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Preview: Rockies (58-82) at Mariners (68-73)
Venue: Safeco Field
Date: September 11, 2015 10:10 PM EDT
Safeco Field has been known as a pitcher-friendly ballpark, ranking near the bottom of the majors in home runs surrendered since it was built.
That certainly won’t stop the Seattle Mariners and Colorado Rockies from swinging for the fences the next three days.
Hisashi Iwakuma’s change in approach over the last two months has helped keep opposing batters from going deep, but the Mariners left-hander will be facing the NL’s top two home run hitters in Friday night’s series opener.
Seattle (170) and Colorado (NL-high 167) rank among the major league leaders in home runs, though the Mariners have hit just 74 of theirs at home. The Rockies have connected 77 times away from Denver’s thin air.
Nelson Cruz has hit 14 of his 40 homers in Seattle after connecting for a two-run shot in Thursday’s 5-0 win over Texas. That tied his career high, set last season with Baltimore, in his return from a strained quad that caused him to miss six games.
The Mariners (68-73), who have won seven of nine, plan to use Cruz as the designated hitter as he works his way to 100 percent.
“Numbers are numbers. I like to just focus on games,” said Cruz, who joined Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner and Ken Griffey Jr. as the only Mariners to hit 40 homers in a season. “What I like to do is help my team win games. The (homers) are going to come. At end of the season, you have time to realize what you did.”
Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez have hit their share of long balls, too. Arenado hit his NL-leading 38th and Gonzalez broke a tie with Bryce Harper for second with his 37th in the Rockies’ 4-3 win over San Diego on Thursday. Arenado has gone deep eight times in 11 games this month, and Gonzalez has a major league-high 24 homers since the All-Star break.
Corey Dickerson and Daniel Descalso also homered Thursday for Colorado (58-82), which had dropped four of five.
Not only will the Rockies have to battle the deep fences of Safeco, they’ll have to contend with Iwakuma (7-3, 4.03 ERA) keeping the ball down in the zone.
Iwakuma allowed nine homers with a ground-ball percentage of 45.9 through his first four starts, but he’s surrendered just six over his last 11 with a 54.7 ground-ball percentage that ranks among the best in the majors.
The right-hander has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts, beginning with his no-hitter against Baltimore on Aug. 12. He’s 4-1 in that stretch after pitching 6 1-3 innings of Sunday’s 3-2 win over Oakland.
“I have been working on keeping the ball down and I was able to do that,” Iwakuma said through an interpreter. “I felt like I was able to command both sides (of the plate).”
Chad Bettis (6-5, 4.95) hasn’t been able to match that type of efficiency. He didn’t allow a homer in his first six starts, but he’s served up 11 in his last 10.
Two have come in his last two outings while allowing four runs in each over 10 1-3 innings. The right-hander also surrendered 19 hits in those games, and his one strikeout in Saturday’s loss to San Francisco tied his fewest in 24 career starts.
“I felt like I had pretty decent command of my fastballs all game,” Bettis said. “Just the offspeed was kind of lacking.”
Besides having to face Cruz, Bettis must deal with Mark Trumbo, who is batting .375 with a 1.078 OPS during a 12-game hitting streak after a two-run homer Thursday.
Kyle Seager hit .511 with five homers during a 12-game run that ended Thursday.