Notes: Haniger 'sets the tone' in leadoff spot

March 21st, 2021

Ty France clobbering a first-inning home run after reached base is the kind of sequence Scott Servais outlined on Saturday when talking about Haniger moving into the leadoff role. Haniger then blasting a homer to dead-center field in the third inning only added to the plan.

France, who batted second and crushed his fifth homer of Spring Training, has hit his way into consideration to bat regularly near the top of the lineup. Haniger, meanwhile, seems destined to take over the leadoff role full-time.

After hitting second for his first five games behind J.P. Crawford, Haniger batted first for the seventh game in a row in the Mariners' 6-5 loss to the Rangers on Saturday.

“Mitch is one of those unique players, you could probably hit him anywhere in the lineup and he's going to do a good job there because he gives you good at-bats,” Servais said. “You could hit him second, third, fifth, wherever. He brings a lot to the table offensively. But for us, I think he is great [hitting leadoff]. He sets the tone. You're going to get quality at-bats.”

Specifically for the Mariners, their logic is centered on Haniger being their best player and wanting to allocate him the most at-bats. When Haniger was last leading off at the end of the 2018 season, he was followed by elite run producers Jean Segura, Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz, with Dee Strange-Gordon -- a former batting champion and on-base threat -- preceding Haniger each turn through the lineup hitting ninth. In that 45-game stretch, Haniger had huge success, hitting .330/.388/.580 with eight homers, 19 doubles, two triples and 21 RBIs over 209 plate appearances.

The 2021 roster is constructed vastly different -- but with France, Kyle Seager and Kyle Lewis batting directly behind Haniger on Saturday, it offered a preview that Seattle's lineup might be a laborious one for left-handed starters.

When Haniger was sidelined for the entire 2020 season, J.P. Crawford took on the role and had some positive results, hitting a much-improved .255/.336/.338. But even he recognizes the importance of turning more of his hits into extra-bases. Dylan Moore could also be in the mix if he hits the way he did in his breakout '20, when he slashed .255/.358/.496 with a 139 OPS+.

“J.P. does a great job getting on base, but other than that first at-bat, I feel very strong that there are going to be people on base when Mitch steps to the plate,” Servais said. “He just gets that extra at-bat to lead off the game. That's how I'm looking at it. You're trying to get consistent performances up and down the lineup. But in Mitch's case, we're fortunate to have him back. Hopefully we can keep them healthy, because he's a big part of what we need to do offensively.”

Saturday’s lineup might’ve offered a sneak peek to one the club may regularly deploy in the regular season. Every projected Opening Day starter was on the field, sans catcher Tom Murphy.

Paxton finally set for Cactus debut
James Paxton will make his much-anticipated Spring Training debut when the Mariners visit the Brewers for a Sunday matinee. The Canadian has been held out of “A” games due to work visa issues.

Paxton is fully healthy, has been making his scheduled turns through the rotation on Peoria Sports Complex backfields and will be stretched out to up to five innings on Sunday. This will make his fourth turn through the rotation, and general manager Jerry Dipoto told MLB Network this week that he anticipates Paxton will pitch in one of the Mariners’ first three regular-season games against the Giants.

“I’m excited for him,” Servais said. “I was joking with him the other day, it seems like we haven’t even signed him. We just haven't seen him out there. But he's looking forward to it. Players like to compete. You kind of see where you're at and what you need to work on. So, he's looked great on the backfields, but it's always a lot different when you put a different color uniform up there playing against you.”