Trips to Missouri were never as meaningful as Ken Griffey Jr.(notes) had hoped after leaving the Seattle Mariners. A visit to Kansas City early this season, though, has turned out to be surprisingly compelling.
With Griffey expected back in the lineup for the first time in four games, the Mariners open a two-game set with the Royals on Wednesday night in a matchup of unexpected division leaders.
When Griffey joined Cincinnati in 2000, he hoped to bolster a team that was coming off a 96-win season. But the Reds didn’t make the playoffs in any of the star veteran’s nine years there, lagging far behind St. Louis most seasons in the NL Central.
Now back with Seattle (15-12), Griffey’s first matchup with a Missouri team this year has turned out to be an unlikely chance for the Mariners to measure their chances of truly contending in the AL West. Seattle is in first place after losing 101 games last year, while Kansas City (15-11) tops the AL Central following five straight losing seasons.
Mariners first-year manager Don Wakamatsu thinks Griffey will start Wednesday after sitting out three straight games due to a colon condition initially diagnosed in 2006.
“They say it’s just something that just passes through his system, that it’s not something that should linger,” Wakamatsu said.
Griffey, the majors’ active home run leader (613), is batting .190 with two home runs and five RBIs in 18 games. His left-handed bat, however, has allowed Seattle to spread its other left-handed batters across the lineup to contend with opposing managers seeking favorable matchups for their relievers in late innings.
The Mariners struggled at the plate Tuesday, losing 7-2 in 10 innings to Texas after dropping the series opener 6-5 the previous night.
Tuesday’s contest was costly, with reliever Shawn Kelley(notes) straining an oblique muscle after throwing three pitches in the 10th. Kelley, who was being considered to finish games until closer Brandon Morrow(notes) returns from the disabled list, is likely headed to the disabled list.
Seattle could need a big effort from its bullpen with Carlos Silva(notes) (1-2, 7.36 ERA) slated to start Wednesday. He’s coming off his worst outing of the season, allowing six runs, six hits and walking four in 3 2-3 innings before Seattle rallied to beat Oakland 8-7 on Friday.
The right-hander is 5-4 with a 4.10 ERA in 14 starts against Kansas City.
Ponson allowed a season-high seven runs and nine hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-5 loss at Minnesota on Friday. He’s 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA in 13 starts and one relief appearance versus the Mariners.
Kansas City has been giving its pitchers plenty of support, averaging 7.4 runs in its last seven games. The Royals have won four straight and six of seven, including an 8-7 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday as John Buck(notes) hit a game-winning single with the bases loaded in the 11th.
“It speaks a lot to their will,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said. “They want to keep playing when they get down.”
Kansas City hit .295 against Seattle last season, winning seven of nine matchups.