Blackmon heating up as streaking Rockies face Mariners

Note to opposing pitchers: Fear the beard.

The Colorado RockiesCharlie Blackmon is starting to return to the form that saw him lead the National League with a .331 batting average last season, when he also had career highs with 37 home runs and 104 RBIs.

The bearded Blackmon homered in the first inning for the second time in the past three games Friday and added two other hits, sparking the Rockies to a 7-1 victory at Seattle. It was Colorado’s fourth straight win and seventh in the past eight games.

“It’s really good to continue to try and win games, play team baseball, even if you’re not feeling real awesome at the plate,” Blackmon told MLB.com earlier this week.

Blackmon hit a first-inning homer Tuesday in an 8-1 victory against San Francisco, then went deep against longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on Friday.

During the Rockies’ four-game win streak, Blackmon is batting .471 (8-for-17) with two homers, four RBIs and has six runs scored. By contrast, from June 6 to Monday’s 5-2 victory over the Giants, Blackmon hit .216 (22-for-102) with two homers.

“This guy is the National League batting champion,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “He’s an All-Star, started the All-Star Game, hit 37 home runs, knocked in 100 runs from the leadoff position. He’s going to be pitched tough the next year, for sure.

“And Charlie, at times, has come out of his game a little bit. Our conversation with Charlie has been, ‘Hey, be yourself.’ “

And that’s when opponents fear the beard.

“I’ve felt pretty good the past couple of days,” Blackmon admitted.

Blackmon will face a tough task Saturday afternoon in Seattle against Mariners left-hander James Paxton (8-2, 3.39 ERA). Paxton is 1-1 with a 2.16 ERA in two career starts against the Rockies.

In his most recent start, Paxton pitched eight shutout innings, giving up just two hits while striking out 11, in a 1-0 victory over the Royals on Sunday.

Blackmon has a .305 career average against lefties. Of the left-handed batters with a minimum of 750 plate appearances, the only ones in baseball history with a better average against southpaws are Ichiro Suzuki, Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew and Larry Walker.

Colorado will send left-hander Kyle Freeland (8-6, 3.25) to the mound. Freeland has made one career start against the Mariners, a 6-3 win at Safeco Field last season. He pitched six innings in that game and allowed two runs on six hits. In five career interleague starts, Freeland is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA.

The Mariners hope to have outfielder Mitch Haniger back Saturday.

Haniger, who is second in the American League with 62 RBIs, has missed the past two games with a bruised right knee.

“(Thursday) it was really sore, but it’s calmed down quite a bit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said before Friday’s game. “He had it looked at by the doctor and it’s day-to-day. Hopefully he goes along good today and he possibly could get back in there (Saturday). He was definitely moving and feeling better.”

Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon left Friday’s game in the sixth inning after trying to score from third base on a ball that was in the dirt and got away from Colorado catcher Tony Wolters. But Wolters quickly recovered and flipped to pitcher German Marquez, who tagged out Gordon, who tried to score standing up. Gordon landed awkwardly after crossing the plate and Servais said Gordon “tweaked his hip.”

“I think he’ll be OK,” Servais said. “We’ll know more (Saturday) morning.”