Sunday afternoon’s finale at T-Mobile Park didn’t carry much meaning. This season was long lost for the Seattle Mariners months ago. It wasn’t until the first week of September they were officially eliminated from playoff contention for the 18th consecutive season, but this outcome was predictable before they played their first game in March.
Seattle’s management acknowledged in the spring that this would be a step-back season, and it was. It didn’t take long for that pleasantly surprising 13-2 start to be overshadowed by long stretches of losing in the months that followed.
But, here’s what can be taken away from a 68-94 finish — when given opportunities, the young players projected to be important pieces in a brighter future in Seattle have made significant strides.
They did again Sunday, in a three-hit win over an A’s team that is gearing up for October. The Mariners played 10 rookies — and half of them pitched — in the 3-1 win. The average age of players that appeared on the field for Seattle was 26, driven up some by veterans Anthony Bass, Dee Gordon and Kyle Seager, who are each 31.
“Certainly some positive things to take out of the season as we continue to move forward with our plan here, and found out a lot about a lot of players,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That was the goal, and I think we did accomplish that.”
Justin Dunn, who was promoted from Double-A Arkansas at the beginning of the month, made his final condensed start, tossing a pair of shutout innings. The 23-year-old right-hander, who could fit into Seattle’s regular rotation as soon as next spring, continued to progress in his short, four-game tryout.
“He started to get on a good roll and gain a lot of confidence,” Servais said. “Again, it was very limited exposure, a couple innings here, there, but it’s good for him to end the season on a positive note against Houston, and Oakland today. He threw the ball really well, and he can build upon that.”
Dunn retired six of the seven batters he faced, struck out three — both Stephen Piscotty and Sheldon Neuse ended innings whiffing on his slider — and walked one on 36 pitches, including an efficient nine-pitch inning in the first.
“It’s part of the reason I wanted to get up here, was just get my feet wet and go into the offseason knowing I belong here,” Dunn said. “I feel like I did that the last few times out and can hang my hat on that, and go into the offseason. … I’m excited to see where things go from here.”
Six relievers, including four rookies in Reggie McClain, Zac Grotz, Art Warren and Erik Swanson tossed scoreless innings behind Dunn. Dan Altavilla also worked quickly through a scoreless frame, and Bass notched a save despite allowing a Khris Davis to score on a fielder’s choice in the ninth.
McClain allowed a pair of hits in the third, but coolly worked out of the inning to strand both runners in scoring position, and he struck out Josh Phegley to wrap up his day in the fourth. Grotz walked the first batter he faced in the fifth, but retired the next three in order, and two by strikeout. Oakland’s only other hit came on a single off Warren in the sixth, and he walked another batter before striking out two to retire the side.
And, as they have in spots this September, Seattle’s rookies came through when needed. Austin Nola, who debuted in June, and has been one of the club’s most consistent hitters since, drew a two-out walk in the first before Seager pushed his 23rd homer of the season over the fence in right, giving the Mariners a lead they never lost.
Seager, who started the season on the injured list after undergoing surgery on his left hand, became the second player in club history to log 23 homers in a season during which he played less than 110 games. He became the fourth player in Mariners history to record at least 63 RBI in less than 110 games played.
“It was a different experience for me to have to kind of sit back and watch for a little bit,” he said. “It kind of gets the juices flowing, gets you hungry again. So, that was definitely something you could spin into a positive.
“Getting out the gate slow wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t what I planned on doing, but when you’re kind of struggling a little bit, that’s when you can kind of learn a lot, too. I learned about my swing stuff, learned about physical stuff, so it was good.”
Nola came through again in the fifth, doubling with one out before rookie Kyle Lewis knocked him in with a single to make it 3-0.
“When you get a lot of new guys in here, there’s a lot of hunger in here,” Seager said. “You get a lot of guys that are willing to work, who are putting in time, and you had a lot of guys get better this year, which is a big step.”
The Mariners set a major league record for players used in a single season this year with 67. The lineup for this final game, the starting rotation and the bullpen looked far different than it did when the Mariners first took the field in March. But, with turnover there has been progress, and there are better days to come, Servais said.
“With all of the different opportunities we were going to give guys, all of the different bodies, it was a little challenging,” Servais said. “But, I think for this thing to end up the way it has, with our young group of guys coming in, and kind of the vibe and the feel around this team and this clubhouse going forward, is definitely positive.
“It’s right where we wanted to be at this point, and now we’ve got to build on that. We’ve got to get better, and hopefully the experience these young guys have gotten here the last couple months of the season will really help. I know it will help in their preparation this offseason. They know what to expect now.
“We’ve got a lot ahead of us, that’s for sure.”