Seattle Mariners

This has been a longer IL stay than Haniger anticipated, but Mariners outfielder nears return

This recovery period has lasted much longer than Mitch Haniger would have preferred. It’s been more than two months since the Seattle Mariners outfielder was placed on the injured list.

“I’m just trying to learn from it, get better, and take a step back and kind of look at how the year has gone, and (figure out) what I need to do to come back stronger mentally and physically,” he said.

Haniger fouled a ball off himself during a game against Houston in early June, played a few more innings after that, but ultimately left midway through with what was later diagnosed as a ruptured testicle.

Two separate day-long stints in the hospital followed, and weeks passed before Haniger could resume baseball activity. When he did start ramping up his physical workouts in early July, significant discomfort persisted, and he had to slow back down.

“It’s been frustrating, and it did take longer than I thought it was going to take,” Haniger said Wednesday. “But, this was kind of a unique thing. (This type of injury is) so unique, so it’s tough to put a time frame on something no one’s really experienced before.

“We were just kind of playing the one-step-forward, hope-it-goes-well game, and seeing how I respond to it. Luckily, everything has gone really well recently.”

It wasn’t until this homestand that Seattle lifted its cautious approach with Haniger’s recovery. He’s participated in regular team workouts, taken batting practice, shagged fly balls in the outfield and said he’s now running at about 85-90 percent.

“It’s been good to just get going, and start cranking things up,” Haniger said.

He doesn’t think about the injury while exercising anymore, he said, and feels his hitting and throwing are both game ready. He could begin a rehab assignment with one of the Mariners’ minor-league affiliates as early as next week.

“Everything other than the sprinting — just because I took so much time off running — feels great,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to take too much longer to get my legs going, and once the training staff feels like I’m running at 100 percent and looking good, then they’ll make the decision.”

Haniger’s absence — paired with Braden Bishop’s IL stint because of a lacerated spleen and Domingo Santana’s elbow troubles keeping him from playing defense — has created a noticeable hole in Seattle’s outfield.

The Mariners have cycled through several temporary replacement options in right field during Haniger’s extended IL stay. Santana shifted over from left before his injury. Mallex Smith has now assumed the role after the club acquired Keon Broxton from the Orioles to play center field following the All-Star break.

“The loss of Haniger was really big,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in July. “Just the loss of the bat, the consistent at-bats. I know he wasn’t off to a great start, but we all felt very confident Haniger would turn that around. It’s a big loss. It’s one of our better players. An All-Star player from the year before that we were counting on to suck up a lot of big at-bats.

“And, when we’re going good, he’s usually in the middle of it — whether it’s a walk, a defensive play, driving in a big run. That’s a big loss. We’ll get him back. It’s just going to take a little bit more time.”

Haniger went on the IL as the MLB leader with 81 strikeouts, and was slashing at .220/.314/.463 with 13 doubles, 15 home runs and 32 RBIs in 63 games. He said the down time allowed him to make adjustments — he simplified his mechanics after recognizing there was too much rotation in his swing — to put together more consistent at-bats.

“I think any hitter, when you’re going through a slump or you’re not hitting well, you start pressing more, and start trying to go after hits instead of staying process-oriented,” Haniger said. “I’ve never been a guy who’s not going to work hard. The work’s always been there, but just staying committed and focused to (the idea) that it’s going to come back around (makes a difference).

“I feel really good with how everything is going, and I’m excited to get back out there.”

He’s been in a position like this before. He spent a good chunk of 2017 on the injured list in two stints with an oblique strain and later a face laceration, before returning to the Mariners for good midway through August.

That year, he slashed at .318/.344/.580 with 12 doubles, nine homers and 23 RBIs over his final 38 games. He would like similar production when he returns this time.

“Everyone wants to do well and finish strong,” Haniger said. “For me, I’m just kind of buying into controlling what I can control, coming back, getting my work in and being mentally and physically ready to help this team win, and finish the year strong.

“I think that’s all every player wants to do the last couple months of the year, is just end it on a good note and go into the offseason feeling good. … I’ve learned more when (I’ve gone) through a struggle. When you’re doing great, and everything is going great, and you’re having success, it’s tough to really learn from some things. At least I was able to kind of step back and take a look at stuff I’ve been struggling with … and move forward.”

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.