There haven’t been many games Mitch Haniger has missed since joining the Seattle Mariners organization before the 2017 season. Last year, the All-Star outfielder appeared in more games than any other Mariner.
He was trending toward repeating that feat, playing in 63 of Seattle’s first 66 games, before an injury sidetracked his season earlier this month. He’s missed nearly two weeks since fouling a ball off himself against the Astros, and rupturing a testicle.
“The first couple days, the pain is too much and you can’t really move, so you don’t really have any options,” said Haniger, who was back in Seattle’s clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. “But, now, walking around there’s no pain, and I’m really trying to get things going, but at the same time, not make anything worse, and make it a longer process than it needs to be.”
Haniger stayed in the June 6 game against Houston for multiple innings after the initial injury, playing center field and logging another at-bat, before he was removed in the seventh.
“I knew something wasn’t right right away, but I’m never going to come out of the game unless I feel like it’s too much to bear, or I could make it worse,” Haniger said. “And, at that point, I just kind of (asked) myself, ‘If I have to dive, am I going to be able to dive?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know, I don’t want to make anything worse.’
“All professional athletes have to be able to play through injury, play through pain. For me, it’s not easy to get through, but at the same time, I can get through it. At that time I just didn’t want to make anything worse, especially with the location of the injury.”
He spent two total days in the hospital in separate stints following the injury, and has resumed some light activity. He anticipates he will start running again sometime in the next week.
“I’ve been able to do some arms and some balance work, but can’t do any brute strength stuff because of risk for a hernia right now,” Haniger said. “But, hopefully this clears up soon and I can get going.”
As the Mariners get closer to starting to pare down their list of players on the injured list — Haniger is one of 10 players on the IL — Haniger said he is fortunate that his recovery time won’t be too long.
“There are definitely other injuries you can sustain on a baseball field that take six months to a year, so I’m happy it was nothing like that,” he said. “I’ve had some of these freak-type injuries happen, but at the end of the day, I just try to focus on the next step to get back, and get on the field with my teammates.”
Though he doesn’t want to rush, Haniger said the days seemed been longer during his recovery. He said he’s grown bored of coming to the ballpark for rehab, only to go home and watch the Mariners on TV when the team is out of town.
“He wants to get out there and play, and he’s going to do everything he can to heal up as fast as he can,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s just how he’s wired. Patience is not a big thing for him. He doesn’t have a whole lot of it. That’s how you want guys to be. But, with this (injury), we’ve got to be really cautious.”
With the recent addition of Austin Nola, who primarily caught in Triple-A this season, the Mariners opted to put both of their regular catchers in the lineup for Tuesday night’s game against Kansas City.
Omar Narvaez got the start behind the plate, while backup Tom Murphy, who had collected six homers in his past eight appearances, made his first start of the season at DH. Murphy (.300/.319/.611) and Narvaez (.287/.367/.467) have the club’s two highest batting averages among players who have logged significant innings.
“That’s what we talked about in bringing (Nola) up,” Servais said. “It gives you some coverage and some flexibility, whether you want to DH Murph or DH Omar on days they’re not behind the plate. ... We’ve got a lot more versatility now than we’ve had. At one point we were probably carrying four first basemen at a time. As our roster has shifted, the versatility has gone up, which allows you to do some different things with the lineup.”
Nola, who is 2-for-5 in his first two games at first base, has yet to appear at catcher, but Servais said his ability behind the plate was a big reason the Mariners acquired him during the offseason. Nola, a converted middle infielder, first learned to catch in 2016, but Servais has described his receiving skills as “off the chart.”
“I think that’s why he made the conversion a few years ago, is understanding this might be his ticket,” Servais said. “That’s why we signed him, was for catching depth. I was very impressed with what I saw catching-wise in spring training for a guy who is a conversion guy. He’s grasped onto the position very quickly.
“The bat had always been the question mark. He made some really good adjustments there, and has gotten good results. Earned himself a ticket to ‘The Show,’ so to speak.”
FELIX UNDERGOING TESTS
Felix Hernandez, who has been on the 10-day IL with a strained right lat since May 12, was scheduled to undergo another MRI on Tuesday after doctors determined he may have aggravated the area again.
Hernandez was lifted early from a rehab start with Triple-A Tacoma last week after feeling fatigue in his shoulder.
“Felix has got some discomfort in the back of his shoulder, and it’s concerning enough to get new images of that, not guess, and find out exactly what’s going on,” Servais said.
“He didn’t feel any specific pitch or anything like that. He just felt when he went out there in the second, and started to warm up in the third inning, no this doesn’t feel right. That’s when he shut it down. It wasn’t a sharp pain, or anything like that. He just felt fatigued, felt weak.”