The calendar is now churning relentlessly toward the start of the regular season in April — a month that has not often been kind to Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager at the plate.
Some recent history:
A year ago, Seager batted just .159 in April. A year earlier, he stumbled to a 4-for-24 start; and in 2014, he had just 10 hits in his first 65 at-bats.
Obvious question: Does that pattern mean Seager, a notable tinkerer when it comes to his swing, is taking a different approach this year in preparation for the regular season?
“I guess just try to play better,” he offered. “That would be a good thing to do.”
“You know that it’s happened,” he continued, “but you can’t really change it. You can’t really try any harder. You’re trying hard the whole time. It’s definitely not a try-harder game, anyway. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen.”
History also shows that, each time, Seager overcame those slow starts. He finished last year by achieving career-bests in all of the traditional and sabermetric triple-crown categories.
“Maybe he’ll surprise us and do something a little different in April,” manager Scott Servais said. “Last year, seeing him struggle like he did — it says a lot for his mental toughness.
“A lot of guys would have wilted and folded, thought, ‘Poor me, it’s just a bad year,’ and cashed it in. He kept saying, ‘I’ll hit .300. I’ll be at .300 at some point.’ I think he did touch it at one point, and then tailed off a little bit right at the end.”
Seager points to teammate Robinson Cano as an example for playing through an early slump.
“He said, basically, that he’s had slow starts,” Seager recalled, “and people would be nervous and panicking a little bit. He’s had the approach where, ‘It’s OK. We’ll see where I’m at when it’s the end of the year.’ That’s always been pretty good.”
It’s also true that April numbers are typically exaggerated in importance because of their limited sample size. Seager’s history shows his September production roughly matches his April numbers, but that rarely attracts the same attention.
Give him a break
An aside: The Mariners have noted Seager’s late-season slides, which they generally attribute to his heavy workload taking a toll. He averaged more than 157 starts at third base over the last four years.
Providing Seager with an occasional break was one reason the Mariners acquired Danny Valencia. While Valencia’s primary role, at this point, is to play first base, he has been a third baseman for most of his career.
Utilityman Taylor Motter has also logged nearly 1,000 innings at third base throughout his six professional seasons. Even so …
“Seag wants to play every day,” Servais said. “He wants to play every … single … day. But for the betterment of the club, it might be better to give him a day off … once a month, maybe.
“And give him a heads-up a week ahead of time that it’s coming. He’s not the type of guy you want to spring something on as he walks into the clubhouse that day. Because he’ll be in my office yelling at me, and I’m really not up for that.”
Seager is closing the spring with a surge after a few weeks of fiddling with his stance and swing. He has six hits in his last 13 at-bats, which raised his average to .308 (16-for-52).
His on-base percentage is .400 with a .481 slugging percentage — and he’s achieved those numbers largely without the protection he typically gains from following Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the lineup.
Cano and Cruz spent 2 1/2 weeks on sabbatical at the World Baseball Classic and, since returning, have missed time while battling head colds. Not that spring numbers matter that much.
Everything resets to zero Saturday when the Mariners break camp.
As for avoiding those April blues, Seager said he plans no changes to his preparation between now and the season opener next Monday in Houston.
“I’m going to try to get more hits than I did last year,” he reiterated. “But other than that, I’m going to pretty much try to be the same. If it happens again, and you keep the big picture in mind, you can get out of it.
“If you panic over the moment you’re in, then it gets a little more difficult. It is what it is. As long as the team’s winning, that’s what it’s all about.”
MIXED NEWS FOR SIMMONS
The news Tuesday wasn’t all bad for Mariners reliever Shae Simmons.
That latest MRI on the muscle strain in his forearm showed improvement over the two-plus weeks since the injury occurred in a March 11 outing against Cincinnati.
But Simmons remains on a no-throw list for, at least, the next few days.
That the updated exam reaffirmed no ligament damage is a major plus because Simmons, 26, missed most of the last two seasons while recovering from reconstructive-elbow surgery (commonly known as Tommy John surgery).
“It’s weird,” he said. “Whenever I’m not throwing, it feels great. When I’m throwing, it will start to fatigue out on me. When I get done, it might be a little uncomfortable, but I don’t have any trouble sleeping.
“When I wake up the next day, my arm is not sore.”
The Mariners acquired Simmons in a Jan. 11 trade from Atlanta in an effort to add a power right-hander to their bullpen. He got off to a strong start this spring and appeared a likely choice to win a spot on the 25-man roster.
Even a best-case scenario suggests Simmons is now unlikely to be return before late April. Once he resumes throwing, he must work through the normal progression of playing catch, throwing from a mound and see rehab game action.
“I’m trying to stay positive, man,” he said. “What else can you do? It’s out of my control. I’ve had a streak of unfortunate events throwing. And it just happens that that’s my job.”
The over/under odds this season for Felix Hernandez are 13 victories, a 3.50 ERA and 170 1/2 strikeouts, according to latest posting for www.bovada.lv, an online gaming site.
▪ Robinson Cano: a .295 average, 25 1/2 homers and 90 1/2 RBIs.
▪ Nelson Cruz: .270 average, 35 1/2 homers and 90 1/2 RBIs.
▪ Kyle Seager: 26 1/2 homers and 90 1/2 RBIs.
▪ Jean Segura: .280 average, 29 1/2 stolen bases.
▪ Jarrod Dyson: 39 1/2 stolen bases.
▪ Hisashi Iwakuma: 11 1/2 victories.
▪ Edwin Diaz: 34 1/2 saves.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners