Valencia heating up after slow start

Valencia heating up after slow start

SEATTLE -- Danny Valencia figures it's only a matter of time before things start turning his way at the plate, and the Mariners are counting on the same as they've handed the full-time first-base reins to the eight-year Major League veteran despite his difficult April.

Valencia is ignoring the sub-.200 batting average and focusing on the fact he's been hitting the ball hard, knowing from his past that the results will come.

And indeed, the 32-year-old has shown increasing signs of that as he scorched a 112-mph shot right at third baseman Yunel Escobar in the third inning on Tuesday, then launched his second homer of the season, a shot to left-center that pushed the Mariners into a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning of the eventual 6-4 loss in 11 innings.

"I feel all right," Valencia said prior to Wednesday's game with the Angels. "I've been hitting the ball hard. It'd be nice if they fell, right? But that's baseball. I've just had some tough luck, to be honest, but I feel pretty good about myself."

Valencia's sliding stop

Indeed, Statcast™ numbers bear out Valencia's beliefs. He's hit the ball relatively hard all season, with his 88.8-mph exit velocity ranking above the league average of 87.1. And over the past five games, he's put six balls in play at an average of 93.9 mph, which backs up his recent improvement in results, as he's gone 5-for-17 with a double and two homers in that span.

So while his overall numbers aren't pretty, the Mariners believe in his track record, as he posted a strong .284/.334/.464 line with 47 homers in 373 games from 2013-16 with the Orioles, Royals, Blue Jays and A's.

"That's why I have a lot of confidence," Valencia said. "I don't feel too down. I'm happy to come to the park every day. It's good. I really enjoy my time here, I really do."

The Mariners sent rookie Daniel Vogelbach back to Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday, leaving Valencia as the primary option at first base. Taylor Motter could see some time there as well, but Valencia has played very well defensively, and if he produces offensively he'll see the bulk of time there.

"I think his at-bats have been a lot better," manager Scott Servais said. "He's not trying to do too much, just letting the ball come to him, letting it travel. I don't think he was trying to hit a home run there [on Tuesday], he just hit the good part of the bat in a good spot and good things happened."

The saving grace through the difficult April was Valencia's glovework. Having played mostly third base in his career, he's adapted quickly to first and turned a number of double plays as well as handled the routine plays well.

"I feel really comfortable there," Valencia said. "It's the first time I've specifically played that position and there are going to be some growing pains I'm sure that come throughout the year, but I feel pretty good."

Worth noting

• Reliever Steve Cishek will throw another bullpen under the watchful eye of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. on Thursday and then likely head out again on a Minor League rehab before being ready to return from October hip surgery.

• Northwest Ford Stores and the Mariners are collecting peanut butter at Safeco Field on Saturday to benefit Northwest Harvest. The drive is part of the Ford Focus on Child Hunger campaign. and the Child Hunger campaign.

Fans are asked to bring unopened jars of peanut butter or cash donations to the 6:10 p.m. PT game against the Rangers and drop them off at any of the entrance gate collection sites or at the Ford vehicle display near section 143 on the Main Concourse.

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.