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Crawford thriving at leadoff, in the field

Servais: Shortstop is 'the point guard of our defense'
@gregjohnsmlb
August 2, 2020

SEATTLE -- J.P. Crawford has been in the big leagues just long enough that he’s not always lumped in with the young group of prospects the Mariners are developing. But make no mistake, the 25-year-old is a key piece of Seattle's youthful puzzle and has been among the bright spots

SEATTLE -- J.P. Crawford has been in the big leagues just long enough that he’s not always lumped in with the young group of prospects the Mariners are developing. But make no mistake, the 25-year-old is a key piece of Seattle's youthful puzzle and has been among the bright spots in the early going of this shortened season.

Crawford has taken over the Mariners’ leadoff role in impressive fashion, batting .364 (12-for-33) in the first nine games going into Sunday afternoon’s contest with the A’s. He’s also drawn seven walks, pushing his on-base average to .475, third in the American League behind only teammate Kyle Lewis (.500) and the Angels’ David Fletcher (.476). Crawford also has two triples and 10 runs scored, both MLB highs.

But perhaps even more important to the Mariners in the long run is Crawford’s defense and he flashed that again in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the A’s, helping turn an outstanding 4-6-3 double play behind Yusei Kikuchi in the third inning and showing his quick hands and strong arm on a high-hopper by Ramón Laureano in the fourth, when he fielded and fired quickly enough to get the A’s center fielder on another tough play.

“J.P. wants to be in the batter’s box, he wants the ball hit to him, he wants the ball in his hands,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s like the point guard of our defense. He’s been really good here early in the season.”

The double play was a classic, with second baseman Shed Long Jr. fielding a shot up the middle by A’s catcher Sean Murphy and flipping the ball to Crawford, who raced to second and leaped over a sliding Stephen Piscotty to make an across the body throw that first baseman Evan White scooped on the bounce.

“Awesome double play,” Servais said. “That’s a fun group to watch. Let the kids play. They’re very athletic and can make plays like that. The more they relax, the more you’ll see that stuff come out.”

Crawford’s efforts were not lost on Kikuchi, who wound up throwing six scoreless innings in a strong start.

“J.P. always has my back,” Kikuchi said through translator Kevin Ando. “He always makes big plays behind me and we have this great atmosphere because of those plays. I just think it’s really great.”

Swanson added to bullpen
Right-handed reliever Erik Swanson was recalled from the Mariners’ alternate training site in Tacoma, Wash., on Sunday and catcher Joseph Odom was optioned back to that group, which brings Seattle’s bullpen back to its original 11-man staff.

Odom was added as a third catcher when Austin Nola hurt his knee in the fourth game of the season in Houston and the rookie started two games. But with Nola back to full health, the Mariners opted to add Swanson, who pitched well in relief in the second half of last season after opening the year as a starter.

Teams typically only carry seven or eight relievers in the regular season, but the expanded 30-man rosters allow extra arms in the early going as teams build their pitchers back up after the 3 1/2-month shutdown.

Servais said finding the right work load for so many relievers is a balancing act.

“We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said. “We do have a lot of guys down there, a lot of inexperienced guys that we don’t quite know what the roles are going to be as we go through the season. But that’s part of what we’re going through this year is to learn about our players, let them experience different things and how they handle it. We’ll continue to give them an opportunity to figure it out.”

Adams not ready yet
Right-handed reliever Austin Adams remains on the 45-day injured list as he builds strength in his left knee, which underwent ACL surgery last October. Adams hoped to be ready for the start of the season, but the Mariners slowed his return after he pitched twice during intrasquad games.

Servais said Adams is throwing and picking his intensity back up, but the timing for his potential return is complicated a bit by the upcoming nine-day road trip at the end of the current 10-day homestand.

“I’d love to get him off the mound or face some hitters before we go out on the road,” Servais said. “We just don’t have as much time or field access on the road as we did in the past, so to do a live BP or simulated game on the road is really challenging.”

That would seemingly indicate that if Adams isn’t ready by Aug. 10 when the club heads to Arlington, he likely won’t be activated until the team returns on Aug. 19 at the earliest. Because of COVID-19 protocols, teams aren’t allowed to fly in players during a road trip and can only add from the three-man traveling taxi squad that accompanies the club on the team charter.

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