Mariners sweep AZL Finals for desert crown

Uhl hits go-ahead two-run homer, helps M's capture first title since '09

Ryan Uhl, who was limited to 10 regular-season games due to injuries, went yard in the Finals. (Shari Sommerfeld/MiLB.com)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | September 3, 2016 2:52 AM

For the Seattle organization, which had seven Minor League affiliates reach the postseason this year, it's one championship down, six to go.

Riding a two-run homer from Ryan Uhl and fine pitching performances from Dylan Thompson, Carlos Hernandez and David Ellingson, the Rookie-level Mariners topped the Angels, 3-1, on Friday to sweep the best-of-3 Arizona League Finals and claim their first crown since 2009.

"The experience is huge for their development and from an organizational standpoint. We want to know how these guys play, how they handle adversity in the playoffs and the pressure of trying to win a championship," manager Zac Livingston said. "Every single one of them answered in terms of how they played."  

He believes the championship bodes well for the future of the Mariners, especially in the context of the system as a whole.

"It's unbelievable. We found out about the seventh -- Triple-A [Tacoma] was the last one to [clinch] -- last night. It's a great accomplishment as an organization," Livingston said. "It proves what we've been preaching all the way down on every level and it means something to everyone in the organization, from top to bottom. It proves the players are buying in to what we're preaching and it's working. It's going to be great going forward."

Joe Rizzo, Seattle's 2016 second-round pick and No. 9 prospect, walked and scored on Juan Camacho's single in the first inning, but the Angels tied it in the bottom of the second. Uhl, a seventh-rounder in last year's Draft, changed the tone of the game by swatting a two-run homer off Enrique Oquendo (0-1) in the fourth.

"It was big-time," Livingston said. "We were kind of at a standstill, 1-1, like, 'Who's going to be the one to strike?' It was a 10-pitch at-bat. He battled -- he fouled off a few pitches and he finally got one. He's battled through things with some injuries this season and it was great to see him come through. That lifted the team up and shifted the momentum for us. With a 1-1 tie, everybody's waiting. You're trying to make something happen and you're trying to prevent something from happening. 

"We have an outstanding pitching staff, and once we were up by two runs, we knew we had a good chance."

Rehabbing Mariners catcher Steve Clevenger, who suffered a broken hand on June 29, went 2-for-3 with a walk, but his impact since joining the Rookie-level squad on Aug. 25 has been greater than numbers can show.

"Not only chipping in hitting, but you couldn't ask for a better pro than Steve Clevenger talking to the guys," Livingston said, "showing them things, talking to them about at-bats and how pitchers are going to pitch them, and not only in practice and having them see how he works in practices but talking in the dugout. He's here for the right reasons and he's been a good presence in our dugout and our clubhouse for the last couple weeks."

Thompson, a fourth-round pick last year and Seattle's No. 23 prospect, allowed a run on a hit and a walk while fanning two over four innings. Hernandez (1-0) followed by scattering three hits and a walk while striking out three over four innings. Ellingson, a 34th-round pick this year, struck out two in a perfect ninth for his first postseason save.

"They're huge. We know we've been short-staffed as far as how many pitchers we have down here as far as normal numbers, and they've all done a great job," Livingston said. "Camacho has been absolutely huge for us behind the plate, especially the last couple weeks. He's had to catch every day and he's proved he can handle a staff, proved he can call a game."

Angels No. 6 prospect Nonie Williams was 1-for-4, giving him a .286 average in the playoffs after he hit .244 in the regular season.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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