Aoki shows he can do more than set table

Aoki shows he can do more than set table

CLEVELAND -- General manager Jerry Dipoto acquired Norichika Aoki for his ability to do the little things -- get on base, bat leadoff, steal some bags, help generate run-scoring chances for the heart of the Mariners' lineup.

But Aoki did a big thing in Wednesday's 2-1 win over the Indians at Progressive Field, ripping a two-run triple that held up as the Mariners' only runs in a pitchers' duel between Taijuan Walker and Danny Salazar.

For the Mariners, it was nice to finally got on the right side of a close game in improving to 2-5 in one-run games.

"We needed one. And we got one," manager Scott Servais said of Aoki's clutch hit. "It was huge. We were due for one -- a big two-out hit. We didn't have many opportunities. Salazar is really tough when he gets that split going."

The one man who solved Salazar was Aoki, who laced his triple down the right-field line in the second to score Adam Lind and Chris Iannetta.

"We all know he's a great pitcher," Aoki said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "He's a tough guy to face. I've been fortunate enough to play for the Royals, and I faced him many times in the past [in American League Central battles]. It kind of helped me out."

Aoki was 3-for-12 with a walk against Salazar coming in and went 1-for-4 on Wednesday. The Mariners' new leadoff man was hitting .228 with a .241 on-base percentage in his first 14 games going into Thursday's series finale, well below his career marks of .287 and .353.

"I'm not swinging the bat bad or anything," he said. "I'm seeing the ball pretty well. But what I need to do is get on base more often. That's what I need to do, and make the pitcher work. I think I'm getting there."

Aoki's triple was his second in his past three games. But, no, the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder isn't going to convince anyone he's one of the Mariners' big power hitters now.

"No," he said with a laugh. "I don't hit the ball in the air. I'll leave that up to [Nelson Cruz]."

Worth noting

• Servais had Seth Smith starting in right field in Thursday's series finale, his first time playing back-to-back games in the outfield after being slowed early in the season by a sore groin muscle. Cruz started nine of the first 13 games in right, but will see more time at designated hitter if Smith stays healthy.

"[Smith is] back to being 100 percent," Servais said. "He feels good. We'll give Cruz another day at DH and go from there. I told you guys in Spring Training, there was no set number of games. You just kind of go day to day and see how guys are doing health-wise and what the matchups look."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.