Opposite dugout: Cruz crushing homers, but Mariners yet to put it together

MarinersLogo.jpgManager: Lloyd McClendon (3rd season)

Record: 17-20

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: LF/DH Nelson Cruz (.340/.395/.694 with 15 HR, 30 RBIs), 3B Kyle Seager (5 HR, 21 RBIs), LHP J.A. Happ (3-1, 2.98 ERA), RHP Fernando Rodney (5.65 with 9 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (2-5 in 2014)

Pitching probables:

May 19: RHP Taijuan Walker vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
May 20: LHP Roenis Elias vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
May 21: LHP J.A. Happ vs. Chris Tillman, 12:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Mariners:

The Mariners were a trendy pick to contend in the American League West this season after a very busy winter. During the offseason, they signed third baseman Kyle Seager to a seven-year, $100 million extension; acquired left-hander J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays for outfielder Michael Saunders; spent big on free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, the defending AL home run champ, on a four-year, $57 million contract; acquired outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith in deals with the Cubs and A's, respectively; and signed veteran second baseman Rickie Weeks just as spring training got under way.

While Cruz has contributed as expected, crushing a major league-high 15 homers and driving in an AL-best 30 runs (with a league-leading 100 total bases, to boot), the Mariners haven't gotten the other production they thought was coming, either offensively or from the pitching staff. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma has been hurt, promising righty Taijuan Walker has underperformed and staff ace Felix Hernandez can only pitch every fifth day. On offense, second baseman Robinson Cano is scuffling along at .253 with only one home run and 11 RBIs, certainly not the kinds of numbers the Mariners hoped for. Other than Cruz, no regular is hitting better than .264. Shortstop Brad Miller has been hot of late, going 9-for-21 (.428) over his last six games with four home runs, and just picked up AL Player of the Week honors.

With Cruz's big stick, the Mariners are second in the AL in home runs, but lagging behind in most other offensive categories. So what will manager Lloyd McClendon do? For now, he's preaching patience and assuming that players with track records will somehow manage to ascend to their career averages. In the meantime, he hopes Cruz remains healthy enough to keep mashing, always a concern when you're pushing 35, and prays that Cano eventually shakes his early-season plate doldrums. With Cruz's big stick, the Mariners are second in the AL in home runs, but lagging behind in most other offensive categories. The schedule may be a complicating issue: The Mariners are six games deep into a stretch of 26 games in 27 days and 42 contests in 44 days.

Getting rookie Walker, who starts Tuesday night, back in gear would certainly help the rotation. For several seasons the prized prospect in the organization, but he's been up and down this season. Walker is coming off his best start of 2015, however - six innings against the Padres on May 13 during which he allowed two runs on four hits and a walk with six strikeouts. The home run ball has been an issue this season, with six longballs allowed in 33 2/3 innings pitched, and Walker has struggled on the road, where he's 1-3 with a 10.90 ERA. Opponents are slashing .309/.380/.504 against him (including a .337 batting average by left-handed hitters) and he's giving up a .342 average with runners in scoring position, as opposed to a .219 mark with none out and none on. He's never faced the Orioles. Walker uses a fastball that tops out at 98 mph 65 percent of the time, but also sprinkles in a 90 mph cutter and an 88 mph changeup.

The Mariners were expecting lefty Roenis Elias, Wednesday's starter, to be a member of the rotation this season after he went 10-12 with a 3.85 ERA as a rookie in 2014. But Elias posted a 6.75 ERA in spring training and was shipped to Triple-A Tacoma, where he made three starts before rejoining Seattle last month. Since then, he's been a hard-luck starter, but is coming off a strong May 14 start against the Red Sox in which he scattered eight hits over 7 1/3 innings, allowing one run. He throws a 91 mph fastball about 54 percent of the time, also utilizing a 79 mph curve and an 84 mph changeup. But if his fastball command is off, it's usually a long day. In two career starts against the Orioles, Elias is 0-1 with a 1.69 ERA, including a 1.59 ERA and his only decision at Camden Yards.

Getaway day starter Happ was acquired to provide some depth at the back of the Seattle rotation and has wound up being the most effective starter not crowned King Felix. In his seven starts, he's had only one clunker, and has worked at least six innings five times. Happ has posted a 5.84 ERA this season in two starts in day games (as opposed to a 1.91 ERA and all his decisions at night). Hitters haven't had much success against him in 2015, slashing .243/.280/.370, which indicates there's movement on his fastball, which sits around 91 mph. He throws heat about 64 percent of his pitches, but can also mix in a curveball, slider and changeup. Happ has a definable track record against the Orioles: He's 2-3 with a 2.98 ERA in eight career games, including seven starts, and 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA in three starts at Camden Yards.

While the Mariners have been getting solid setup work from righties Carson Smith and Tom Wilhelmsen and lefty Charlie Furbush, the ninth inning has been an adventure. Right-hander Fernando Rodney, he of the demonstrative arrow shooting motions and tilted cap, has converted nine of 10 save chances, but with an unsightly 1.60 WHIP and 5.65 ERA. He's got a 9.95 ERA and .346 opponent batting average away from Safeco Field, and has allowed runs in five of his 15 appearances.

Harvey update and minor league trade
Norris placed on disabled list

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