July 3 – SEATTLE – Justin Upton couldn’t just “wait” for a primo offer from Oakland reliever AJ Puk in the eighth inning of Saturday’s game at T-Mobile Park. Brought in as a pinch hitter when the Mariners trailed 1-0, Upton looked for a fastball over the plate early, assuming the first pitch from the bat would be best.
Signed by Seattle in late May and called up last month, Upton, 34, followed Puk’s first pitch – a low but central 97 mph radiator – before spinning and blasting his first career home run in the Cantina of Edgar in left field. The shutout was over, and Upton’s outburst tied the score at one.
It wasn’t a situation Upton was used to, given the daily starting role he commanded for so many seasons dating back to his debut for Arizona in 2007. He adjusted his approach when told asked to make his first appearance on the board in the eighth inning, Upton told reporters Saturday at T-Mobile Park.
“You have to be ready to strike,” he added. “Sometimes the best pitch you get will be the first one, so you have to be ready on the first pitch.”
It was dubbed by manager Scott Servais as the “biggest swing of the day”, given Puk’s sizzling fastball and a bending slider that Upton was lucky to avoid. He had struggled, admittedly, until Saturday’s eighth-inning missile, then 5-for-33 (.152) in a Seattle uniform. Although it wasn’t the first so-called slump in Upton’s big league career, which now spans 16 seasons.
“You just got away with it,” he said. “It’s really nice to see some success from the work I do.”
Then tied at one, reliever Diego Castillo caused a critical double play to cap a scoreless top of the ninth, and Abraham Toro delivered a single loaded with goals and no one in the bottom of the frame, scoring pinch runner Marcus Wilson to win, 2-1.
“It’s easy to (overthink) that,” Toro said after the game. “And the same with the change,” he added in reference to Oakland’s five-man infield on the final play of the game. “You’re trying to hit where they’re not…I was just trying to get a sacrificial fly down the middle.”
Seattle moved up to 38-42 and won a crucial game in what looked like a must-win series against the Athletics, which have nestled firmly in the division’s basement. Toro’s hit put the Mariners up 4-2 at home, and Seattle won again Sunday, 2-1, behind left-hander Robbie Ray’s 12 strikeouts and his fifth straight quality start.
“You can’t wait,” Servais said of the Upton circuit. “If it looks like (on) the first pitch you can pound him, you put him in play. You take a good hit, and he did. Good for him. Nice to see him get a big hit like that.
“If he doesn’t get that hit, I don’t know if we’ll win the game.”
Injuries to Taylor Trammell, Luis Torrens and Ty France throughout the past week have further decimated the attack, leading to inconsistent scoring and a frustrating lack of attack with runners in scoring position, Servais admitted. Shortstop JP Crawford ended his four-game suspension on Sunday, though outfielders Jesse Winker (six games) and Julio Rodriguez (two games, pending appeal) are expected to run out of time in the coming weeks.
Along with the addition of Upton, Seattle traded a trade to acquire 1B Carlos Santana from the Kansas City Royals to fill the absence of Ty France, who could return next weekend.
“We hung on,” Servais added on Sunday morning. “Our throw carried us. I think there’s a lot more to it for our offense to produce more runs. It just hasn’t happened yet. We’ve seen it in previews. “
Said Servais after Sunday’s victory: “The pitcher and the defense have been the name of the game.”
Heading into Sunday morning and the series finale with Oakland, the Seattle pitcher ranked tenth in team run average over the past seven days (3.67) and sixth in team WHIP ( 1.13). Rookie starter George Kirby topped Oakland on seven three-and-one hit innings on Saturday, and Seattle starters rode a 24-game streak allowing three or fewer runs through last Monday, setting a franchise record.
The Mariners will play a combined six games with San Diego and Toronto next week before a seven-game road slate with the Washington Nationals and Texas Rangers. This brings Seattle and the rest of the league to All-Star Break on July 18.
Sunday’s win cut Seattle’s deficit in the AL wildcard standings to five games.
“I know it’s officially 81 games today,” Servais said on Sunday, “but for me it’s always been… where are you (during) the break, and you regroup and go from the.”
JULIO WINS BACK-TO-BACK ROOKIE OF THE MONTH AWARDS
Before MLB released its latest batch of monthly winners, there was no doubt that May’s American League Rookie of the Month Julio Rodriguez would take home the award again.
The 21-year-old phenom officially earned his second consecutive Rookie of the Month honor on Saturday afternoon, now in the middle of a seven-game hitting streak. He became the first Marine to win back-to-back Rookie of the Month awards since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, and the first in baseball since Houston’s Yordan Alvarez won back-to-back awards in 2019. Both won the AL Rookie of the Month award from the year.
Rodriguez paced AL rookies in essentially every hit category imaginable, including FanGraphs WAR (1.4), wRC+ (162) and hits (30). He smashed seven home runs in June — the last dead center line-drive missile at T-Mobile Park on June 30 — and drove 16 RBIs. He reached base 44 times and had 58 total bases, the two best among AL rookies.
“I’m just playing my game,” Rodriguez said last week. “I feel like that’s my biggest thing. At the start of the year, I was all over the place, because I was new to the neighborhood. Getting down to earth, settling down. .. that was my biggest adjustment.”
Rodriguez homered in back-to-back games twice in June, first on June 24-25 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and then at T-Mobile Park on June 29-30. Wednesday’s two-point outburst hit the left-field bleachers perched above Seattle’s bullpen and came as part of a six-point fourth frame for the Mariners in an eventual win. of 9-3 on Baltimore.
“I was just trying to find something above the plate, because everything was falling on me,” Rodriguez said. “He left it in the middle, but I was able to catch him in front.”
Leading at bat on Sunday, Rodriguez smashed a first-pitch homer that gave Seattle an immediate 1-0 lead in the first inning. He ended up driving in both legs in the 2-1 victory after passing Dylan Moore at home in sixth.
Manager Servais added: “The adjustments he is making, the joy with which he continues to play… I just hope it never leaves him. I said that the day we called him and I pray to God that it stays with him for a long, long time.”
SHORT HOPS — SS JP Crawford received a one-game reduction to an initial five-game suspension for his role in Seattle’s benches compensation brawl in the second inning of a game with the Angels in Anaheim on June 26 . He began serving a four-game suspension Thursday and can return for Seattle’s two-game series at San Diego on Monday.
–OF Jesse Winker told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that his original seven-game suspension has been reduced to six games. MLB allowed the Mariners to stagger the suspensions of Winker (six games), Crawford (four) and Rodriguez (two) to avoid the loss of three starters (and two outfielders) at once. –C Tom Murphy underwent season-ending surgery on Wednesday to repair his left shoulder after dislocating it during a play at home plate May 6. Seattle initially hoped Murphy would return to the team on a road trip in late May before he turned 31. -the former receiver suffered a “setback” in the recovery process. Murphy had caught a bullpen session and taken swings in the cage less than two weeks after the injury.
– There is an “outside chance” that 1B Ty France could return to the Seattle roster by next weekend for a four-game home series with Toronto, Servais said Sunday. All-Star Ballot runners-up France suffered a left elbow injury attempting a shot at first base by infielder Abraham Toro. Oakland’s Sheldon Neuse crashed into France’s arm, which bent back.
“He’s getting closer,” Servais said. “We will wait to see how things develop with him (Sunday and Monday).”
– OF Kyle Lewis (concussion) joined Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday for a rehab assignment after taking punching drills and working on basic running drills at T-Mobile Park earlier this week. The 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, 26, was hit in the shoulder and head by a wayward curveball from Jose Urquidy on May 28, and hasn’t played in the game since. .
“He’s going to be there for a while,” Servais said on Sunday. “He has to go out and play, make sure he feels good, get the timing with his swing, (and) get out in the outfield.”
–DE Mitch Haniger (high ankle sprain) remains on schedule to return around the All-Star break and participated in running drills ahead of Saturday’s game at T-Mobile Park. – Logan Gilbert’s 220 strikeouts in 40 career games rank second in franchise history. Only Felix Hernandez, who sniffed out 233 batters in his first 40 starts of 2005-06, ranks higher.
ON THE BRIDGE
The Mariners (39-42) meet the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego for the first of a two-game interleague series on Monday. After Tuesday’s series finale, Seattle takes Wednesday off before kicking off a four-game home game with Toronto on Thursday.
This story was originally published on July 3, 2022 at 4:29 p.m.
(c)2022 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington)
Visit The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington) at www.TheNewsTribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.