What’s wrong with Mitch Haniger?
The Mariners recorded him taking newly acquired first baseman Ryon Healy to lunch for some Hawaiian-Korean fusion cuisine in West Seattle. Everything seemed fine until the dessert came, shaved ice.
Haniger tried to play it cool, but his distress was quite evident. So much that Healy busted in laughter.
“So I hate desserts,” Haniger admitted. “I don’t like cake, I don’t really like cookies. I hate brownies.”
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Healy thought what the rest of us were thinking.
“I don’t know if we can be friends,” Healy said.
But on the baseball field, Haniger’s swing and defense has been the biggest treat to the Mariners early season so far.
So maybe there’s something to that sans-dessert policy.
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Haniger has so far reached base in each of the Mariners' first seven games and he's had a hit in six of them, including a pair of home runs in the first three games (8-for-24, .333, six RBI).
He’s been more than serviceable filling in at clean-up with Nelson Cruz sidelined with an ankle injury. Haniger’s big right-handed bat is just what the Mariners’ lefty-heavy lineup has needed.
And it's all come while spending life scoffing at sweets, though he recently clarified that he’s not 100 percent against them … maybe just 95 percent.
“I mean, I rarely order it, but I do like carrot cake," Haniger relented. "That’s the only cake I’ll eat. Maybe some cheesecake, too, but that’s only a couple of times a year – maybe.”
Like, maybe if it’s his birthday.
“I'm really just not a big like cake guy. My sweet tooth is more candy than dessert,” he said. “I’d rather just get full off my dinner so that I can’t eat anything more.”
It’s a pretty disciplined approach at the dessert plate.
And his swing at that plate on the baseball field has been much more sweet during the regular season than how his spring training went. Take spring training for what it is, but it was hard not to gawk when Haniger had gone 4-for-31 (.129) at the plate with a week remaining before Opening Day.
Haniger had missed some time because of tendinitis in his right hand, which kept him from swinging for a week. But he and Mariners manager Scott Servais insisted his send-down to the minor-league fields was not health-related, but to figure out what was wrong with his timing and why he was chasing breaking balls out of the strike zone.
“It’s just more about seeing pitches, seeing breaking balls and trying to make some adjustments and try some things,” Servais had said at the time. "We just want him in a position where he feels comfortable and confident when the season starts.
"It’s hard to hit when you’re not hitting strikes.”
And this was after his torrid start to last season was derailed by a strained oblique that sat him for almost seven weeks. And he later missed three more weeks after he was struck by a 95-mph pitch in his mouth. That’s why he wears the face guard on his batting helmet.
Then Sunday’s game, the series finale against the Indians. Haniger’s shoulder had just barely got in the way of Trevor Bauer’s 94-mph fastball. Otherwise that pitch was headed for his face.
“You just got to let that go and focus on the next one,” Haniger said afterward. “That’s going to happen. It’s part of the game.”
So his next at-bat? He launched a two-run home run off of Tyler Olson. It traveled 403 feet and it was his second home run in two games.
In the months of March and April, Haniger is hitting .358 since he joined the Mariners.
“I just want to be driving the ball to the middle of the field," Haniger said. "That’s pretty much the same thing I’ve worked on in most offseasons in the past. That was the goal again this year was just to improve on that.”
He’s clearly found what he had been missing since that minor-league send down. Even at the end of last season, Haniger hit .353 in September and October with seven home runs in 28 games to finish the season hitting .282 with 16 home runs.
That 2016 trade with the Diamondbacks for Haniger and Jean Segura has looked like it’s going to pay off for the Mariners, despite trading away Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte. Haniger reformed his swing in the Diamondbacks’ farm system.
“That’s a bad man. That’s a really bad man,” said Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon. “They don’t know him, but by the end of the year the world is going to know.”
And Servais said his end-of-spring adjustments were almost immediate.
“It was a little shaky going out of spring training with his slow start,” Servais said. “But the last day of spring (2-for-4, two doubles against the Rockies) he started to find something and sometimes with a hitter like that it’s just one at-bat and everything clicks. And his timing – he’s seeing the ball good. He certainly has the swing and the power to go along with that.”
And it’s made Cruz's temporary absence not hurt so much.
“It’s worked out OK,” Servais said. “So far. But we would like to get the other guy back.”