during the spring. But none of those aspects are mandatory. A team with a real postseason hopes for this year and next — the length of his contract — are also ideal.
“I will always look at it as what’s best for me and my family,” he said.
And if it doesn’t happen?
“I’m happy here,” he said. “There’s definitely things I would like to see different or head in a different direction, so we’ll see.”
Leake wiggled out of trouble in the first inning after Danny Santana’s one-out triple by snaring a comebacker and getting Santana in a rundown. In the fourth, he allowed two singles to start the inning, but struck out Rougned Odor and got an inning-ending double play.
“Mike was really sharp early in the ballgame again today,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Obviously there was a little bit more traffic and a few more hits off of him today, but he was really effective.”
Seattle broke the game open in the fifth inning, scoring four runs off Minor. Vogelbach started the surge with a laser of a leadoff homer into right field. Minor then allowed three straight singles for a run and J.P. Crawford later made it 4-0 with an RBI single up the middle.
Leake’s scoreless streak ended at 14.2 innings when he gave up back-to-back singles with two outs and then left a pitch up that Odor hammered for a three-run homer to cut the lead to 4-3.
“He made one mistake and that was to Odor,” Servais said of Leake. “And Odor has had a heck of series. He finds a way to get hits and hits them over the fence.”
Vogelbach got a run back in the sixth, blasting a towering solo homer to right-center. It was his 25th of the season and his second two-homer game of the homestand. He also hit two homers in Leake’s previous outing.