Even with Mitch Haniger nearing a return, Ben Gamel has carved out a role with the Mariners.
That came directly from manager Scott Servais earlier this week, who raved about how Gamel has filled in for Haniger in right field.
“He has done a great job,” Servais said. “He’s really picked us up, and swung the bat great.”
Still, it took a couple of unrelated events — Leonys Martin’s demotion to the Rainiers, and Haniger suffering a strained oblique muscle — for Gamel to get his opportunity to impress.
Since being called up on April 26, all Gamel has done is get on base and produce. He was hitting .288 with a .402 on-base percentage to go along with two home runs, 14 runs and 13 RBIs in 19 games heading into the series finale Wednesday against Oakland.
“I am not in swing mode right out of the gate,” said Gamel, who turned 25 on Wednesday. “I am taking pitches and just waiting for mine. Fortunately when they do come, I have not been missing them too much.”
Gamel picked up where Haniger left off before he got hurt. The Mariners’ right-field duo is among the major league leaders at that position in batting average (.323), on-base percentage (.444), runs scored (36), doubles (13) and RBIs (30).
Those are pretty astounding numbers by the two Seattle rookies, especially if you consider which right fielders have been more productive. The league leaders are Washington’s Bryce Harper, Boston’s Mookie Betts and AL rookie of the year candidate Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees.
“(Gamel has) done really well,” Haniger said. “The outfield has been playing great. It has been awesome to watch.”
In the past few days, Haniger has ramped up his activity before returning to the team. He said at the end of this week, he was going to try to simulate game throws to each base in the infield.
“There’s been no hiccups yet,” Haniger said. “Everything has been great. Hopefully it keeps going smoothly.”
Haniger is staying hopeful that he will be activated from the disabled list sometime this weekend. Servais said a safe timeline is sometime next week when the Mariners travel to Washington and Boston.
One thing is for certain — Gamel will come along regardless and be part of an outfield mix that includes Haniger, Jarrod Dyson and Guillermo Heredia.
“(Staying in the majors) means a lot,” Gamel said. “It is pretty easy to stress in this game, especially when you are here. Now I can kind of take a deep breath and go out and play instead of worrying.”
Gamel made his major league debut last May with the New York Yankees, but spent most of the season in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was named the International League player of the year.
Last August, Gamel was acquired by the Mariners in exchange for pitchers Jio Orozco and Juan De Paula, and stayed up with Seattle the rest of the regular season.
Gamel hit .258 with three home runs and 10 RBIs in spring training, but was part of the last round of cuts. He was reassigned to Triple-A Tacoma and produced numbers similar to what he’s done with the Mariners — .288 batting average and .419 on-base percentage in 18 games.
“It was very close,” Servais said. “We went with Leonys (Martin) more on what we had done the year before, and our commitment to him.
“(Martin) never really got it going, and Ben has taken the opportunity and ran with it.”