Jay Bruce has been traded to Philadelphia, and Edwin Encarnacion to the New York Yankees. Last season’s everyday first baseman, Ryon Healy, is expected to miss at least another month, as he continues to sort out lower back issues that have now been linked to spinal stenosis. Daniel Vogelbach is most effective as a designated hitter.
A once-crowded situation at first base has quickly cleared up for the Seattle Mariners the past few weeks, but manager Scott Servais has a few options to platoon the position moving forward, as the club awaits Healy’s return from the injured list.
“There’s some different guys we could try over there,” Servais said.
Vogelbach is the most obvious, having played first base 17 times this season for the Mariners, including making eight appearances since the beginning of June, when Bruce was dealt to the Phillies. Vogelbach has rarely been lauded for his defensive skills, but he has yet to make an error in the 116 innings he’s played at first this season.
He will see plenty of time there in the coming weeks, Servais said, but could also still appear regularly in his usual capacity as DH, where he is slashing at .255/.391/.538 with a team-leading 17 homers and 40 RBIs. Servais said he doesn’t want to roll Vogelbach out at first base for extended periods in a row.
“It’s really important (to remember) Vogey’s tool is his bat, and to make sure he keeps going there,” Servais said. “Vogey will get plenty of first base time, but you’ll see some (Austin) Nola, you’ll see some (Dylan) Moore. You might see (Tim) Beckham over there. There’s some different guys we could try over there.”
Nola, who made his MLB debut Sunday afternoon, was promoted from Triple-A Tacoma following Encarnacion’s departure for New York, partially to help fill in at first base. Though he was primarily used as a catcher with the Rainiers, Nola also played 200 innings of error-free baseball at first for Tacoma, appearing there in 24 games.
Nola started at first in his debut in Oakland over the weekend, and was again the starter there for Monday night’s homestand opener against Kansas City. He could also appear at catcher to give Omar Narvaez or Tom Murphy rest days, and has experience throughout the infield.
“He was a middle infielder, so those guys can typically catch the ball and handle themselves well, but he’s adept to catching very well,” Servais said. “The biggest thing that kind of held him back was the bat. He got some things figured out. He was having a nice year in Triple-A, so we’ll give him a chance here. You’ll see him play all over the place.”
Moore has appeared at first twice this season, though not as a starter, while Beckham has yet to play the position, and has appeared there in just six games across his six-year MLB career.
Servais said the work at first base would likely be “distributed pretty evenly” between Vogelbach and the others, though, having Healy healthy at this juncture would have been ideal. Healy logged 1,139 innings in 131 games at first for the Mariners in 2018 before being moved to third base at the beginning of the season to fill in for injured veteran Kyle Seager, who has since returned.
“Certainly (with) Ryon Healy healthy, it’s kind of his time,” Servais told reporters in Oakland on Sunday. “But, that’s not the case, so, just kind of got to take it day to day (at first base).”
Healy played in 11 games at first this season before he was placed on the 10-day IL on May 21 with lower back stiffness. He was expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment last week, but said the issue flared up again.
“Unfortunately when it gets flared up like that it’s pretty uncomfortable, and us being a pretty rotational sport, that’s what was aggravating it a lot,” Healy said.
He said the pain fluctuates, and he often feels stiffness or a dull ache in his back.
“There’s a little spinal stinosis, so it’s a little narrowing of the cavity and it’s kind of pinching the nerve a little bit, and they’re saying I’m getting a little bit of referred pain to my low right back,” he said. “Obviously not ideal, but something I need to take care of, because I want my back to be healthy for the rest of my life.”
Healy saw a specialist in Los Angeles who recommended an epidural shot to ease the pain, which will be performed Tuesday. From there, Servais said Healy will head back to Arizona to continue the rehab process. There is no definitive time table on Healy’s return, though Servais said he was told about three-to-four weeks.
“It’s hard for me to put a timetable on it,” Healy said. “I think I did that the first couple weeks, and I was really stressing myself about how badly I wanted to get back on the field. I never really wanted to go on the IL in general, and the fact that this ended up being this long of a thing, it’s just been frustrating.
“It’s not a fun process for any of us, but obviously the spine is something that’s pretty severe. It’s not something we really want to mess with, but if we rehab this properly, the epidural works, and this shouldn’t be a problem ever again.”
▪ Starter Felix Hernandez (lat) was looked at by doctors Monday after being pulled early from his rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma on Friday with shoulder fatigue. “Hoping it’s nothing serious,” Servais said. “Don’t think it is.”
▪ Closer Hunter Strickland (lat) will begin playing catch again in one or two days after a setback in his live BP last week. A new MRI scan showed no issues. “I think they were worried he could have hurt himself again, but he didn’t,” Servais said.
▪ Reliever Sam Tuivailala (Achilles) is expected to go out on another rehab assignment soon, possibly this week. “We like what we’re seeing and how the ball is coming out,” Servais said. “We’ll take it from there.”
▪ Relievers Chasen Bradford (forearm) and Brandon Brennan (shoulder) are expected to resume throwing in one or two days, while Connor Sadzeck (elbow) might start throwing during this seven-game homestand.
▪ Outfielder Braden Bishop (lacerated spleen) has not resumed baseball activity, and is working on regaining strength.
▪ Outfielder Mitch Haniger (ruptured testicle) was scheduled to begin light activity Monday.