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Mallex’s hustle, rejuvenated Kikuchi lift Seattle

Three takeaways to the Mariners' win over the Pades
August 7, 2019

SEATTLE -- Yusei Kikuchi delivered a promising performance on Wednesday, and the Mariners' offense finally helped out enough to snap a five-game losing streak as Seattle topped the Padres, 3-2, at T-Mobile Park.

SEATTLE -- Yusei Kikuchi delivered a promising performance on Wednesday, and the Mariners' offense finally helped out enough to snap a five-game losing streak as Seattle topped the Padres, 3-2, at T-Mobile Park.

Here are three things to like about the Mariners’ effort as they found a way to beat San Diego for the first time since 2016, a string of seven straight losses in the Interleague series.

Box score

1) You don’t always have to hit homers

While this is the year of the long ball in MLB, the Mariners no longer have Edwin Encarnacion or Jay Bruce, while Mitch Haniger has missed more than two months with injury and Daniel Vogelbach and Domingo Santana have hit midseason power slumps.

It all adds up to the Mariners having totaled just 10 runs and 20 hits in five games in August, but they pushed across the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth off hard-throwing Padres reliever Andres Munoz on an RBI fielder’s-choice grounder by Vogelbach.

Mallex Smith scored the winning run after blooping a double to left field that outfielder Wil Myers couldn’t quite glove on a diving attempt. J.P. Crawford then dropped down a bunt that catcher Austin Hedges fielded and fired to third, with Smith ruled safe after a successful replay challenge by the Mariners.

“Really Mallex’s speed … he’s the only guy on our team that is safe on that play,” manager Scott Servais said. “Their catcher actually made a pretty good play and we just got in under the tag. Vogey got the ball in play and we found a way to scratch out a run.”

Vogelbach, not exactly known for his speed, had to hustle down the line to prevent an inning-ending double play on his chopper to shortstop, with Smith racing home.

“You just want to find a way to get the run in,” said Vogelbach. “That’s what it comes down to -- winning games -- and I want to be in that spot 100 times out of 100. Whether I fail or succeed, I want to be that guy every single time.”

“You’re not always going to come through with a guy on third,” Servais said. “People think it’s easy, but league average is about 50 percent. Vogey got it done today. It’s really important and that’s how you start developing that attitude of, 'We can get it done at the end of the game.' Keeping it simple, just do your job.”

For a rebuilding Mariners club that is now 48-68, these are the type of situations they can build on.

“The goal is to win here in the next year or so, so these are games you want to be in,” Vogelbach said. “I know there have been multiple games where we’ve gotten blown out, but I feel like we’ve been in a lot of close games and there’s something to be said for that. Eventually the tables are going to turn and we’re going to be on the winning side of a lot of them.”

2) Kikuchi finds a promising adjustment

After surrendering a leadoff homer to Fernando Tatis Jr., Kikuchi put together his best start in several months as the 27-year-old rookie from Japan allowed four hits and just the lone run over five innings.

Kikuchi (4-8, 5.39 ERA) walked three and struck out eight -- second only to his season-high 10 punchouts at Cleveland on May 3 -- but saw his pitch count climb to 94 before turning the ball over to the bullpen with a 2-1 lead in the sixth.

“Yusei was outstanding today, in that he went into the game trying to make an adjustment with his mechanics and he did,” Servais said. “He got some results. The ball had life on it today. That was the difference. He had a lot of swing and miss on the slider and fastball and his curveball was pretty good. It was definitely a step in the right direction.”

Kikuchi shortened his arm stroke on his pre-pitch delivery, bringing the ball “about 10 centimeters less” behind his back, he said through interpreter Justin Novak, and it helped his timing.

“My rhythm was kind of off, so I made sure everything was set first and then went home with it,” Kikuchi said. “I haven’t been performing recently, so in the next two months I want to finish the season really strong. So I went out there and said, 'I have to make an adjustment.' I did it 100 percent. That’s what they told me and that’s what I did.”

3) Seager continues surging

Kyle Seager accounted for Seattle’s first two RBIs with a run-scoring grounder in the second and a solo homer in the fourth. The veteran third baseman has five homers in his last 14 games to hike his season total to 11 after missing the first two months of the season with an injury to his right hand.

Seager has hit .340 with 10 RBIs in that span, raising his average from .186 to .221 as he slowly climbs out of his rough start.

“He’s been pretty consistent,” Servais said. “The at-bats have been much better. He’s just getting the fastball in play. That’s what he did today. He got a fastball to hit the home run, another fastball early in the count and drives in a run. Give him credit because he was off to a really slow start after coming back from the injury. He’s grinded through it and is starting to get results.”

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