Branyan's acquisition paying dividends

Branyan's acquisition paying dividends

SEATTLE -- The nine home runs Russell Branyan hit for the Brewers in June became his ticket to Seattle, and so far this season, the Mariners are cashing in on the first baseman's production.

Going into Monday night's series opener against the Rangers at Safeco Field, the left-handed-hitting Branyan leads the team with six home runs and ranks second to second baseman Jose Lopez in RBIs -- 16-14.

Some eyebrows in Mariners Nation were raised in December when the organization announced that it had signed the much-traveled slugger to a one-year, $1.4 million contract. Seattle became his 10th organization and he developed a hit-and-miss reputation -- a power hitter who struck out a lot.

It's early, but first-year general manager Jack Zduriencik just might have found a diamond in the rough. As a Brewers executive last season, Zduriencik had a good view of Branyan's power surge in June.

"I think it started with Jack more than anything else," manager Don Wakamatsu said. "You evaluate players, have a blueprint of players, or have an impression of players from what you've seen. Jack saw him hit those home runs in that month and he saw a guy that had the ability to really impact the game."

Wakamatsu, who had seen Branyan hit a ball over the fence and into the sitting area at Scottsdale Stadium during an Arizona Fall League game several years ago, supported the idea of bringing him aboard.

"Jack said, 'If we get him 500 to 600 at-bats, this guy can really do some damage.' The rest is my recollection of what I saw in the past. I've seen the same thing and wanted the same thing. It's always nice as a player to go into a situation where you know that people believe in you. It's a good way to start."

The scouting report on the 33-year-old indicated that he hit for power (133 home runs in 2,000 at-bats), walked often (281 times) and struck out a lot (797 times).

Word had it that he could not hit left-handed pitchers.

Not so fast.

He has seven hits against lefties this season, which is four more than he had the past two seasons combined as he was a mere 3-for-33 vs. southpaws in 2007 and '08.

The series opener on Monday night also features what should be a terrific pitching matchup -- Mariners ace Felix Hernandez against Rangers right-hander Kevin Millwood.

Hernandez (4-0, 2.38) is working on a career-high 19-inning scoreless streak and is trying to become the first Mariners starter to begin the season with five consecutive wins since left-hander Jamie Moyer in 2003.

Pitching matchup
SEA: RHP Felix Hernandez (4-0, 2.38 ERA)
Hernandez maintained his perfect record and extended his scoreless-innings streak to 19 on Tuesday night against the White Sox. The right-hander allowed four hits over eight innings while striking out nine. This streak by Hernandez is the longest by a Mariners pitcher since J.J. Putz, who went 22 innings in 2007.

TEX: RHP Kevin Millwood (2-2, 2.13 ERA)
Millwood beat the Athletics, 5-4, on Tuesday while going eight innings. He allowed 10 hits and two walks but the Athletics were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position against him. When it was over, Millwood was leading the American League in innings pitched and was fifth in the league in ERA. Millwood was 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA against the Mariners last year and is 7-9 with a 4.72 ERA in 18 career outings against them. He is 2-6 with a 5.05 ERA at Safeco Field, his second most losses in any opposing AL city.

Tidbits
Hernandez is 4-8 with a 4.38 ERA in 16 career starts against the Rangers. That's twice as many losses as he has against any other opponent. ... The Mariners have three pitchers among the league leaders in quality starts. Hernandez and left-hander Jarrod Washburn are tied with six others with four and lefty Erik Bedard has three. ... Ichiro Suzuki historically has a terrific month of May. He entered this month with a MLB-best .363 (346-for-953) average, which is 10 points higher than Twins catcher Joe Mauer. Ichiro is 4-for-16 going into Monday night's game. ... Closer Brandon Morrow came through the first of his three bullpen sessions fine and he'll have another one on Monday or Tuesday. He's on target to come off the 15-day disabled list on Saturday, when the team is in Minneapolis.

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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
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•  Official game notes

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Up next
• Tuesday: Mariners (Erik Bedard, 2-1, 2.61) vs. Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 1-2, 7.43), 1:40 p.m. PT
• Wednesday: Mariners (Carlos Silva, 1-2, 7.36) at Royals (Sidney Ponson, 0-4, 7.16), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Thursday: Mariners (Jarrod Washburn, 3-1, 2.97) at Royals (Brian Bannister, 2-0, 1.96), 11:10 a.m. PT

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.