Mariners play crush the ball in desert air


PEORIA, Ariz. — Rookie pitcher James Paxton uttered a description of the Mariners on Friday that hasn’t been heard in long time — at least not unless dripping with sarcasm.

“We’re the power Mariners this year,” he said. “It’s unreal, man. It’s awesome. We’re just hitting bombs like crazy.”

The Mariners added four more home runs in their 8-6 Cactus League baseball win over the Texas Rangers. The victory ran Seattle’s winning streak to seven games, longest since 1998. It has been fueled by the long ball — 18 homers now in eight games, which would project to 365 for a 162-game season.

But, of course, this isn’t the season. It’s spring training, which is why both the victories and power must be taken with several grains of desert sand.

“It’s a little foolish to think it’s going to happen every single game, but we’ll take it right now,” said outfielder Jason Bay of the homer barrage.

Bay and Michael Saunders each hit their second homers of the spring, while surging Carlos Peguero hit his third. Michael Morse, a player brought in specifically to boost the team’s power, knocked out his first, a low laser shot to left field.

The Mariners have moved in their fences at Safeco Field in an attempt to increase their offense this season. But even before getting there, the Mariners are crushing balls all over the Valley of the Sun.

“I think you just have to look at the way they’re squaring up the baseball,” Seattle manager Eric Wedge said after the Mariners’ 13-hit attack boosted the team average to .301.

“We’ve got guys with the power to hit home runs; they just need to be more consistent with hitting the ball hard all over the place. What’s been impressive to me as much as anything is just the way we’ve been driving the ball the other way. We’ve got a lot of young guys that have gained a great deal of experience the last year or two, and that’s showing itself to us. And obviously the veteran guys we brought in make a big difference, too.”

Morse isn’t one to completely downplay the Cactus League muscle display from a team that finished 19th, 25th and 30th (dead last) in the majors in home runs the past three years. So far this spring, they’ve hit more than any team in the major leagues.

“You still have to hit the ball here,” he said. “The game is not that much different in the season.”

But Morse believes the Mariners’ early performance is mostly indicative of a mindset that he believes will transcend Cactus League play.

“I think the atmosphere here has definitely changed from the last couple of years,” he said. “Guys are more relaxed, and when you’re relaxed, your talent comes out.”

Morse credits veteran additions like Bay and Raul Ibanez with facilitating the makeover.

“They have that professionalism feel, and it carries over to the clubhouse,” he said. “It’s a relaxed feel, a positive feel. It’s a feel like no matter who we’re playing, we have a chance. Just relax — no need to stress or panic. Everyone is coming through. Games like this are just the tip of the iceberg as to what this team is capable of doing.”

Bay had a single and walk in addition to his fourth-inning homer to right-center and is now 3 for 6 with three walks this spring. More important, as Bay tries to resurrect his career after two disastrous seasons in New York, both his stroke and confidence are coming back.

“I’m quite pleased that all the work I did in the offseason and here is translating,” Bay said. “I spent a few years searching for that magic spot. I kind of lost it. It’s nice to have that reinforcement that what I’m doing is working. Now it’s just repetition and keep doing it.”

As the Mariners lifted their record to 7-1 with a victory over an American League West team, Wedge wasn’t going to minimize the streak, even though spring records have been shown to have little correlation to regular-season results.

“We’re out here obviously to get ready for the season, but we’re also out here to compete,” he said. “If you’re going to play the game, you play to win. I like what’s happening with the guys who are starting, but also the way we’re finishing games. We have a lot of young people here with a lot of ability, and it’s really starting to show itself.”