NEW YORK – Edwin Encarnación is finding friendly fences everywhere.
He hammered his 12th homer of the young season during a 10-1 blowout of the Yankees Wednesday in the Bronx and has almost made Seattle fans forget departed designated hitter Nelson Cruz.
Though Cruz hit 163 home runs in four seasons with the Mariners and averaged 37 homers per annum over his 15-year career, he’s three years older than his fellow Dominican and not producing the same power this season.
Encarnación is not just hitting home runs – he’s hitting them with ferocity.
“Eddie does not get cheated,” manager Scott Servais told MLB.com. “When Eddie swings, he swings really hard. He knows what he’s looking for. He may miss once in a while, he’ll swing and miss, but he just understands the strike zone so well and he has a pretty good idea when he walks to the plate what the pitcher is going to do to him.”
Thanks mainly to Encarnación and fellow veteran Jay Bruce, also obtained in a winter trade, the Mariners lead the majors in both home runs (73) and homers on the road (50). Encarnacion has hit a pair – including a Tuesday laser shot timed at 113 miles per hour – in the current series at Yankee Stadium. The 6-1, 230-pound righthanded hitter owns four of the five hardest-hit balls by a Mariner this season.
Acquired from the Cleveland Indians in a three-team trade that also included the Tampa Bay Rays, Encarnación may be 36 but he’s still in prime condition. He’s started 24 games at first base as opposed to 10 as a designated hitter. Cruz was not that versatile.
The only major-leaguer with at least 30 homers in each of the his last seven seasons, Encarnacion is prone to hot streaks. He’s on one now, with six homers in his past 11 games.
On April 8, he connected twice in the same inning, making him the first player to turn that trick since Mark Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles three years earlier and the first Mariner to do it since both Bret Boone and Mike Cameron in 2002. Encarnación, who also had a multi-homer inning in 2009, is one of five players to produce that prodigious feat, along with Alex Rodriguez, Jeff King, and Hall of Famers Andre Dawson and Willie McCovey.
Don’t be fooled by his .246 batting average: Encarnación carries an on-base percentage of .380 that Servais appreciates. That ranks second on the team to Daniel Vogelbach.
“He has a plan,” the manager said of Encarnación, whose current slugging percentage of .545 in his best in four years. “He takes his walks. I love the way he goes about his at-bats. He knows the pitcher isn’t going to give in to him or throw him a cookie on a 3-1 fastball. That’s why he hits as many home runs as he has. He’s disciplined at the plate.”
Encarnación started his big-league career with Cincinnati in 2005 but has spent the last 10 seaons in the American League, where he can take advantage of the DH rule. He’s averaged 34 homers a year during his 15-year tenure in the majors.
He could be on the move again, especially if Seattle falls out of contention before the July 31 trading deadline. His salary of $16,166,168 could be appetizing to a team hungry for a postseason berth.
In the meantime, he’ll find a spot in the batting order – usually third or fourth – as a DH or first baseman.
According to Servais, “He’s playing a lot (of first base) now. I don’t know if it’ll stay there throughout the season, but now it’s what we need and he understands that. He’s played a lot there, maybe not in the last couple years, but early in his career and has good awareness.”
Playing defense also makes Encarnación attractive to contenders in the National League, where there’s no DH. Anybody looking for a righthanded slugger who gets on base often and owns a prolific power swing could have interest.
Seattle general manager Jerry DiPoto is the modern version of a former general manager Frank Lane — nicknamed Trader Lane and Frantic Frankie. None of his 29 colleagues make as many deals.
Encarnación wouldn’t be surprised to move again. He’s been traded three times in his career, grabbed off the waiver wire, and found new teams twice through free agency.
With 392 career home runs, he should soar past the 400 plateau by the All-Star break. He might even wind up in the game – an honor that has somehow eluded him.
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