Coming off a Gold Glove and All-Star 2014 season, Mariners 3B Kyle Seager is spending spring training making minor adjustments to a swing that helped him hit 25 home runs and drive in 96 runs last year.
His new goal: Get off to a better start.
The good news for him: That won’t take much.
Seager hit .156 (10-for-64) with zero home runs, two RBIs and 17 strikeouts the past season through the first 19 games.
The slump ended April 23 when Seager belted two home runs, including a walk-off, and had five RBIs in a 5-3 win over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field. It ended an eight-game Mariners’ losing streak. The rest of the season, Seager was the consistent hitter Mariners fans had come to know.
This year, Seager, is trying to avoid another early-season letdown.
“It’s something I’m still continuing because I don’t want to have a start like last year — where I don’t get out of the gate too hot.”
Seager doesn’t have a long history of flailing early. He has a career .792 OPS and a .268 batting average with nine home runs and 33 RBIs during 71 March/April games, when Safeco Field, with its huge alleys, brisk temps and damp air, traditionally torments hitters.
Seager is known for watching more film than the average player, though he surely doesn’t need it to remember that opposing defenses shifted against him last season because of his pull tendencies. So this spring Seager is focusing on going to the opposite field with more authority, even if he knows that he probably will never have the same power to left field that he does to right.
In 2014, Seager took full advantage of Safeco Field’s accessible right field seats, hitting 16 home runs at home compared to nine on the road.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever have that much power to left field,” Seager told The News Tribune. “But I need to be able to drive the gap. I need to be able to hit doubles out there, and occasionally, maybe, run into one.
“I need to be able to keep the ball out of the air to left field,” he added. “If I can hit it hard on a line, that’s ideal for me.”
Manager Lloyd McClendon said numerous times he thinks Seager, a .262 career hitter, should have a batting average around .300. He believes Seager, who is entering his fifth year in the big leagues, is capable of an MVP-caliber season.
So does the front office, which signed the third-round pick from the 2009 MLB draft to a seven-year, $100 million contract in the off-season.
Making the jump from really good to elite might begin with getting off to better starts, but it wouldn’t hurt if he learns to not wear down at the end of the year.
In 107 games in September and October, Seager has a .233/.299/.373 career slash line. In 2014, he batted just .235 during the final month, while the Mariners finished one game behind the Oakland Athletics for the second American League wild card spot.
Paxton back and pitching
Mariners LHP James Paxton made his spring training debut Tuesday when he threw a simulated game at Peoria Sports Complex.
Facing minor leaguers, he tallied 31 pitches over three innings, allowing one run on four hits, according to MLB.com. Paxton reported no issues with the forearm soreness that delayed his throwing program after he was hurt in late February when he fell during an agility drill.
Tuesday, the 26-year-old Canadian threw all his pitches. His first Cactus League start comes against the Texas Rangers Sunday at Peoria Stadium.
Paxton said he expects to be ready for the regular season, though he’ll receive four starts while most of the starting pitchers get five, according to McClendon.
In 2014, Paxton had flashes of dominance but was hurt for most of the year. He finished 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts that spanned 74 innings.
Mariners, White Sox end in draw
Since the outcomes in Cactus League don’t have the slightest meaning, umpires allowed Tuesday’s tilt between the Mariners and White Sox at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, AZ., to end in a 5-5 tie after Seattle surrendered a three-run lead in the eighth inning.
The Mariners highlights: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma started and threw four shutout innings, scattering five hits and striking out two without a walk. 1B Logan Morrison went 2-for-3 with a triple and his first home run of the spring. The latter came off newly acquired White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija.
But Seattle LHP Rafael Perez (0.2 innings) surrendered a 5-2 lead in the eighth when catcher Geovany Soto had an RBI ground-out and outfielder Trayce Thompson followed later in the inning with a two-run homer to tie at five. The White Sox threatened in the ninth by getting a runner in scoring position, but left-hander Joe Saunders got a strikeout and groundout to end the game.
The Mariners 6-7-1 in Cactus League, play the Oakland Athletics Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. PT (ROOT Sports) at Peoria Stadium. RHP Erasmo Ramirez (0-0) gets the start against Oakland southpaw Drew Pomeranz (0-1, 1.80 ERA).
RHP Mayckol Guaipe has been optioned to Triple-A Tacoma. The move means there are now 50 players in major league camp — 36 roster players and 14 non-roster invitees.
Guaipe, 24, pitched last season for Double-A Jackson, where he went 1-3 with a 2.89 ERA in 40 appearances as a reliever. This spring, he allowed two runs over two innings in two games.
- Mariners catcher Mike Zunino has emerged as a leader in the clubhouse and with Seattle’s pitching staff.
- No longer a flame-thrower, reliever Mark Lowe is trying to resurrect his career with the Mariners after making his MLB debut with the club in 2006.
- The Mariners play the Los Angeles Dodgers on the road April 15. It will serve as both Jackie Robinson Day and the 2015 Civil Rights Game, MLB said Monday.