Seattle Mariners

McClendon sees early 2-9 homestand as key in disappointing season

Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, left, talks with Robinson Cano Sunday at Safeco Field. McClendon said a 2-9 homestand early in the season was when the team got mired in a rut.
Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, left, talks with Robinson Cano Sunday at Safeco Field. McClendon said a 2-9 homestand early in the season was when the team got mired in a rut. The Associated Press

When did it go wrong this season for the Mariners?

Manager Lloyd McClendon points to a 2-9 homestand from May 28 through June 7 after the Mariners had just pulled themselves back to .500 after an inconsistent start.

“I think, for the most part, that defined out season right up until Kansas City, when we got (back) to three under (.500),” he said. “That pretty much stuck us in a rut, and we were trying to get out of it the rest of the way.”

The Mariners were 49-45 from June 9 through Sept. 22 before closer Tom Wilhelmsen blew a late lead against the Royals in what turned into a 4-3 loss in 10 innings. That started the Mariners on a 2-9 skid to close the season at 76-86.

“I think you are what (your record says) you are every year regardless of how you got there,” McClendon said. “We can talk about blown saves and the lack of offense in the first half, but it is what it is.

“The fact that we blew those saves means we weren’t good enough. Guys weren’t performing up to their capabilities.

“We can always say, ‘Well, it could have been this or it could have been that.’ One thing you learn in baseball is, for the most part, you are what you are. We’re a 75-, 76-win team this year.”

After going 87-75 in 2014.

CRUZ SITS

Nelson Cruz sat out the season finale after aggravating a strained right quadriceps muscle Saturday while running out a grounder.

“I think it’s a precaution,” Cruz said. “If we were in the (postseason) hunt, I think I would be in there today. But it was really tight. It’s just that they don’t want it to get worse than what it is.”

Cruz, at 35, had perhaps the best season of his 11-year career, batting .302 with a career-best 44 homers, which matched the club record for a right-handed hitter set by Jay Buhner in 1996.

“I think he quieted a lot of critics about this ballpark,” McClendon said, “and what he can do in this ballpark.”

Cruz expects more next year.

“I think I can do better,” he said. “You always feel that you should do better. Later on, I left a lot of runners on base. Health-wise, I want to make sure my quad is not an issue for next year.”

POWERING UP

Third baseman Kyle Seager keeps raising the bar on his power output, a notable trend since he’s under contract for at least six more years after signing a $100 million deal.

Seager finished the season with a career-high 26 homers, which marked the fifth straight year that he increased his total: From three in 53 games in 2011 to 20, 22, 25 and now 26.

“I think he had some ups and downs,” McClendon said. “But in the end, his numbers are up to where they’re supposed to be.”

Seager’s RBI total dropped from a career-high 96 in 2014 to 74, but that was due in part to a shift that moved him up in the lineup.

Tino Martinez is the only other player to increase his homer total for at least five straight years. He had six yearly increases: From zero in 1990 to four, 16, 17, 20 and 31 in 1995.

Seager produced a strong finish after a slow start — batting .300 with seven homers and 24 RBIs over his final 33 games.

“One thing that happens with young players like Seag,” McClendon said, “is they get the big contract and they try to live up to it. They’ll tell you, ‘No, they didn’t,’ but I suspect he’ll be a lot better next year. A lot more relaxed.”

SMITH ZEROES IN

Reliever Carson Smith completed his rookie season by forcing a few re-writes in the franchise’s record book.

Smith’s 92 strikeouts matched the rookie record set in 1977 by Enrique Romo. Smith also finished with 22 holds, which broke the record of 19 set last year by Yoervis Medina.

But Smith fell short of Ed Vande Berg’s rookie relief record of 78 appearances in 1982. Smith finished with 70, which ranks second in franchise history.

CROWD COUNT

Sunday’s attendance of 22,402 pushed the Mariners’ season total to 2,193,581, or an average of 27,081 for 81 home dates.

The overall total represents an increase of 129,957 over last year and is the club’s highest total since drawing 2,196,461 in 2009. The franchise record is 3,540,482 in 2002.

LOOKING BACK

It was 26 years ago — Oct. 5, 1989 — that new Mariners owner Jeff Smulyan and his partners completed their purchase of the club for $67 million from George Argyros.

Smulyan’s first act as the new owner was to extend the contracts of general manager Woody Woodward and manager Jim Lefebvre through the 1991 season.

SHORT HOPS

The Mariners had 10 come-from-behind victories in finishing with a 13-6 edge against Oakland in the season series. They have a 34-23 record against the Athletics over the last three years. … Robinson Cano closed the season with a 16-game hitting streak and led the Mariners with 179 hits. Nelson Cruz finished second with 178. …Oakland was 19-35 in one-run games. The 35 losses were the most in the majors. The Mariners were 28-29 in one-run games. …Vidal Nuno had a 2.49 ERA in 17 appearances, including five starts, at Safeco Field.

ON TAP

The Mariners open the 2016 schedule on April 4 at Texas. The time has yet to be determined, but an early projection is that Seattle right-hander Felix Hernandez (18-9, 3.53) will start against Rangers lefty Cole Hamels (7-1, 3.66).

Hernandez is 6-0 in his previous eight starts on opening day.

The Mariners play April 4-5-6 at Texas before returning April 8 to Safeco Field for a 7:10 p.m. home opener against Oakland.

bob.dutton@thenewstribune.com

blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners

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