PEORIA, Ariz. -- There was a time, back in Ichiro Suzuki's prime, when the Mariners annually ranked among the American League's top teams in stolen bases. In recent years, that trend has reversed, but new manager Scott Servais says his club will get back to challenging opponents on the bases
PEORIA, Ariz. -- There was a time, back in Ichiro Suzuki's prime, when the Mariners annually ranked among the American League's top teams in stolen bases. In recent years, that trend has reversed, but new manager Scott Servais says his club will get back to challenging opponents on the bases after adding some speed and athleticism to the lineup.
"We hope it's a big part," Servais said Monday after his team swiped six bags in Sunday's 7-3 win over the Rangers. "We talked all offseason about how this team is built. It's a different team and we certainly want fans in Seattle to recognize that.
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"Believe me, I love home runs, everybody does. But there are other ways to score and we have to do things a little differently to be consistent, because you can't rely on the home run every night."
Seattle ranked fifth in the AL in homers last year, but 13th in scoring. But the new club has a different look with the addition of speedy outfielders Nori Aoki and Leonys Martin and utility infielder Luis Sardinas, as well as an expected full season from shortstop Ketel Marte.
Last year the Mariners were 11th among the AL's 15 teams in stolen bases with 69 and 14th in stolen base percentage at 60.5. They haven't been in the top half of the league in either of those categories since Ichiro's last season in 2011.
Servais wants opposing pitchers and catchers to have to worry a little more about the speed threat.
"We actually talked about in the dugout yesterday when we got it going a little bit," he said. "A couple of our coaches said, 'Let's make them uncomfortable. Let's be uncomfortable to play against.' It's not going to happen every day, but when it does present itself, take advantage of it. That is a feeling we want the other team to know, that there is more than just make a good pitch, get them out and you're fine. When guys do get on base, there is a focus on guys on the base and not just the hitter."
Aoki has averaged 20 stolen bases in his four seasons in the Majors. Martin stole 67 over two seasons for the Rangers when he was their starting center fielder in 2013-14. Marte swiped eight bags in his 57 games last year after being called up.
The Mariners haven't had many legitimate speed threats in recent years. Austin Jackson led Seattle with 15 stolen bases last season. Michael Saunders was the leader in '13 with 13 in a season when the Mariners set a franchise-low with just 49 as a team.
That's a long way from the heyday in 2001 when Seattle led the Majors with 174 stolen bases and an 80.6 percent success rate as Ichiro stole 56 bags his rookie year.
The Mariners still aren't roadrunners top to bottom. The middle of the order, with Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and Adam Lind, is built to drive in runs. But there are more table-setters this season and Servais sees that as a necessary ingredient for a club playing half its games at Safeco Field.
"I think we'll play as many one-run games as anybody this year, based on how we're built and the ballpark we play in," he said. "To win those games late, it's not usually a home run or double off the wall. It's getting a leadoff guy on, getting him over, creating some havoc, we take advantage of maybe a mistake and now all the sudden you've got a guy on third with one out and you have a good at-bat and get him in. We have to create other opportunities to win ballgames."
Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.