This took a lot longer than Ben Gamel would have liked.
But the second-year outfielder was officially activated from the disabled list and starting in a Seattle Mariners uniform on Wednesday for the first time since he strained his oblique near the start of spring training.
In a corresponding move, the Mariners optioned left-hander Ariel Miranda back to Triple-A Tacoma after he made his first start in a 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday.
“Definitely a little anxious,” Gamel said. “Obviously watching the guys on TV, they’ve been a lot of fun to watch. So I definitely want to get out on the field with them and I’m ready to roll. I feel 100 percent.”
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Gamel said he was ready to play the day he began his rehab assignment with high Single-A Modesto.
But the Mariners wanted to make sure he was fully healed and his timing was back at the plate. And it was a simple roster move to bring him up after Miranda’s start.
Miranda can’t be recalled for at least 10 days, unless there’s an injury. So that lines Erasmo Ramirez to make his first start and be activated from the disabled list in the Mariners’ open spot in the rotation on Sunday in Texas against the Rangers.
“Yes he is,” Servais confirmed.
Ramirez allowed one run in 5 2/3 innings for Triple-A Tacoma in his rehab start on Tuesday.
“I talked to (Rainiers) manager Pat Listach a little this morning and talking about Gamel and seeing where Erasmo is at. He threw the ball fine. Completely healthy,” Servais said.
One thing about the current roster:
The Mariners now have five outfielders.
That’s a bit unorthodox for these times, and Servais knows that. They have their mainstays with Dee Gordon in center field and Mitch Haniger in right and they had been platooning in left field with 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki against right-handers and 27-year-old Guillermo Heredia against lefties.
Left-handed hitting Gamel started Wednesday night against Astros’ right-hander Gerrit Cole.
It’s possible Ichiro’s time is running out. That he’s a future Hall of Famer and a Mariners franchise icon is likely the only reason he’s lasted this long. Ichiro, who signed a minor-league contract to return to Seattle after Gamel was injured, entered Wednesday hitting .219 – all singles.
And Heredia is not only a “plus-plus” defensive outfielder, Servais said (and his play has done nothing to suggest otherwise), but he’s also hitting .250/.345/.542 with a pair of home runs. He is a frequent late-game substitution as a defensive replacement for Ichiro, the 10-time Gold Glove recipient, even when Ichiro does start.
But Ichiro was also dealing with a late-spring calf injury and his track record gives him the benefit of the doubt.
But how do you give consistent playing time to five outfielders?
“I mean, obviously with Ben being back I’m glad to have him back,” Servais said. “Ben is going to play. He had a nice season for us last year. We’ll take it day to day, matchup-wise, and go from there.
“But, yeah, we’re carrying five outfielders. It’s a little different, but that’s what we’re going with. We’ll let you know when that changes. That’s where we’re going right now.”
Gamel did play an inning at first base last year, but Servais said he’d only go to that in an emergency situation. They also have utility player Andrew Romine, who can play all three outfield spots. And Nelson Cruz is technically an outfielder.
And the Mariners started the season with a distinct plan. A vision of an eight-man bullpen to go with five starters and 12 position players – meaning their three bench spots would be taken by a fourth outfielder, backup catcher and a utility player.
It’s hard to envision them changing from that plan once they get players back and healthy.
Catcher Mike Zunino (oblique) is slated to return to the Mariners on Friday for the first game of their series against the Rangers, which means they’ll option either David Freitas or Mike Marjama. And Servais said first baseman Ryon Healy (ankle) should be ready to begin his rehab assignment with either Double-A Arkansas or Triple-A Tacoma on Friday, as well.
Then Ramirez would take up another roster spot when he joins the rotation on Sunday. And he’s out of minor-league options.
So what happens then?
A lot of things could. As this early season has shown the Mariners are certainly prone to injuries. But barring that they would have to either go with a seven-man bullpen, or make some difficult decisions with Ichiro, as well as first baseman Daniel Vogelbach.
Left-hander Marco Gonzales (1-1, 8.25 ERA) starts the final of the Mariners’ four-game series with the Astros against their right-hander Charlie Morton (2-0, 1.00 ERA) in a 12:40 p.m. game Thursday at Safeco Field.
The game will televise on Root Sports and broadcast on 710-ESPN.