July 1, 2022

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Winker's luck starts to turn after triple play

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SEATTLE — The run of poor luck that Jesse Winker had endured reached a peak on Wednesday when he hit into the Mariners’ first triple play in nearly 16 years, a sequence that happened so fast most folks at T-Mobile Park had no idea what just happened.

In the bottom of the first inning with momentum mounting, Winker hit a 100.6 mph liner right at Rangers first baseman Nathaniel Lowe, who doubled off Ty France at first base then flipped to Corey Seager at second to triple up Adam Frazier, both of whom were running. The play, which had a 63 percent hit probability, per Statcast, was over in less than four seconds and Seattle’s dugout — and Winker — were largely stunned.

So, when Winker laced a fifth-inning single — off a lefty who was brought in to face him, to boot — then scored on a bang-bang play at the plate that withstood a lengthy Texas challenge, it represented a breakthrough that felt both marginal and grand, especially as Seattle rolled to a 4-2 win to clinch the three-game series.

Winker entered the night hitting .143 and slugging .143. However, based on his quality of contact, those numbers should’ve been .284 and .549, respectively, according to Statcast’s expected metrics – numbers calculated using the exit velocities and launch angles of his batted balls. Had he been hitting to that clip, Winker would have the highest slugging percentage on the team.

“It’s baseball,” Winker said. “I don’t know. It’s not my job to worry about that. It’s just my job to hit the ball hard and make a play on defense if it’s given to me. And then, yeah, just hit the ball hard.”

It’s a results-driven league, but Winker at least had solace that he was doing everything mostly right. He drew another walk on Wednesday, bringing his total to an AL-high 13 and elevating his on-base percentage to .373.

And his quality of contact metrics entering Wednesday were in the Majors’ 91st percentile. As the sample size continues to grow, those tough-luck outs should more regularly turn into hits. Speaking of, each of his six this year have been singles despite some deep flyouts. He knows the metrics but doesn’t over analyze them. He also doesn’t have a quirky superstition that he was on the cusp of turning to.

“I feel really good,” Winker said. “I feel strong. I feel healthy and my swing feels fast. Any time you can score, any time you can help the team win is a positive.”

Winker scored the final run in a three-spot fifth inning, surging from second on an up-the-middle single by Julio Rodríguez and narrowly sliding under a perfectly placed, 94.9 mph throw from Texas center fielder Adolis García. The ball actually arrived on time, but after a two-minute, 15-second review, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call, and finally, things had swung Winker’s way.

“He’s doing everything right,” said acting manager Kristopher Negrón, filling in while Scott Servais recovers from COVID. “There’s a lot of luck in this game and sometimes it’s bad luck, sometimes it’s good luck. But we have all the confidence in the world in Wink, and he’s going to be perfectly fine.”

Once he gets going, especially from a power perspective, Seattle’s lineup should be even longer. Yet the rest of the order has picked up the slack, with the Mariners winning four of their past five on their season-opening homestand while outsourcing the Astros and Rangers a combined 28-11.

A big part of that is everyone, now including Winker, has gotten in on the action. On Wednesday, it was Abraham Toro reaching base in each of his first three plate appearances after homering in his final at-bat the night prior, and the blossoming top-of-the-order tandem of Adam Frazier and Ty France combining for five hits.

“Every time I walk into the plate, one of them is on, but most of the time, it’s both,” said Winker, who typically bats third, right behind France and Frazier. “They really start this whole thing off, but everybody in the lineup is putting together really good ABs. It’s been really fun. And our pitchers have been doing their thing and dominating.”

Indeed, Logan Gilbert threw 6 2/3 shutout innings and lowered his ERA to 0.54 through three starts. He overcame a bevy of hard contact — six balls over 100 mph, only three of which landed for hits — but he navigated despite not having the best feel for his developing slider, the one that he worked on with Jacob deGrom on over the offseason.

Gilbert said he still hasn’t had a start where he feels he has everything clicking at once, but he’s been able to mitigate damage, pitch efficiently and lead Seattle to a win each time out so far.

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