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Crawford seizing opportunity at shortstop

Mariners’ offseason acquisition has hit in 20 of 27 games
@gregjohnsmlb
June 23, 2019

SEATTLE -- In a season where developing their young building blocks for the future stands as the primary goal, shortstop J.P. Crawford's showing since his arrival has become a shining light for the Mariners. Crawford went 4-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in Sunday’s 13-3 victory over the

SEATTLE -- In a season where developing their young building blocks for the future stands as the primary goal, shortstop J.P. Crawford's showing since his arrival has become a shining light for the Mariners.

Crawford went 4-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in Sunday’s 13-3 victory over the Orioles, reminding again why general manager Jerry Dipoto went out and got him from the Phillies in a Dec. 3 deal that sent All-Star shortstop Jean Segura to Philadelphia as part of a five-player swap.

Box score

The 24-year-old Crawford has not only helped solidify Seattle's infield defense, but he’s also proving to be an offensive threat as well. The 2013 first-round Draft pick has posted a .300/.377/.450 line in 27 games after going 9-for-20 in his past five outings.

“This season is about opportunity for young players and going forward,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We certainly gave up a good player to get J.P. Crawford, but where he’s at in his development and his age, it’s huge. Just let him go out there and play and learn. That’s what it’s about.

“There’s going to be some failures and rough games along the way, but what we’re starting to see is this is a guy that is really going to be a big part of our future. The fact he’s in the middle of the field at shortstop is huge. It’s really, really big.”

Two of Crawford’s hits Sunday came during the same inning, as Seattle equaled its season high with an eight-run third, stacking up six singles, three walks, a hit batter and a throwing error to give starter Yusei Kikuchi an early 10-2 cushion.

Thirteen batters came to the plate in that frame, including six in bases-loaded situations, as the Mariners went 5-for-7 with runners in scoring position and had eight players reach base.

Leadoff man Mallex Smith had a walk and a single in that frame as well in a 2-for-4 day, as the top of the order came through again.

“Mallex started us off with a good AB to get a walk and we just got the train rolling,” Crawford said. “Everyone contributed. Everybody put together good ABs today.”

Crawford already had ripped a 427-foot homer in the first off right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, his second since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma on May 10. Crawford missed two weeks with a sprained left ankle at the start of June, but he has hit .333 with three doubles, a homer and 11 RBIs in 10 games since his return on June 14.

“J.P. is in a really good spot,” Servais said. “I thought he was playing great before he had the setback with the ankle injury. He came back and has not missed a beat. He’s very confident, has a good idea of the strike zone. And when he juiced that ball for a home run in the first inning, you kind of had a feeling he might have a big day.”

Left fielder Mac Williamson added a two-run shot in the fourth, as Seattle finished one run shy of its season high.

The Mariners wound up going 4-3 in a homestand against the Royals and Orioles -- the two last-place teams in their respective divisions -- and have won 10 of their past 18 games to put their record at 35-47. The O's dropped to 22-56, the worst record in MLB.

Kikuchi rebounds from rough stretch

Kikuchi’s development is another critical element to this season and the 27-year-old rookie from Japan made some progress as he pitched six innings while allowing three runs on five hits, five walks and a balk to pick up the win.

Kikuchi (4-5, 5.11 ERA) gave up a first-inning homer to Trey Mancini, but he still put together his longest outing and first victory since May 19 after going 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA in his past five starts before Sunday.

Kikuchi said that the offensive support was welcome, as has been the encouragement of Servais and his teammates through his recent rough stretch.

“The last five starts I haven’t been able to perform as best I could,” he said through interpreter Justin Novak. “Skip’s been nice to me and given me a bunch of advice, and my teammates have praised me a lot and just helped me build my confidence. I really wanted to do well for my team today.”

Servais acknowledged that the five walks will need to be eliminated as Kikuchi moves forward, but he saw things to like from the lefty’s performance.

“It was kind of a strange day for him in that it took him a while to get going,” Servais said. “Certainly, when we put the big lead up there, he calmed down and really was much more aggressive after that.

“He threw some good changeups today. That’s the thing that stood out for me. It’s a pitch he’s tinkering with and it’s an effective pitch against their lineup. He went to it today later in the ballgame. That was a positive there, and we got him a win. A win is a win, but it’s a big deal to pitchers. Obviously, our offense helped him out today.”

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.