What could Mariners offense look like with a revitalized Jesse Winker?
SEATTLE — What if the outfielder the Mariners have been waiting on, the guy to spark their offense, wasn’t just Mitch Haniger?
What if it’s Jesse Winker? What would that do for the Mariners’ postseason hopes as we head into the final two months of the regular season?
That was a question to ponder on a sun-kissed afternoon at T-Mobile Park on Sunday after Winker’s third-inning grand slam loomed large in the Mariners’ 6-3 victory over the Angels in the series finale.
The Mariners (59-51) will take offense from about anyone these days, especially after splitting a four-game series with the Angels (46-63) before a crowd of 34,837, a series in which runs were often hard to come by.
Winker’s grand slam curled around the foul pole — in the right direction — and he gave a little bit of a lean as he tracked it down the line.
“I had a good feeling about that one,” Winker said.
Jesse Winker crushes a grand slam and has Seattle ROCKING 💣
🎥 @ROOTSPORTS_NW p.c.twitter.com/ncJOo4igpc
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) August 7, 2022
If Seattle is to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001, it’s going to need contributions up and down the lineup. Haniger came off the injured list in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, his first game since April 29.
That should help, as could having Winker get on a roll after a rough start to his tenure with the club. Only once in the first four months of the season has Winter hit above .240 — that was the .277 mark he put up in June, only to follow it with a .177 average in July.
“It’s trying to play winning baseball and do what you can to help the team win, whether it’s a good swing that results in a homer or a groundball that drives in a run,” Winker said. “Whatever you can do to help … that’s what it’s about.”
Now more than ever, the Mariners need Winker to get hot. Remember, this was a 3.0 WAR player the Mariners got from the Reds in spring training to augment their offense. A player who hit .305 and had a 148 wRC+ with the Reds.
It remains to be seen what follows now, but Winker’s swing gave pitcher Marco Gonzales and the rest of the Mariners a shot in the arm.
“Anytime I can get some runs early in a game is huge,” Gonzales said. “That was awesome to watch.”
On paper, the move to get Winker and third baseman Eugenio Suárez from the Reds for four players looked smart. And, honestly, Suárez had been better defensively in Seattle than anyone thought and swung a productive bat (.231, 18 home runs, 58 RBIs). No complaints there.
But Winker hit .169 in April and never really got on track, other than his success in June. What’s funny — or not funny — is that his walk rate is higher than where it was a year ago, and his strikeout rate is down from 2021. His hard-hit rate has plummeted from the 81st percentile last season to the 13th percentile this season.
“I think early on, I may have been trying to force the issue a little bit,” Winker said. “That was the first time I was traded, not that it’s an excuse. It was the first time I was traded and had an expectation on myself.
“Once I got through that, it’s just (about) playing baseball.”
Are things finally starting to trend in the right direction for Winker? The sample is ridiculously small, but Winker is hitting .313 with two home runs and five RBIs in his first 16 at-bats of August. Overall, he’s hitting .230 this season.
“He gets on base, he walks as much as anyone in our league,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Winker, who leads the American League with 64 walks.
“He’s got a really good eye and doesn’t chase (pitches). He’s done well against left-handed pitching this year (.255). His track record didn’t really say that.”