SURPRISE, Ariz. – The Mariners didn’t quite offer a preview of their opening-day starting lineup and batting order for Saturday evening’s Cactus League matchup with the Texas Rangers.
But if you were to replace Luis Torrens with Tom Murphy at catcher and batting in the No. 5 spot, well, it’s possible that this could be the lineup and batting order when the Mariners take on Kevin Gausman and the Giants on April 1 at T-Mobile Park:
Mitch Haniger, RF
Ty France, DH
Kyle Seager, 3B
Kyle Lewis, CF
Tom Murphy, C
Dylan Moore, 2B
Taylor Trammell, LF
Evan White, 1B
J.P. Crawford, SS
There could be some movement with Murphy, Moore or even White in the batting order based on their at-bats over the next 10 days. And the opposing pitcher will dictate some decisions, but it seems clear those first four spots in the lineup won’t change, particularly Haniger, who has taken over the leadoff spot that was held by J.P. Crawford for much of 2020.
Haniger was in the leadoff spot for the 8th time this spring. And Mariners manager Scott Servais doesn’t seem intent on changing the plan on the days he’s in the lineup, which they hope is at least 4-5 games per week.
“Mitch is one of those unique players you could probably hit him anywhere in the lineup, and he’s gonna do a good job there because it gives you good at-bats,” Servais said. “You could hit him second, third, fifth or wherever; he brings a lot to the table offensively. For us, I think it’s great. He sets the tone. You know you’re going to get quality at-bats. He’s got a plan when he goes up there, and he does have the ability to drive the ball.”
Haniger has some experience batting leadoff.
He has hit at the leadoff spot for 70 games in his career, posting a .282/.356/.523 slash line with 23 doubles, two triples, 14 homers, 32 RBI, 30 walks and 74 strikeouts. He was particularly effective in that spot in 2018 – his All-Star season – posting a .330/.388/.580 slash line with 19 doubles, two triples, eight homers, 21 RBI, 17 walks and 42 strikeouts in 45 games.
He doesn’t fit the traditional leadoff-hitter profile, but the thinking around leading off has changed with advanced metrics. Teams don’t necessarily try to find the fastest runner with base-stealing potential at the top of the order.
Instead, they think of it as almost guaranteeing a fifth plate appearance in a normal game for a dangerous hitter.
While Crawford has shown the ability to work a walk and battle in at-bats, he doesn’t offer the offensive profile as Haniger, who has a similar walk and strikeout rate to Crawford but more power.
“If you look at how our lineup plays out, J.P. led off most of the year last year and he does a great job getting on base,” Servais said. “But other than that first at-bat of the game, I feel very strongly that there’s gonna be people on base when Mitch Haniger steps to plate. He just gets that extra at-bat to lead off the game and that’s how I’m looking at it. You’re trying to get consistent performance up and down the lineup, and in Mitch’s case, we’re fortunate to have him back. Hopefully we can keep them healthy, because he’s big part of what we need to do offensively.”
Haniger has looked comfortable at the leadoff spot this spring. On Friday night, he went 2 for 3 with a triple and an RBI single. On Saturday, he led off the game with a single and scored on Ty France’s two-run homer. In his next plate appearance, Haniger hit a line drive over the wall in center off Rangers lefty starter Wes Benjamin.