Jones providing much-needed speed atop lineup

Jones providing much-needed speed atop lineup

CHICAGO -- Since Ichiro Suzuki's departure in 2012, the Mariners haven't had a consistent basestealing or speed threat at the top of their lineup.

Outfielder Michael Saunders led the club that year with 21 stolen bases, and Saunders topped the team with 13 last year in a season when the Mariners set a franchise-record low with just 49 for the entire 162-game campaign.

But rookie center fielder James Jones has provided an influx of speed since being called up from Triple-A Tacoma, and it seems to have helped ignite a Mariners team that is 33-24 since his arrival on May 6.

During that span, Jones is second in the American League with 17 stolen bases (in 18 attempts), fifth in the league with four triples and 10th in runs scored with 34. The 25-year-old has hit .279 (60-for-215) while batting mostly first or second in the lineup this year.

After stealing two bases in their 3-2 win over the White Sox on Saturday, the Mariners have 47 stolen bases in their first 87 games, just four shy of last year's 162-game total. They're still only 10th in the American League in that category, but that's a jump from 14th last year when they finished only ahead of the Tigers.

Manager Lloyd McClendon feels Jones will be an even bigger threat on the bases once he gets to know opposing pitchers. For now, the coaching staff gives the youngster a lot of help on when best to go or not when he's on first, though Jones also has stolen third several times on his own.

"If he's doing a high leg kick, I try to go," Jones said. "If it looks like he's not paying attention and is just trying to get strikes, I'll try to get to third so it makes it hard for him to execute his offspeed. It depends on the situation. I feel like if it makes the hitter get better pitches, I'm going to take that risk. If we're up one run and a hit is going to score me regardless, I'll play it safe."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.