Toro 'on fire'; Mariners 6-0 vs. Rays

August 4th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- One week. It’s hardly enough time to make a sweeping conclusion, but you can make a lasting first impression. That’s what switch-hitting has done with the Mariners.

Toro, acquired from the Astros on July 27, continued to impress Tuesday night while serving as a catalyst for the Mariners’ 4-2 victory against the Rays at Tropicana Field. Toro hit a tiebreaking home run off Luis Patiño’s curveball to lead off the fourth inning, then singled and scored an insurance run in the sixth.

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That helped the Mariners continue their dominance against the Rays -- six straight victories this season against the American League East leaders, eight of the last nine over two seasons and a 16-6 mark against them at Tropicana Field since 2014.

Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi allowed two runs, one earned, in six innings and didn’t need much support. Toro helped provide it.

“Toro … wow!’’ Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He is on fire. Smoking hot.’’

Toro, who batted .211 in 35 games with the Astros, has reached base in all seven of his games with the Mariners. He’s batting .440 (11-for-25) with eight runs scored, three home runs, five RBIs, a .500 on-base percentage, a .920 slugging percentage and a 1.420 OPS.

“It has been great coming over here, getting the chance to play every day, showing what kind of player I can be,’’ Toro said.

In the sixth, with the Mariners protecting a 3-2 advantage, Toro led off with a single against Rays reliever Ryan Sherriff, then advanced on a wild pitch and got to third on a throwing error by third baseman Joey Wendle. Toro scored on Cal Raleigh’s fielder’s choice grounder when second baseman Brandon Lowe mishandled Wander Franco’s throw near the bag.

After Kikuchi’s exit, the Mariners closed it out with stellar bullpen work from Casey Sadler, Paul Sewald and Diego Castillo, the ex-Ray acquired on July 29. The relievers got six straight outs before Castillo walked Ji-Man Choi with two outs in the ninth. Castillo then retired Wendle on a game-ending grounder.

Servais said it was good to get work for Castillo, who surrendered a walk-off homer against the Rangers on Saturday night.

“Anytime a newly acquired player struggles, you want to get him back there,’’ Servais said. “It is really hard to play against your old team for the first time. There’s something about it. I’m nicknaming him the Big Diesel. The Big Diesel got it done tonight and had plenty in the tank, so we’ll keep running him out there.’’

Kikuchi got off to a rough start when Rays leadoff batter Randy Arozarena smacked a first-pitch homer in the opening inning. After Franco singled, Toro helped Kikuchi escape with a nice double-play turn at second base after Kyle Seager made a lunging stop at third on Nelson Cruz's hot shot.

Toro’s biggest impact, though, was at the plate. In the fourth, Toro’s homer was complemented by Jarred Kelenic’s solo shot two batters later.

“Toro has a very calm demeanor about him,’’ Servais said. “When he gets in the batter’s box, he’s not in a hurry. He knows the strike zone, trusts his ability, trusts his eyes. As a switch-hitter, he’s a tough guy to match up against.

“I’m so excited about our lineup, more so than at any point of the season. You put Toro in the five hole, then you’ve got some really good younger guys at the bottom and now you’ve got real depth. You put a switch-hitter in the middle of a Major League lineup, that’s a great [asset]. The beauty of it is he’s 24 years old. There’s a lot to look forward to.’’