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3 positives from Mariners' first 3 weeks

Haniger, Motter, Paxton could boost Seattle over .500
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

DETROIT -- The Mariners are enjoying an off-day in the Motor City, which became far easier to appreciate in the wake of Sunday's 11-1 win in Oakland that temporarily reversed some of the unhappiness over an 8-12 start.

Seattle has work to do, but there are 142 games left to make that happen. Here are three positives that have emerged over the first three weeks:

DETROIT -- The Mariners are enjoying an off-day in the Motor City, which became far easier to appreciate in the wake of Sunday's 11-1 win in Oakland that temporarily reversed some of the unhappiness over an 8-12 start.

Seattle has work to do, but there are 142 games left to make that happen. Here are three positives that have emerged over the first three weeks:

1. The rookie is raking
It's not just that Mitch Haniger has been the best rookie in the American League -- he's also putting up numbers that are as good as anybody's at any age. Check out his rankings coming out of the weekend:

Haniger leads the AL in runs with 19 (nobody else has more than 14). He's tied for third in hits with 25 (one behind the leaders), tied for second in doubles with seven, fourth in RBIs with 16 (one behind the leaders) and tied for fourth in walks with 13. He's ranked 11th in batting average (.321), fourth in on-base percentage (.430), seventh in slugging percentage (.590) and third in OPS (1.020).

In other words, Haniger is doing it all -- and at a very high level. And it doesn't hurt that he's also a plus defender in right field with a very strong arm.

2, It's not just the hair
If you think Taylor Motter is hitting the ball hard every time you see him make contact, you're not mistaken.

Motter's average exit velocity on balls he's hit ranks ninth in MLB at 94.8 mph. He's not a big guy, but he's squeezed himself into a top group led by sluggers Miguel Sano, Joey Gallo, Khris Davis, Freddie Freeman, Giancarlo Stanton, Nicholas Castellanos, Manny Machado and Ryan Braun.

Video: SEA@OAK: Motter crushes a grand slam to center

The interesting thing there is all those players are either corner infielders or outfielders, while Motter is a utility guy who has been filling in at shortstop in place of the injured Jean Segura. With Segura coming back, manager Scott Servais says he'll find a way to keep Motter's hot bat in the lineup.

While it's hard to imagine Motter maintaining his current power streak -- he's got six doubles and five homers among his 13 hits -- he's an aggressive swinger who does damage when he makes contact. And his defensive versatility gives him the ability to play first base in a platoon with Daniel Vogelbach or in left field, now that Jarrod Dyson has shifted to center to replace Martin, or at any position where somebody needs a break.

3. Paxton looks legit
Considering James Paxton's second-half performance in 2016, many wondered if he was ready for a breakout season. The question was -- and remains -- consistency. Paxton has ace-like stuff, and he showed that in his first three starts -- he didn't allow a run across 21 innings.

Paxton's fourth outing wasn't as sharp, as he allowed nine hits and five runs to the A's in 4 1/3 innings, but every pitcher is going to have days like that. The challenge is to limit those struggles, and Paxton seems to have some things pointing in the right direction.

Video: TEX@SEA: Paxton strikes out nine over eight innings

Since Paxton locked into an arm slot in 2016 that allows his velocity to play up to 96-98 mph over the course of a full start, he has been overpowering at times. Now when he can work in effective offspeed stuff -- as he did in the first three starts -- he's missing bats at a very high rate.

Two years ago, Paxton's swinging strike rate was 7.2 percent. In 2016, it climbed to 11.7 percent. This year, he's at 14.4 percent, which is elite level. Per FanGraphs, only six pitchers in baseball have a higher swinging strike rate this year, and that group is impressive -- Jacob deGrom, Danny Salazar, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Danny Duffy and Kenta Maeda.

In other words, Paxton's stuff is legitimately nasty. And if he stays locked in, he could be in for a very good year.

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

Seattle Mariners, Mitch Haniger, Taylor Motter, James Paxton