The Ben Gamel cap and hair will make its first appearance of the season in Safeco Field on Friday, but not necessarily Ben Gamel, himself.
The Mariners had said they were hopeful Gamel would be healthy and prepared enough to return to the big leagues for when they begin a three-game series in Seattle against the Athletics.
His prognosis wasn’t as positive when general manager Jerry Dipoto spoke on 710-AM radio on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s a little premature to guess Ben Gamel will be back tomorrow night,” Dipoto said. “We’re not necessarily expecting that right now. That’s still a little bit up in the air. But for certain by the time we’re playing Houston (on Monday). But maybe not this weekend.”
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Gamel strained his oblique near the beginning of spring training and has since been playing on rehabilitation assignment with high Single-A Modesto and Triple-A Tacoma.
Gamel is 7-for-21 (.333) with a double and five walks in six games.
Dipoto also said that designated hitter Nelson Cruz should return by this weekend’s series after he had sprained his ankle on a dugout step after a two-run home run against the Indians on March 31.
And catcher Mike Zunino could be later than this weekend, but Dipoto said they’re expecting him to return by the end of the Mariners’ homestand and before they leave to play the Texas Rangers on April 20.
So when Gamel does return … what does that mean for the Mariners’ outfield?
Dee Gordon in center field and Mitch Haniger in right are mainstays, barring injuries. But the Mariners have thus far used 44-year-old franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki against right-handed pitchers and 27-year-old Guillermo Heredia against lefties, though they frequently substitute Heredia in late innings as a defensive replacement, even if he doesn’t start.
That outfield gets clogged when Gamel returns, though Heredia and Haniger both have minor-league options.
Or they could let Ichiro become a free agent.
“Ichi has done his thing, he’s moved the ball around – it’s remarkable what he’s able to do at this stage in his career,” Dipoto said. “He’s had a great impact and affect in our clubhouse. We’ll see where we are when Ben Gamel returns, but right now our general feel is we’ll just add the extra outfielder.
“The feel is that Ben will garner most of the playing time and we’ll see how the pieces fit.”
Heredia is 4-for-16 (.250) in nine games with a pair of home runs and he has a .381 on-base percentage. Ichiro is 5-for-22 (.227) in seven games.
The Mariners could get away with taking from their pitching depth. They added reliever Chasen Bradford after first baseman Ryon Healy went to the 10-day disabled list with a sprained ankle on Saturday.
But then they’ll have other roster adjustments when Cruz and Zunino return. And it gets more hairy when they’ll need a fifth starting pitcher, which likely will be Ariel Miranda from Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday.
Dipoto said they’re hopeful that right-hander Erasmo Ramirez will be ready by next week, and same with Healy.