Jake Fraley was so discombobulated when he stepped back into the batter’s box in a 1-2 count in the fourth inning Thursday night that it made what he did next all the more impressive.
Something caught the eye of the Mariners’ DH — literally — to the point where he had to call time mid-windup, which was too late and put him in the two-strike hole. After a brief visit with Mariners manager Scott Servais and an athletic trainer, who put drops into Fraley’s right eye, Fraley golfed a hanging slider from Griffin Canning and launched it a projected 410 feet to right-center field for his first big league homer.
That deep fly, coupled with a big night from Kyle Seager and a gritty performance from Justus Sheffield, punctuated the Mariners’ 6-2 win at Angel Stadium to lift Seattle back to .500, at 29-29.
Fraley was playing in just his fourth game since returning from the injured list due to a strained left hamstring, which sidelined him nearly two months. Because the Mariners are without Kyle Lewis, Fraley is likely ticketed for more playing time this summer.
How was Fraley able to maintain his composure given the high-stakes sequence he walked back into before launching his first long ball, which he happened to collect from the fan who caught it?
“I just kept looking, trying to get it out of my eye. It just wouldn’t go,” Fraley said. “So eventually, the eye drops actually got it out. I mean, the composure thing, you’re in the moment. You’re out there. You’ve got adrenaline going. Obviously, you want to make something happen. So honestly, I feel like the staying composed was the easy part. The getting something out of my eye was the hard part.”
It certainly caught the eye — pun intended — of those in the dugout.
“They were really pumped up for Taylor [Bennett], the trainer,” Servais said. “He got to go out there, get all the TV time and then drop the eye drops. The new eyes in there. Everybody went to him right after the home run, [saying], ‘Give me some eye drops.’”
When Fraley was activated on Monday, he became the club’s fourth outfielder, a commodity that the club had not had this season. But now, he’ll be thrust into more regular contributions, and the Mariners will need showings such as the one he had Thursday.
Fraley entered the night batting .167, but had a robust .531 on-base percentage thanks to 13 walks in 32 plate appearances. Fraley walked twice against the Halos.
“I think for all of us in the outfield, it’s just kind of going to kind of be a circulation,” Fraley said. “We’re all going to be out there based on the situation: Who’s pitching, if somebody needs a day off. Obviously, we have a DH that’s open, like tonight, where I was able to be the DH.”
The Mariners have touted Fraley’s plate discipline since acquiring him in the Mike Zunino trade in 2018 after the Rays drafted him in the second round in ’16. It’s always been a strength, but while he was shelved for such a prolonged period, he diligently watched video and scouted himself to bolster his baseball acumen with hitting coach Tim Laker and assistant hitting coach Jarret DeHart.
“During that time that I was rehabbing, we kind of put that last piece together,” Fraley said. “We feel like that kind of connected the entire puzzle for everything that we’ve been working on since the offseason. Now, I feel incredibly good at the plate. Everything feels like it’s clicking on all cylinders. Now it’s about just having the at-bats, staying healthy and just producing that kind of consistency at the plate.”
His homer pushed the Mariners into a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish, and it gave Sheffield even more conviction when he returned to the mound in the fifth. The weak-contact-driven left-hander navigated his way through homers to Justin Upton and Jared Walsh to rebound and come one out shy from going a full six innings.
If the conviction to send him back out for that final frame at 90 pitches wasn’t enough, most impressive in Sheffield’s outing were his three strikeouts to Shohei Ohtani. All were on sliders, but they were set up on sinkers.
Only four times prior to Thursday had a single pitcher punched out Ohtani three times in one game — including Sheffield last Aug. 29. The others? Luis Garcia on May 21, and Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander during Ohtani’s rookie season in 2018.
“The biggest thing for me is to just use that sinker, get him in off the plate, get those lefties looking, then go back to the slider,” Sheffield said.
Seager’s seventh-inning homer off Alex Claudio provided insurance, and J.P. Crawford’s 3-for-5 night was also a big boost.