BY John Hickey 04:51PM 05/02/2011

Hickey: Top of Mariners order at top of its game

Finally, the game plan is working: When Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins get on base, good things happen.

Chone Figgins, above, and Ichiro Suzuki have been at their best in Seattle wins this year. / Getty Images

Each day of the Mariners’ five-game winning streak in Detroit and Boston Tuesday through Saturday had two things in common.

One was that the bullpen was bulletproof – 13.1 innings, no runs allowed and, almost as important, no inherited runners allowed to score.

The other was that the top of the lineup was at the top of its game. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins each hit in every game. Each had at least two hits in four of the five games.

Between them they went 18–for-44 (.409), scoring 10 runs and driving in seven. They also walked a combined five times, bringing their on-base percentage up to a lofty .469.

What that meant was that the middle of the lineup had plenty of chances to hit with men on base. While No. 3 man Milton Bradley struggled until a double on Saturday that brought home the winning run, new cleanup hitter Miguel Olivo and No. 5 man Justin Smoak capitalized in a huge way.

Olivo hit in all the wins, Smoak in four of five. Olivo drove in four runs while hitting two homers. Smoak drove in 10 and also went deep twice.

If there has been a game planin manager Eric Wedge’s office, that has to be it — finally. Ichiro and Figgins get on base and the middle of the lineup brings them around. And then the bullpen makes the most of the leads given.

The Mariners are 13-16 coming into Tuesday’s series opener against American League West-leading Texas (16-12). In Seattle’s 13 wins, Ichiro and Figgins have been the fuel keeping the offensive engine going.

In those 13 wins, the Nos. 1 and 2 hitters have combined to hit .386 (39-for-101) with 23 runs scored and 16 RBIs. They have had multiple hits in the same game six times in April and combined to account for 32 percent of the Mariners’ hits during the team’s wins.

That’s setting the table in a big way. Add the 12 walks they had in the 13 wins, and that’s an on-base percentage of .451, putting in place plenty of offensive opportunities for a team that has struggled to even have chances to score runs.

“We’re definitely coming to the park expecting good things to happen,’’ DH Jack Cust said. His average has been under .200 all year. He was moved to sixth in the batting order when Olivo was installed as the cleanup hitter April 24. In his last 13 trips to the plate, Cust has warmed up, going 4-for-7 with six walks, one with the bases loaded. “Wedge has preached that from the beginning. The guys are starting to come out of whatever funks they are in.’’

Meanwhile, the Seattle bullpen has been just as up-front, allowing one run in 15 innings on the road trip. The one run cost the Mariners a win Sunday, but that was due less to reliever Jamey Wright than Fenway’s sun-and-shadows that kept Ichiro from collecting an otherwise catchable fly ball.

Before that, it was nothing but zeroes for the relievers. Over the course of the trip, the bullpen’s ERA has gone from 5.25 to a more respectable 4.37.

Backup closer Brandon League has gone a perfect 7-for-7 in save situations. His overall ERA is 2.45, but it drops to 1.35 when only save situations are involved.

David Aardsma, the closer the last two years, is close to being ready to come off the disabled list. But he’ll be checked by the medics before the Rangers series starts. Based on the fact that his velocity isn’t where he’d like it to be and that the Mariners have done well the last week or so, Aardsma will probably get another couple of injury rehabilitation assignments at Triple-A Tacoma before he’s activated.

NOTES: Disabled center fielder Franklin Gutierrez (irritable bowel syndrome) could go out on an injury rehabilitation assignment in the next day or two. He is getting stronger and is putting on weight and has been doing full sets of baseball workouts on the Mariners’ just-completed road trip. … Ichiro is on a roll. He’s made 11 steal attempts, and he’s been safe 10 times. … Felix Hernandez struck out a season-best 10 batters Sunday in seven innings against the Red Sox. It was the 10th time in Hernandez’s career in which he’d fanned 10 or more, the first time since getting 11 Yankees in New York last Aug. 20.

Twitter: @JHickey3


YourThoughts

  • Trav_jill

    But the second-biggest development is the opportunity to second-guess the coach on his choice of quarterback. Whitehurst completed 11 of 19 passes for 149 yards. THIS WAS LESS THAN TWO QUARTERS

    Jackson was 15 of 22 for 166 yards.THIS TOOK 3/4s OF THE GAME WOW!!!

  • Herb Huseland

    During preseason I wasn’t impressed with Whitehirst at all. Last Sunday a different Whitehurst showed up. Pinpoint passing, great vision down field, he had it all. I just hope it wasn’t a fluke. If it wasn’t, the Seahawks have two first string QB’s.  

  • Herb Huseland

    For those that dissed Hasselback, I suggest you look at the standings specifically Tennessee. He never had a good offensive line. QB’s seldome throw accurately fromn on their backs.

  • Carkeek

    Mel Kiper predicts draft picks, he doesn’t predict NFL success, so what happens 10 years down the road has nothing to do with what he does.
    Also, NFL teams make draft picks independent of what Mel Kiper thinks.  Whether he is good or not is not relevant to real life.