Seattle Mariners

Season-long struggle for Mariners’ Seager begins to ease. Can the third baseman keep it going?

This hasn’t exactly been the reboot season Kyle Seager envisioned, but as the Seattle Mariners closed the first half, the veteran third baseman offered a glimpse of what this season could still turn into.

Saturday against the A’s, Seager ended a 0-for-21 slump with his sixth home run of the season, and drove in another run on a sacrifice fly later for a season-best three-RBI night. Sunday, he added a double to post back-to-back games with hits before the All-Star break.

“Nice to see Seager square up a few balls,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s been struggling and trying to find a few things since he’s come back after missing a few days with that wrist thing (in June). I thought he hit three balls right on the screws.”

Seager has been consistently working with hitting coach Tim Laker since returning from an extended stay on the injured list to begin the season. Though he had a the minor setback with his wrist, he said he’s noticed more solid contact at the plate lately.

“It was definitely better,” Seager said. “It’s hard to be worse, I guess, so it’s a good way to go from there.”

When Seager arrived at training camp this spring thinner, he was ready to improve on 2018 offensive numbers that fell well below his career averages.

But he sustained the first major injury of his nine-year career several weeks into camp, had surgery to repair a tendon in his left hand, and landed on the injured list before the Mariners played their first regular season game.

He didn’t return to Seattle’s starting lineup until the final week of May.

“It was definitely a weird start to the season,” Seager said. “It was something I’ve never dealt with before. I’ve never been on the (IL) before, so that was definitely different.

“Kind of getting back in the swing of things, the weirdest part was not feeling like a part of the group. Not having a normal interaction with the guys. You watch them on TV, but you don’t have that same connection when you’re hurt. You’re not a part of it.”

When Seager returned to his regular routine in the clubhouse and everyday role at third base, the glove work he’s known for returned quickly. He said that was a product of spring training work that made his defensive movements feel more natural. His bat, though, was sporadic.

He entered Saturday night’s game against the A’s batting .199. He said talking to his younger brother, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, and Laker helped him get back into some good tendencies at the plate.

“(Corey) kind of reminded me of some things I’d always told him to do, and it kind of went full circle on that one, but it was good though,” Seager said. “Lake had been working (with me on) that, too. It’s things I’d just gotten away from.

“I’ve been working a lot with Lake on getting off the back side. I think I kind of overcorrected a problem from last year, when I was too far out in front of everything. This offseason I really worked hard to stay back. I kind of went the opposite end of that spectrum, so trying to clean it up a little bit.”

He’s hoping the progress he has made in the several weeks he’s been back carries through the All-Star break.

“I’d love to get Seager going in the second half,” Servais said. “I know he would like to get going, too.”

‘GOOD NEWS’

Reliever Dan Altavilla said he was “thinking the worst” when he was placed on the 10-day IL with a right forearm strain Saturday, but his MRI scan revealed the injury isn’t as severe as the Mariners originally feared.

“He doesn’t have any issues with his UCL, which is great,” Servais said. “He’s got a flexor strain, which is similar to something he had last year. He’s going to be down for a while, but it’s ... about as good of news as we could have gotten on that one.”

Altavilla last pitched Friday, allowing two earned runs on one hit, while walking two and striking out one in a Mariners loss to Oakland, and said felt discomfort at the end of the outing.

“It was the last slider I threw,” he said. “I felt a little stretch, and it kind of took me back to last year. My mind was working all night and I didn’t really know what to expect, but I kind of relaxed after I got the results. Some good news there. I’m just looking to get back on the field and help the team again.”

Altavilla missed a significant stretch of 2018 with a UCL sprain, and though this injury is similar, he said the prognosis is better.

“This is more flexor related, so I think it’s going to be shorter,” he said. “Last year it was both the UCL and the flexor. This time around is a little more mild, so I should be able to get back on the field relatively quick. I’m going to take my time, but also try to keep my foot on the gas.”

Since returning from multiple stints in the minors at the end of June, Altavilla held opponents scoreless in three of his five outings.

“I feel really good about where I’m at with my mechanics, and how I was throwing the ball,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a quick adjustment to get back once I’m healthy again.”

ROTATION ANNOUNCED

Servais announced Sunday how Seattle would order its starting rotation after the All-Star break, and it’s structured a bit differently than it has been in the first half.

Mike Leake is scheduled to start against the Angels on Friday in Anaheim, followed by Wade LeBlanc and Yusei Kikuchi. Marco Gonzales will pitch the first game against Oakland — he’s undefeated against the A’s this season — the following Tuesday, and Tommy Milone will throw in that series finale.

The Mariners will likely continue with their opener strategy ahead of LeBlanc and Milone to help offset throwing four left-handed starters in a row.

After the first half, Servais said he doesn’t have concerns about inning counts apart from keeping Japanese rookie Kikuchi on track with necessary rest in his first season in the majors.

“We want to do the right thing with Kikuchi,” Servais said. “We don’t want to overload him. The other guys, I think they’re fine. Leake’s on pace to set a career-high in innings. LeBlanc and Milone have carried workload before. They’ll be fine.”

INJURY UPDATES

Hunter Strickland (lat strain) threw a bullpen session of about 20 pitches Saturday, and will travel with the team to Anaheim. He is scheduled to throw another bullpen there, and then a live BP if all goes well. Following that, he will likely be sent out on rehab.

Felix Hernandez (lat strain) played catch Saturday, and threw 5-10 pitches off the mound, but will begin more extensive work after the All-Star break. “He’ll ramp up with a full bullpen after the break,” Servais said.

Sam Tuivailala (Achilles) tossed back-to-back scoreless innings Friday and Saturday with Double-A Arkansas and could return soon after the break. “I don’t know if it will be on the road trip or the homestand,” Servais said. “But, he’s moving in the right direction, which is great. There’s opportunity with the injuries as well. We’ll get him back in the fold and see what it looks like.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.
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