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'Opener' strategy pays off, thanks to 6 HRs

Adams, LeBlanc combine for 7 innings on Encarnacion's historic day
@gregjohnsmlb
June 9, 2019

ANAHEIM -- Using an “opener” hasn’t been an open-and-shut case for the Mariners, but manager Scott Servais finally got the desired result on Sunday as Seattle closed out a series win over the Angels with a 9-3 victory. Reliever Austin Adams got the Mariners started out on the right foot

ANAHEIM -- Using an “opener” hasn’t been an open-and-shut case for the Mariners, but manager Scott Servais finally got the desired result on Sunday as Seattle closed out a series win over the Angels with a 9-3 victory.

Reliever Austin Adams got the Mariners started out on the right foot with a perfect first inning, Wade LeBlanc followed with eight strikeouts in six innings of two-run ball and Seattle’s offense did more than its share by clubbing a season-high six home runs.

Box score

Edwin Encarnacion went deep twice to reach 400 for his career, Tom Murphy added two of his own and Daniel Vogelbach and Kyle Seager also homered on a gorgeous 80-degree afternoon at Angel Stadium as the Mariners won for just the fifth time in their past 20 games.

It was the third time the Mariners have employed the “opener” strategy, though the first two attempts backfired when Brandon Brennan and Adams each gave up three runs in their first inning earlier this week in losses to the Astros.

Adams got just two outs in his initial opening attempt Thursday before Tommy Milone had to be rushed in to quell the damage in a game the Mariners wound up losing in 14 innings.

But given another shot, Adams -- who was acquired in a minor trade with the Nationals five weeks ago -- mowed down the Angels in a 1-2-3 first, striking out Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani and turned a 2-0 lead over to LeBlanc after Murphy ripped a two-run homer in the top of the second.

Adams relishes the opportunity to fill the opener role and likely will get more opportunities as the Mariners look to break up a rotation with four lefty starters. Servais said the club will likely continue using openers for LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, who is scheduled to go again Wednesday in Minnesota.

“It’s something I feel I can do extremely well and something baseball is shifting toward,” Adams said. “You have to keep up with the trends.”

LeBlanc had allowed just one run over eight innings after following Brennan in Seattle’s first opener attempt on Monday in a 4-2 loss. This time the veteran lefty picked up his first victory since returning from a five-week stint on the injured list with a strained right oblique, scattering six hits and issuing just one walk.

“The opener worked today,” Servais said. “Adams did a great job getting through the first inning and Wade LeBlanc took it from there. Wade has really gotten sharp his last couple times out. You can really see the cutter and command coming back. He did an awesome job getting us deep into the ballgame.”

The series win was Seattle’s first since a two-game sweep of the A’s on May 13-14.

The home runs continue to fly

The Mariners’ six home runs hiked their season total to an MLB-leading 126 in 69 games, though the Twins have 125 in 64 games.

Encarnacion moved into the American League lead with his 19th and 20th homers, and he was matched by Murphy, who has been on a recent tear of his own.

Murphy extended his hitting streak to nine games while batting .333 (11-for-33) with five homers and 10 RBIs. The 28-year-old hit .219 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs in 81 games over four seasons with the Rockies, but he already has seven homers and 14 RBIs while batting .304 in 24 games with Seattle.

Vogelbach “only” had one homer Sunday, but it was a loud one as the burly first baseman smacked his 16th of the season -- and 20th of his career -- with a 448-foot blast into the right-field seats immediately after Encarnacion’s 408-footer as Seattle went back-to-back off reliever Cody Allen to take a 5-1 lead in the sixth.

Vogelbach’s moonshot was the longest Statcast-recorded homer of the season for the Mariners, topping a 442-footer by Encarnacion on Wednesday against the Astros in Seattle.

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