Ben Gamel is healthy. And he’s played nine games with 32 at-bats in his rehab assignment since straining his oblique during spring training.
So why is Gamel sitting during a rained-out Triple-A Tacoma game in Sacramento on Monday and not with the Mariners in Seattle?
“He’s in a pretty good spot ready to come back,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’re just trying to do the right thing roster-wise. So that all plays into it.”
That could mean a lot of things that Servais didn’t want to get into before the Mariners’ played the Houston Astros on Monday at Safeco Field. And not necessarily designating 44-year-old franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki for assignment.
But it was a curious response.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said last week it is likely the team would keep five outfielders once Gamel returns.
They’ve repeated, though, that these decisions are day-to-day, which is likely the truth. Injuries happen, extra-innings happen, and starting-pitchers-getting-shelled happens.
But the Mariners were first speaking with optimism that Gamel could have returned by the start of the just-completed series with Oakland. Then it seemed Gamel would be ready by the start of this Astros series.
“Gamel will play at least one more game down (in the minors),” Servais said. “Maybe a couple more. We’ll see.”
Servais said they avoided recalling the left-handed hitting Gamel Sunday and Monday because the Mariners were scheduled to face a pair of left-handed pitchers.
Gamel hit .275/.322/.413 in 134 games for the Mariners last season, including a .348 batting average in 56 starts from when he was called up from Triple-A in April to the end of June.
Guillermo Heredia was hitting .238/.346/.524 entering Tuesday and has been frequently used as a defensively replacement late in games for Ichiro, who was hitting .207/.207/.207 (six hits, all singles) entering Tuesday.
“There’s a lot of scenarios. I’m not sure which way we’re going,” Servais said. “It’s really day-to-day now. … If you happen to have a night where you go extra innings or whatever and you get a little thin in your bullpen that can dictate which way you go there, too. So we’re really just playing day-to-day right now.”
Gamel did play an inning at first base last year. With Ryon Healy (ankle) still on the 10-day disabled list it seems possible he could slide there in a rotation that currently has included Daniel Vogelbach, Taylor Motter and Andrew Romine.
“Possibly,” Servais said. “That’s not exactly at the top of the list. But he could stand over there if we needed him in an emergency.
“But, yeah, roster decisions and how they all play out, I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. Really, I’m just taking it day-to-day.”
Left-hander Ariel Miranda had a locker in the clubhouse and was there before the Astros’ game and he appears all but official to become the Mariners’ fifth starter when they finally need one on Tuesday. The Mariners have played each of their first 13 games with four starters because of how their off-days lined up.
“Right now tomorrow’s starter we’re leaning toward Ariel Miranda,” Servais said.
Though Erasmo Ramirez was also in the clubhouse. He is scheduled to start for Triple-A Tacoma on Tuesday in what could be his final rehab start from a strained lat muscle he suffered during spring training.
“Hopefully we’ll get him stretched out,” Servais said. “Would love to see him get into the sixth inning.”
And right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (shoulder surgery) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday and he was throwing long toss in the Safeco Field outfield grass before Monday’s game.
“He’s continuing to progress along,” Servais said. “If that (the bullpen session) goes well we’ll move into some live hitters and he’ll probably start doing some of that stuff on the minor-league side.”
Maybe there was something to learn from the way almost-45-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon attacked the Astros’ lineup on Sunday, when he pitched a perfect game through eight innings before the Rangers won in extra innings, handing the reigning World Series champs their fourth loss in their past five games.
And maybe there’s hope for other 44-year-old players to have success in the big leagues … maybe like Ichiro. Colon is the only active player in the major leagues older than Ichiro.
“Bartolo, he was pretty fun to watch last night – I have to admit,” Servais said. “That was pretty cool. Doing what he does and how he does it and the fun he has playing – I admire him.”
Colon is the only player in the big leagues who Servais said he faced in his own playing career.
Servais was a catcher with the Astros, coincidentally enough.
“I had a ball thrown over my head at 100 mph,” Servais laughed. “He actually got ejected off of it.”
The Mariners continue their four-game series with the Astros with left-hander Ariel Miranda (8-7, 5.12 ERA in 2017) not officially scheduled, but likely to make his first start of the season. He’ll be opposed by RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (1-1, 7.71 ERA) in the 7:10 p.m. Tuesday game at Safeco Field.
The game will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-AM radio.