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3 takeaways from Mariners' 2020 opener

@gregjohnsmlb
July 25, 2020

The Mariners’ youth movement got off to an impressive start on Friday’s Opening Day game in Houston as rookie center fielder Kyle Lewis launched a long home run off Justin Verlander in his first at-bat. But while much is different in this belated 2020 season, one thing hasn’t changed. The

The Mariners’ youth movement got off to an impressive start on Friday’s Opening Day game in Houston as rookie center fielder Kyle Lewis launched a long home run off Justin Verlander in his first at-bat. But while much is different in this belated 2020 season, one thing hasn’t changed.

The powerhouse Astros still have the young Mariners’ number as they came from behind for an 8-2 victory to continue their dominance at Minute Maid Park, even without fans as Major League Baseball kicked off a 60-game season following the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

Box score

The American League-champion Astros went 18-1 against the Mariners last year and 10-0 in Houston, where the Mariners haven’t won since Sept. 19, 2018.

Three observations on the Mariners from their season opener:

K-Lew's power is legit
Lewis wasted no time showing why he was the talk of Seattle’s Summer Camp with his 438-foot blast off the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner leading off the second.

“You always wonder when you’ll get your first hit of the year, so to get that out of way in my first at-bat was really cool,” said the 25-year-old from Georgia.

Lewis’ shot cleared the train tracks high above the Crawford Boxes in left field, as the 25-year-old turned around a 95-mph fastball from Verlander with a 110.9 mph exit velocity. It was the longest home run hit off Verlander since August 2017 and the fifth-longest he’s allowed since Statcast was introduced in 2015.

Lewis, Seattle’s first-round Draft pick in 2016, provided a healthy tease of his power potential last year when he became the first MLB player to homer in six of his first 10 career games as a September callup. His 457-foot blast off the Reds’ Lucas Sims on Sept. 12 was the longest by a Mariner last year, and Lewis has now homered seven times in his first 75 Major League at-bats over 19 games.

“Kyle is seeing the ball really well. He jumped on that fastball,” manager Scott Servais said. “After that you saw Verlander make an adjustment, and he didn’t get that pitch again, nothing close to it. That’s going to happen with Kyle. I think he’s going to have a big year for us. He’s got a lot of ability, a great head on his shoulders and it was great to see him hit the ball like he did. That was a bomb.”

Seager ready to roll as well
While the kids are the focus for the Mariners this year, 32-year-old Kyle Seager isn’t ready to step aside just yet. The Mariners have just two position starters -- Seager and Mallex Smith -- with more than 206 career games in the big leagues, and Seager -- 1,262 career games -- figures to provide a steadying influence both in the clubhouse and lineup.

A year ago, the third baseman missed the first two months of the season with a torn tendon in his left wrist. Despite the late arrival and a slow start while he regained his timing, Seager finished with a strong second half and wound up with his eighth straight season with 20-plus homers.

Friday’s homer -- a 382-footer into the right-field seats -- was the 199th of his career and fifth off Verlander. He ranks fourth on Seattle’s all-time home run list behind Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner, all members of the Mariners’ Hall of Fame.

“Kyle hits well in this ballpark. He loves hitting here, he gets the ball in the air. He didn’t even get all of that one and it got out in right field,” Servais said. “Kyle had a good camp. He’s on everything, and he hit some balls well tonight again. We need that from him, certainly where he’s hitting in our lineup. Getting on base, driving the ball, he’s capable of those things.”

No room for error
The youthful Mariners obviously face tough sledding against the three-time AL West champs, whom they’ll face 10 times in this shortened season. But if the Mariners want to compete, they’ll need to pitch well and play clean defense.

Marco Gonzales looked good for four innings, but didn’t get any help in the fifth when second baseman Shed Long Jr. couldn’t pull in a wide throw from Seager on what almost certainly would have been a double-play grounder by catcher Martín Maldonado.

That set up the game-tying infield single by José Altuve on a grounder deep in the hole to shortstop J.P. Crawford, then a three-run blast by Michael Brantley off reliever Zac Grotz after Smith couldn’t come up with a soft liner to right. A misplay on a high fly from Carlos Correa by left fielder José Marmolejos, making his first MLB start, allowed another run in the seventh, off reliever Carl Edwards Jr.

With starting pitchers not able to push deep into games yet as they build up following the short Summer Camp, the Mariners’ defense and inexperienced bullpen are going to need to step up.

“I thought Marco threw the ball really well,” Servais said. “Certainly the fifth inning got away from us a little bit. They hit some balls we weren’t able to convert into outs there. Against a club like the Astros, it’s 27 outs, no more. That’s [infield coach] Perry Hill’s motto, and we gave them a few too many outs tonight.”

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