Sports

Kikuchi quality again, Mariners launch 3 homers to snap losing streak against Twins

Seattle Mariners’ J.P. Crawford, left greets Mitch Haniger after scoring on Haniger’s two-run home run on a pitch from Minnesota Twins’ Kyle Gibson during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Seattle.
Seattle Mariners’ J.P. Crawford, left greets Mitch Haniger after scoring on Haniger’s two-run home run on a pitch from Minnesota Twins’ Kyle Gibson during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Seattle. AP

Mitch Haniger, Daniel Vogelbach and Edwin Encarnacion each homered as the Seattle Mariners snapped a three-game losing streak against Minnesota with a 7-4 win Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Park.

After the Mariners (23-26) dropped the first three games of the series by a combined score of 36-11, they limited the Twins to a series-low three runs in the finale, and leave for Texas with a 3-3 split in the homestand.

“We just hadn’t played well the first three games of the series, and the guys were locked in today,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Encarnacion’s three-run shot off Minnesota reliever Trevor May in the seventh provided a floundering Seattle bullpen with enough cushion to close out the win, and avoid a series sweep. After Haniger and Vogelbach drew back-to-back walks with two outs in the inning, Encarnacion crushed May’s 2-2 curveball to center, pushing the Mariner’s lead to four runs.

Encarnacion and Vogelbach are tied with a team-leading 13 home runs this season, which also ranks tied for third in the American League.

“I feel great at the plate,” Encarnacion said. “I’m seeing the ball good. I’m looking for my pitch and swinging at my pitch. That’s where I want to be right now and continue to do it.”

Two innings earlier, the Mariners took the lead for good on back-to-back homers by Haniger and Vogelbach. Shorstop J.P. Crawford led off the inning with a double, and Haniger knocked him in on a two-out, two-run homer to center. Haniger’s homer was his 12th of the season, and tied the game at 3-3.

Vogelbach promptly followed with a solo shot to right center to give the Mariners the lead. Vogelbach hit safely in five of the six games he played in during the homestand, including homering in four of the five games.

The Mariners have scored 137 of their 258 runs this season via the long ball, and are 16-8 in games when they hit three or more homers.

“We like it,” Encarnacion said of the Mariner’s power-hitting profile. “And we have fun.”

Seattle tagged Minnesota starter Kyle Gibson (4-2, 4.47 ERA) with four runs (all earned) and his second loss of the season. Gibson allowed the four runs on nine hits, while striking out six. Five of Seattle’s starters recorded at least one hit off Gibson.

The Mariners broke a scoreless tie in the third inning with back-to-back doubles by Encarnacion and Domingo Santana, but the Twins immediately rallied with a three-run fifth.

Luis Arraez and Byron Buxton both walked to open the inning before Jorge Polanco hit a bunt single, and a throwing error on Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi allowed a run to score. The Twins scored twice more on a fielder’s choice, and a fielding error by Crawford at short to take a 3-1 lead.

Only one of the three runs Kikuchi (3-1, 3.64) allowed were earned. With the two errors, the Mariners pushed their MLB-leading total to 53.

But, Kikuchi pitched his fourth consecutive quality start, allowing five hits in six innings of work while striking out six and walking two, putting a defiant stopper in the Mariners’ three-game skid.

“You do need the guy in your rotation to say, ‘No more. They’re not going to do that today.’ And he certainly did,” Servais said. “I thought between (pitching coach) Paul Davis and Omar (Narvaez) game-planning ahead of time, he needed to establish his fastball. He’s got a really good fastball.

“He did that today on the inside part of the plate. And the breaking stuff doesn’t have to be quite as perfect. And that’s what he did. He had a lively fastball, and we needed to get some big outs there in the fifth and sixth, and he got it done.”

Kikuchi observed Minnesota’s offensive success during the first three games of the series, but was able to consistently limit hitters with his fastball-slider combination.

“The past three days I saw them as a hot-hitting team that is really strong against the fastball,” Kikuchi said through interpreter Justin Novak. “My strong point is actually my fastball, too. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to throw it. I was just trying to overwhelm them more with my fastball tonight.

“Most of my strikeouts were actually on my slider today, but that was really well setup with my fastball. I was able to throw it inside on them. Even if it wasn’t a strike, I was able to set up my slider really well using my fastball.”

Mariners reliever Brandon Brennan pitched two scoreless frames in relief. Roenis Elias then worked into some traffic in the ninth, allowing another Twins run on a Polanco RBI single, but ended the threat without further damage.

“Those have been probably our two most consistent guys all year long,” Servais said. “They were rested and they certainly showed it. I thought Brennan threw the ball outstanding, really good changeup again today, and Elias got through it at the end. Not quite as sharp as he’s been at times, but those guys have been key.

“We need to add to that group on the back end of the bullpen. there’s certainly opportunity for guys to step up, and we’ll continue to mix and match and give guys that opportunity. Hopefully more than just one or two guys take it and run with it.”

ON TAP

The Mariners begin a six-game road trip with a three-game series against Texas on Monday. Right-hander Mike Leake (3-4, 4.00) is scheduled to oppose Rangers lefty Mike Minor (4-3, 2.61).

Seattle has not yet named a starter for Tuesday night’s game. Rookie right-hander Erik Swanson, who previously filled that rotation spot, was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma last week after piling up a 1-5 record and 7.98 ERA in six starts.

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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