BY Howie Stalwick 12:45PM 04/14/2016

Mariners notebook: Servais dodges Safeco query

Mariners’ one-win homestand and feeble offense prompts question about Safeco’s impact on fly balls. Servais says balls “do hang up there a little bit longer,” but wasn’t going to tackle the marine layer yet.

Dae-Ho Lee rocked Safeco Wednesday with his walk-off homer. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Safeco Field’s reputation as a pitcher’s ballpark has done little to help the Mariners attract premier hitters over the years. First-year manager Scott Servais probably didn’t help matters with comments he made prior to Wednesday’s game with Texas.

Asked if he considers Safeco to be a “fair” ballpark, Servais responded with a question of his own.

“Fair? Um . . . good question,” Servais said. “I don’t know if it’s fair for me to comment on that yet. I need to see a few more games in here.”

Servais did say fly balls “have a tendency to hang up there a little bit longer” at Safeco. Servais, like many others over the years, said balls carry better at Safeco when the roof is closed.

Servais said batted balls do “play a little different, obviously, than at Texas or some of those other places. But I think we’re capable, and our roster’s built, to handle it just fine.”

Servais, who never played at Safeco during his 11-year playing career in the major leagues (all in the National League), added, “The pitcher’s mound is still 60 feet, 6 inches. The batter’s box is in the same spot. We’ve got to do better in the batter’s box.”

Home vs. away

Small sample size, yes, but the 3-6 Mariners are tied for second among the 30 major league teams in runs per road game (7.0) and rank 28th in runs per home game (1.8).

The three road games were at the Rangers’ Globe Life Park, a notorious launching pad for hitters. However, it’s worth nothing that Seattle stands eighth in batting away from home (.282) and 27th at home (.170).

The Mariners scored 19 runs in their last two games at Texas, including a season-high 10 April 5. Seattle produced only 11 runs during a six-game homestand, including a high of four in Wednesday’s 10-inning, 4-2 win over the Rangers.

Asked if the team’s hitting woes are mental more than physical, RF Nelson Cruz said, “I cannot tell, but it’s just a few games. If you get a few hits in one game, your average goes up to .300.”

A players-only meeting was held in the clubhouse after the 8-0 loss to Texas on Tuesday. Cruz said the message was simple.

“It’s a long season . . . keep your head up,” Cruz said. “No one says it’s going to be easy, but we have a really good team.”

Struggling veterans

No Mariners are batting above  .300, though Leonys Martin is hitting .296 and providing strong defense in center field. The only other players hitting better than .231 are OFs Norichika Aoki (.278 with an eight-game hitting streak) and Seth Smith (.267).

Cruz, Seattle’s only .300 hitter last year (.302), is down to .229. Three others are under .190: Adam Lind (.095), Kyle Seager (.152) and Robinson Cano (.189). A fourth starter batting under .200 is young shortstop Ketel Marte (.172).

Cano ended an 0-for-15 skid with his league-leading fifth home run and team-leading eighth RBI Wednesday. Lind and Marte snapped 0-for-14 streaks in the same game. Seattle’s .208 batting average ranks 28th in the majors.

Lee delivers

Pudgy first baseman Dae-Ho Lee, the 33-year-old rookie out of the Japanese and Korean pro leagues, circled the bases with a smile on his face after blasting a pinch-hit, two-out, two-run homer to beat Texas 4-2 Wednesday.

The hit was only the third in 13 at-bats (.231) for Lee, but it was his second home run. Lee drilled an 0-2, 97-mph fastball to left field off Jake Diekman.

Servais said he was initially concerned in spring training about Lee’s ability to hit top-level fastballs.

“The thing that we kept seeing was, he is able to make adjustments,” Servais said. “He cuts down the leg kick, he cuts down his swing to make contact, and he’s plenty strong enough that if he does square it up, he’s got enough power.”

Lee said, “I knew it was going to be a fastball.” Obviously, so did Diekman, but the Texas left-hander did not expect to leave the ball up in the strike zone.

“That was terrible,” Diekman said. “Put it right where he could hit it.”

Walker shines

Taijuan Walker has yet to earn a decision, but the 23-year-old right-hander has pitched well in both starts this season. He gave up five hits and one run and struck out four in six innings Wednesday, though a 30-pitch first inning helped push his final pitch count to 108.

“He really did keep it together,” Servais said. “He’s growing up, maturing before our eyes here.

“He has a chance to have a big year for us. It took him a while (Wednesday). We didn’t see the big fastball until real late when he kind of dug deep and got a little extra, which is nice to see.”

The Mariners are 15-5 in Walker’s last 20 starts. His record in that span is 9-2. Last season marked his first full year in the majors.

“Having a whole year in the big leagues and going through ups and downs definitely helped me with situations (Wednesday) where I needed to keep my cool and make pitches,” Walker said. “I feel like I made pretty good pitches.”

Federal Way native producing for Rangers

Another impressive pitcher Wednesday was Federal Way native Tony Barnette, a 32-year-old rookie who spent the past six seasons in Japan.

Barnette threw 2.1 innings of one-hit, shutout relief for the Rangers. The Thomas Jefferson High School graduate moved to the bullpen after four years in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and his first season in Japan.

Barnette said he felt no added pressure playing in front of his father and other family members in Seattle.

“You’ve just got a job to do,” said Barnette, who said his six-year stay in Japan “was a great experience for me and my family.”

Peralta stumbles

Veteran reliever Joel Peralta, filling in for injured set-up man Joaquin Benoit, Wednesday gave up a game-tying home run to the first man he faced for the second consecutive outing.

Servais said the Mariners are hopeful Benoit will be recovered from shoulder and back stiffness in time for the opening game Friday of a three-game stop at Yankee Stadium (4 p.m. PT, Root Sports). Nathan Karns (0-1, 7.20) starts against Luis Severino (0-1, 5.40) in a battle of right-handers.

Servais never played at the new or old Yankee Stadium, so he’s looking forward to managing there for the first time.

“It’s an American landmark,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. Our guys are excited to go back and play there.”


  • Guy K. Browne

    9 games into the season and we’re looking for excuses? What a croc of crap… last time I checked the visiting team also plays/hits/fields at Safeco Field.
    High OBP, speed, pitching and defense will win in any ballpark, especially Safeco. Here’s an idea, build a team to suit the ballpark. The 2001 team won 116 games …. seems pretty fair to me.

    • art thiel

      That what Dipoto has done. But as you wisely pointed out, it’s nine games.

      • Guy K. Browne

        So Art, why is the issue of “the fairness of Safeco Field” still an issue? And maybe more importantly, why didn’t Servais summarily dismiss the question? So what if big sluggers don’t want to come to Seattle for fear of a hit to their statistics. Pitchers would seemingly love to come here (if management could actually build a capable team…maybe there’s the rub). Safeco could be such a great baseball fans park, hitters putting the ball in play, speedy runners putting pressure on the opposing pitchers, pitchers knowing they can be aggressive because, unlike the Kingdome, there will be no can of corn homers at Safeco Field. I guess finally, in reality, how hard will it be to create an environment where players will think “Seattle huh?, I’d love to play there”. Is it possible in the near term (1-3-5 years) to clear over a decade of toxicity?

  • jafabian

    Not even at Coors Field has a manager suggested moving the fences out. Wanting them moved in is an old excuse. Other teams seem to score at Safeco. Stands to reason the M’s should be able to.

    • art thiel

      I suspect production will pick up, because these guys collectively are at least major league average hitting talent.

  • Rj Smith

    What makes me smile is Brad Miller & LAMO Morrison tearing it up for Tampa in true M’s fashion to the tune of 4 for 55 with 1 extra base hit & 20K’s.

    • Kevin Lynch

      That’s classic! I mean crassic. But I believe film star Trumbo is doing well.

      • Rj Smith

        Yeah….. I’ve been watching his AB’s, I guess teams lost their scouting reports on him from last year. The report that says “with 2 strikes, do not throw fastball, throw off-speed/breaking pitch in the dirt, he will swing every single stinking time”. He hit a HR off Hamels tonite, it was a fastball of course. BUMbo has no plate discipline & will get himself out regularly. I see a 2015 M’s-esque streak coming for him soon. Miller & Morrison are both just absolutely beyond terrible. I love it.

    • art thiel

      True M’s fashion would mean they are playing at All-Star levels with new teams.

      • Rj Smith

        Outside of Adam Jones, I can’t really think of anybody else who went on to star somewhere else for several years. Jones only had about 100 AB’s, not enough time to be Mariner-ized. Everybody else has been bad as expected…. Morrison, Ackley, Miller, Morse, Franklin, etc.

  • Twiga

    Plundering the minor leagues for over the hill veterans is no way to build a winner. Look across the street to Century Link to see how a winner is built. Will no one local ever step up to buy Nintendo’s shares? #lookslikethesameold

    • James Jackson

      Do you mean the fact that the Hawks have one of the better owners in the league? Because other than that the baseball/football comparison is pretty weak..

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