HOUSTON -- The Mariners' offense struggled in the first three games of the season, but manager Scott Servais has been pleased with the defensive improvement. And while much of the offseason talk centered around upgrading the outfield, first baseman Danny Valencia has provided a nice lift as well.
Valencia has played mostly third base in his career and showed those instincts with several diving stops at first base. He also started a pair of nifty 3-5-3 double plays in Wednesday's 5-3, 13-inning loss to the Astros, with third baseman Kyle Seager shifted over toward second to make the relays.
"Valencia has done a nice job at first base," Servais said. "He's very comfortable and really can throw. That's the thing that stands out. He can catch the ball in different spots, dive and get up and make the throw with something on it. He's very athletic over there. Those things help. They certainly help your pitching staff."
The Mariners got some power production from the tandem of Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee last season, but neither graded out well defensively. Lind is now playing for the Nationals, while Lee returned to Korea.
Two Minor Leaguers suspended
Right-handed pitchers Frank Encarnacion and Andy Taveras, both on the Mariners' Dominican Summer League roster, were among five players suspended Thursday following violations of the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Encarnacion, 22, and Taveras, 20, each received 72-game suspensions without pay after testing positive for metabolites of Stanozolol.
• Right-handed reliever Tony Zych, who is working back from biceps replacement surgery, was slated to start Triple-A Tacoma's opener Thursday and pitch one inning, but the game was rained out in Sacramento. The Mariners are hoping Zych might be ready to come off the 10-day disabled list sometime during the next homestand.
• Right-hander Cody Martin, who was optioned to Tacoma on March 26, has been shut down with elbow problems and will likely miss the first month or so of the season. The 27-year-old from Gonzaga was 1-2 with a 3.86 ERA in nine outings (two starts) for Seattle last year.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.