Replacing injured Jean Segura as the Mariners’ primary leadoff hitter is an easy transition for outfielder Ben Gamel. Taking ground balls at first base? That’s something else again.
Gamel spent extensive time as a leadoff hitter through his eight minor-league seasons, but he hadn’t played first base since "before high school." It was a surprise when the Mariners broached the idea in spring training, but he’s game.
"Whatever I can do to stay up here and help this team win," he said, "I’m willing to do. It’s baseball at the end of the day. You’ve still got a job to do. Catch the ball at first and go from there."
Gamel’s time at first base, for now, is a long-term project but, with Mitch Haniger’s imminent return from the disabled list, the Mariners’ outfield is about to get a lot more crowded — now and for the foreseeable future.
"It just puts another tool in his bag," manager Scott Servais said. "It’s something he can use to help him get on the field. He should be able to do it. Ben wants to do it; he wants to work at it.
"It’s something we talked about (last season) when (outfielder) Seth Smith was here. The fact he had never done it was really shameful. It extends your career and increases more opportunities for you to get into the lineup."
Servais cautioned that Gamel isn’t likely to spend much time at first base at this point. For now, Gamel is a fixture in the outfield and a natural interim replacement for Segura atop the lineup,
"I’ve been (a leadoff hitter) my whole career," he said. "But generally for me, whether I’m hitting first or ninth, it’s the same approach."
The approach is working. Gamel entered Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay with a .311 average and a .390 on-base percentage in 33 games since his return from Triple-A Tacoma.
As for playing first base?
"If we get in a lopsided game," Servais said, "and we want to throw him over there, we can do it. It allows us to get some other guys off their feet. No timeline. No `He’s going to start in three days.’ None of that stuff."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners