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Originally published Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 5:00 PM

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Mariners didn't take advantage of cozier confines at Safeco in first homestand

In the first 10 games at Safeco last year (constituting a nine-game homestand from April 13-22, and one game on May 4) the Mariners hit .201 (63 for 214). This year, in 10 games, they hit .227 (77 for 339) on the first homestand.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

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The Mariners have played one homestand — 10 games — at the reconfigured Safeco Field, so let's refer to these as observations, or perhaps snapshots. It's far, far too soon to identify any definitive trends, as Mariners assistant general manager Jeff Kingston continues to caution.

"I'd hate to make conclusions before three years, let alone after the first homestand in April," Kingston said Friday.

Yet I think it's fair to ponder what we saw during this near fortnight and take a preliminary peek at how it weighs against the first 10 home games last year, which at least approaches an apples-to-apples comparison; same time of year, roughly the same weather.

Of course, there are some variables that will never match up precisely from year to year, such as the quality of pitching and defense. Teams also get hot and cold at different times. The Mariners played the A's, Indians, White Sox and (for one game) the Twins in the first 10 games at Safeco last year, and this year faced the Astros, Rangers and Tigers.

That said, these preliminary results coincide with what Kingston — who was heavily involved in conducting studies regarding the new dimensions at Safeco — has said all along: that the ballpark will not be magically transformed into a hitter's paradise.

"If anyone was concerned we moved the fences in too much, the first homestand should put that to rest," he said.

And I'm afraid there's another adjunct snap judgment: that the Mariners' offense, supposedly bolstered in the offseason and so promising in spring training, has so far resembled the weak, struggling unit of recent years — closer fences or no closer fences.

In the first 10 games at Safeco last year (constituting a nine-game homestand from April 13-22, and one game on May 4) the Mariners hit .201 (63 for 214). This year, in 10 games, they hit .227 (77 for 339) on the first homestand.

The runs scored were identical: 31. So were the home runs (seven) and doubles (17). The on-base percentage rose modestly from .265 in the first 10 games last year to .283, and the slugging percentage from .322 to .339, leading to an OPS rise from .587 to .622.

So there's been slight — very slight — improvement in home offense compared to early last season. Yet there is nothing to indicate that the Mariners hitters have been so liberated by the closer fences that they will unleash an offensive barrage.

In fact, when I asked Eric Wedge on Thursday, before the final game of the homestand, to assess what he saw different in how Safeco had played, he replied, succinctly, "Nothing."

Wedge then elaborated, "I get that question a lot. There's zero impact to me. The way we're going to be a better offensive club is with our players, and them doing what they need to do. Maybe it comes into play a little bit in the summer. The air density, or whatever you want to call it, is still the same here.

"A couple balls (Wednesday) night were hit pretty good. You would think, if they moved the fences in, they would go. Well, guess what. They still didn't go. I think the way they're going to be a better offensive club is the way they perform. Not the ballpark."

Asked about whether the closer fences might aid his players mentally, Wedge said, "I think we're past the psychological part. I think we crossed that bridge when we did it (referring to the announcement of the new fences last October).

"It's just one more thing to check off the list you don't have to worry about and don't have to hear about. It's not in the back of your mind. It should allow you to focus more on just performing and hitting. I think it will. I do. I think it's a positive thing. It's a fair ballpark. It still edges on the pitching side because of where we are, but that's OK, too. That's good."

The anecdotal evidence is that there were two home runs out of the 18 total on the first homestand that wouldn't have gone out last year. Based on their studies, the Mariners had predicted there would be 30 to 40 more homers this year, so that pace would need to pick up — but it should when the weather (and perhaps Mariner bats) heat up.

"I think the second half will tell a completely different tale than the first half, based on weather," Kingston said.

Looking at the Mariners' opponents for the first 10 games at home last year compared to this year shows a bigger offensive gain. Their average rose from .236 (79 for 335) to .262 (97 for 370), runs increased from 40 to 43, homers from six to 11, doubles from 14 to 19, on-base percentage from .304 to .315, slugging percentage from .337 to .414, and OPS from .641 to .729.

Those numbers, however, are skewed by one rout in which Houston scored 16 runs with 22 hits, including three doubles and five home runs. The higher overall doubles total could be partly attributable to weaker Mariners outfield defense this season with Michael Saunders on the disabled list and Franklin Gutierrez hobbled by injuries.

The full effect of the new Safeco Field is still to be determined, and that will take months, even years. Based on the first 10 games, however, the Mariners' batters needs to change more than the ballpark they're playing in.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @StoneLarry

What fences?
A comparison of the Mariners' offensive stats for first 10 home games this year and last year.
Mariners over first 10 games at Safeco
Year Batting average Runs HRs 2B OBP SLG OPS
2012 .201 (63 for 314) 31 7 17 .265 .322 .587
2013 .227 (77 for 339) 31 7 17 .283 .339 .622
Opponents over first 10 games at Safeco
2012 .236 (79 for 335) 40 6 14 .304 .337 .641
2013 .262 (97 for 370) 43 11 19 .315 .414 .729

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