After adding the league’s top home run hitter to a largely unchanged 87-win team, the Seattle Mariners hoped for better than a sub-.500 record nearly two weeks into May.
With continued improvement from their rotation, that shouldn’t take long to turn around.
James Paxton is next in line for the Mariners, who open a two-game series Tuesday night with the visiting San Diego Padres.
Seattle’s staff has produced a 2.84 ERA over its last six starts, striking out 37 batters in 38 innings. That effort proved insufficient in one-run losses to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday and Thursday, but the bats caught up over the weekend as the Mariners (14-17) totaled 15 runs in sweeping three games from Oakland.
"To bounce back after tough losses in Los Angeles, I though that was critical this homestand," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "It shows the resiliency of this club. There’s a lot of baseball to be played and, I say it all the time, talent will play out.
"Talent will come to the top. I believe we have enough talent to be a winner."
Nelson Cruz is doing his part. The slugging outfielder leads the majors with 14 home runs and although Cruz has not gone deep in his last five games, he is 7 for 19 in that span.
Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager have also excelled lately, combining to hit .333 (13 for 39) with eight runs and seven RBIs in the past five. Both infielders drove in a run Sunday to support Felix Hernandez, who pitched seven innings and allowed two runs in a 4-3 victory.
Paxton (0-2, 5.08 ERA) also surrendered two runs through seven last Tuesday – his second straight start with that line after allowing 16 runs over 13 2-3 innings in his previous three starts.
He’ll oppose another pitcher enjoying an upswing, San Diego’s Ian Kennedy (2-1, 5.03). Kennedy had one of the worst outings of his career by allowing eight runs in 4 1-3 innings against the Dodgers on April 25, but has a 2.08 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in his last two appearances.
"Ian has been a proven major league starter as far as durability," manager Bud Black told MLB’s official website. "So hopefully when we look up at the end of the year, at maybe 29, 30 starts, the numbers will be Ian Kennedy-like."
Kennedy’s numbers on the road have been considerably better than at home dating to the midway point of last season. He’s posted a 2.65 ERA in nine starts away from Petco Park since July 7, while his home ERA in that stretch is 4.70.
The Padres (17-16) have won three of their last seven games despite getting shut out on three occasions. Andrew Cashner was the latest recipient of a tough-luck loss, falling 2-1 to Arizona on Sunday to give the Diamondbacks a series split.
Only Pittsburgh has been shut out as many times as San Diego (five).
Paxton hasn’t faced San Diego and Kennedy has never pitched against Seattle – the Mariners are the only team he’s never faced – but Seth Smith is 6 for 20 with a homer and four doubles against the Padres right-hander.