Branyan reborn in Seattle
Journeyman becomes feared hitter in Mariners' lineup
Mariners first baseman Russell Branyan has learned the hard way during his well-traveled 11-year Major League career that opinions are tough to overcome."Everybody has an opinion, and in this game of baseball you are at the mercy of a lot of people's opinion," he said. "Some people's opinion means more than others. I have always felt I could play [regularly] if given the opportunity, and my mind-set hasn't changed one bit." The veteran left-handed hitter is getting a chance to prove that he can have success against any pitcher, right-handed or left-handed. After the first 48 games of the regular season, Branyan has been one of the Mariners' most productive players. Going into Friday night's series opener against the Angels in Anaheim, he has a .311 batting average and leads the club in home runs (11) and RBIs (23). Branyan's steady hitting has been a bright spot for the Mariners in what has been a run-challenged offense. The longest Branyan has gone without a hit this season is two games, and he's batting .300 (15-for-50) with two home runs against left-handers. It's easier to make adjustments when a player is in the lineup practically every day. Branyan has played in 41 of the Mariners' games this season, including a career-high 28 straight until getting Monday off in Oakland. The steady work has given him peace of mind that going hitless in one game won't lead to a place on the bench the next day. "I'm finally getting the opportunity to play every day," he said. "I'm going to have ups and downs, but it's the reassurance of knowing I'm going to be in there every day that makes a difference. To build consistency, you need to play consistently." Branyan can't remember the last time he played as regularly as he has this season. "I have never gone back and looked at my career to see how many times I played five games in a row, but it hasn't happened many times," he said. Until this season, it happened just 30 times during his career. Since the 2000 season, he had played in at least 20 consecutive games only twice, the most recent in '02 when he was with the Indians. He was traded to the Reds shortly after the 27-game consecutive games-played streak ended. "Do I wish I had gotten the chance to play every day before?" he asked. "Yeah. Would I be sitting here and talking to you guys, trying to salvage my career? Probably not." The salvaging of his big league career began on Dec. 3. Among the many moves general manager Jack Zduriencik made after becoming the GM last October was to sign the 33-year-old Branyan to a one-year, $1.4 million contract to play first base for the Mariners. The low-risk, high-reward move is paying dividends in a big way. The impressive numbers that Branyan has assembled thus far don't surprise Zduriencik, who witnessed the slugger's run-production capabilities in Milwaukee last season. "I know what Russell can do," the GM said. "I've seen him put spurts together that can be very impressive." As a part-time player last season with the Brewers -- his seventh organization in seven years -- Branyan hit 12 home runs, five of them during an eight-game stretch in June. He has been a big hit at Safeco Field, which is regarded as one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the big leagues. Don't tell that to Branyan. In 19 home games this season, he is batting .338 (22-for-65). Earlier this month, Branyan became only the third player in franchise history to have at least one extra-base hit in nine consecutive home games -- and the first to do it at Safeco Field. Ruppert Jones (1977) and Alex Rodriguez ('96) had their extra-base binges inside the hitter-friendly Kingdome. "Baseball is a funny game," he said when asked why he has been so successful at Safeco. "This is one of the toughest parks to hit in, along with [PETCO Park] San Diego and [Land Shark Stadium] in Miami, so I can't explain it." Coming into this season, Branyan had a .190 (4-for-21) career batting average at Safeco Field with one home run and four RBIs. But that was then, and this is now. "The game is all about keeping your mental approach the same and not let losing get you down," he said. "I'm 33 years old and finally getting a chance to play every day, and I'm having fun. "I've seen a lot of places, played for a lot of teams and had a lot of teammates. I'm very happy to be given this opportunity."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.