Injuries to King Felix, Mitch Haniger continue strange, frustrating season for Mariners

Seattle loses its ace and its hottest hitter in the same game. April can't end soon enough for this team.

This has been a strange season for the Mariners, to be sure.

How strange? This sentence is true: Taylor Motter leads Seattle in home runs entering Wednesday’s game against the Tigers in Detroit. No, really.

Motter is a 27-year-old utility man — you might know him as the guy with the long hair — who arrived in an offseason trade with the Rays. Motter hit just two homers in 80 at-bats last year and was supposed to be a versatile backup for the M’s — he started games at six positions for Tampa Bay — but he was pressed into a temporary starting role when shortstop Jean Segura landed on the disabled list with a hamstring issue.

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And now he leads a team that was expected to contend for the AL West title with five home runs. So, yeah. It has been a strange year. Mostly strange bad, too, not strange good (like Motter).

And it just keeps getting worse. Seattle is 8-11 on the season and coming off a 19-9 defeat Tuesday in Detroit, which dropped them 6 1/2 games behind division-leading Houston. In that game, franchise ace Felix Hernandez left after just two innings, which can’t be a good thing.

"We should know a lot more in a couple days," manager Scott Servais told reporters after the game. "At this point, it's just a dead arm."

The Mariners placed Hernandez on the disabled list Wednesday with a reported case of shoulder inflammation. No need to talk about how important Hernandez is to this team (or that city). He’s a legend, and he’s still in his prime-years window. Here’s hoping his DL stint is brief.

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And that wasn’t the only bad news from Tuesday’s game. Rookie sensation Mitch Haniger left in the third inning with what the club is saying is a strained oblique. Haniger had been the brightest spot of the season for the Mariners; he’s hitting .338 with a 1.042 OPS, four homers and 16 RBIs.

Now he, too, is sidelined with an injury.

This season has been a struggle even for the healthy guys. Five position players have at least 19 plate appearances and a batting average of .185 or worse: Leonys Martin (.111 before he was designated for assignment Sunday), Danny Valencia (.172), Mike Zunino (.185), Carlos Ruiz (.133) and Mike Freeman (.111).

Pitchers have struggled, too. James Paxton has a 1.78 ERA, but he’s the only starter under 4.00. Six relievers with at least four innings pitched have an ERA of 5.40 or higher.

Look, it’s early. I get that. One bad inning can torpedo a reliever’s ERA early in the season. We’re not making bold “The Mariners are finished!” proclamations. Far from it.

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The Mariners are going to be a factor in the postseason, whether it’s in the AL West or in the wild-card conversation. They’re too good to struggle like this for the whole season.

But they’ll be as glad as any team to see the calendar flip to May.

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