Winker returns with bang (x2) as Mariners win 10th straight

Seattle outfielder homers in both games of doubleheader after serving suspension

July 14th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- The surging Mariners have spent the past few weeks turning their season around, playing themselves back into the American League Wild Card picture with a resurgent July.  spent a good chunk of that stretch inactive, and in the batting cage, serving the six-game suspension he received for his role in the club’s June 26 benches-clearing brawl with the Angels.

Winker chose to use that time off the field productively. The Winker that re-emerged this week in the nation’s capital might be the best version the Mariners have seen, and it comes just in time for the second half they plan to spend contending for a postseason spot.

“I don’t think you ever want to miss six games, but yeah, I took advantage of the time and got some good work in,” Winker said. “I took the time to try some things, and right now, I’m just trying to implement them.”

Early results are plain to see for Winker, who homered in both halves of Seattle’s doubleheader sweep of the Nationals on Wednesday. After he homered in his second at-bat in the club’s 6-4 win in Game 1, his sixth-inning solo homer laid the groundwork for the 2-1 victory in Game 2 that extended the Mariners' win streak to 10 games.

It is only the fourth streak of 10 straight wins in franchise history -- and the first since 2002, when the Mariners won a franchise-record 15 straight in May and June. This Seattle team is 18-3 in its past 21 games, the best record in the Majors during that span and the franchise's best single-season 21-game stretch ever.

The Mariners are 13-2 since the brawl and they went 11-1 during the resulting player suspensions, which are now complete after Julio Rodríguez sat out Wednesday’s opener. The sweep nudged Seattle (47-42) into a tie with the Blue Jays in the race for the sixth and final AL playoff spot. The Mariners have won five of seven meetings this season with Toronto, which dismissed manager Charlie Montoyo on Wednesday.

“It’s hard to win 10 games in a row,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It really is. I give a ton of credit to our guys. They have a very singular mission right now.”

They leaned on Winker’s second homer and their air-tight bullpen in the nightcap, with Paul Sewald becoming the first Mariners reliever to save both halves of a doubleheader since Mike Schooler on May 6, 1989. The Mariners' bullpen sports an MLB-best 1.57 ERA in 68 2/3 innings since June 21.

“We can’t afford to give anything away,” Servais said. “We find a way. It’s a different guy every day, and that’s what good teams do.”

In that way, the Mariners were able to weather the slow start from Winker, who they brought in -- alongside Eugenio Suárez in an offseason trade with the Reds -- to be a key run producer. But Winker slumped hard early, slashing just .209/.327/.299 with four homers through his first 66 games with Seattle. He was beginning to turn things around before the suspension, heating up to the tune of a .311/.415/.533 line with two homers and nine RBIs in his past 13 games.

Then, Winker found himself with some unexpected free time on his hands. He used it to tinker.

“Baseball is a game of constant adjustments,” Winker said. “It’s validating, just how I’ve been hitting the ball throughout the week. This past weekend, when I was still working, I did some things I’ve never done in the cage before. That was validating more than anything. It’s such a hard game, so to live and die with the results is impossible. It’s more just the feeling you have walking up to the plate, in doing the work and knowing the results will come.”

Winker declined to detail the exact nature of those adjustments, calling them “personal.” But even on the surface, the work seems transformative. The stance Winker utilized Wednesday was more open and couched, his bat more angled than perpendicular with the plate -- a clear change from the upright stance he used for the season’s first three months. He also replaced his leg kick with a front-foot toe-tap with an eye toward improved timing.

On the whole, it looks less like a drastic overhaul than a return to the technique Winker used in 2021, when he slashed .305/.394/.556 with 24 homers in 110 games and emerged as an All-Star for Cincinnati. Should the Mariners end up playing in October, they will certainly look to July for their season’s turning point. A resurgent Winker may very well be a reason why they do, and he might well do the same.

“There were some things going on that I wanted to clean up,” Winker said. “I believe in myself, so I’m excited.”