Ryon Healy will be back with the Seattle Mariners for this upcoming four-game series against the Cleveland Indians.
And it appears he’ll be playing first base again by the series opener on Thursday.
Incumbent first baseman Daniel Vogelbach was packing his bags and saying goodbyes to teammates from the Mariners’ clubhouse in Chicago following their 4-3 win over the White Sox, according to multiple reports.
That seems to indicate the Mariners are sending Vogelbach to Triple-A Tacoma, which is without a true first baseman after releasing Kentwood High School graduate Matt Hague on Tuesday.
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Healy has played four games on a rehab assignment with Double-A Arkansas.
“You will see him in Cleveland,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said on his weekly segment on 710-AM on Wednesday. “Ryon will rejoin the club and it’s something we’ve been looking forward to.
“He swung the bat well while he was in Arkansas, and throughout the offseason and into the early season our intent was for Ryon to be the first baseman on this club and eventually that is going to take hold. His timing seems to be back on track.”
Although, now he gets to test that timing against the Indians’ tough pitching staff.
So why send down Vogelbach, who has shown flashes of solid bat production in 18 games and 54 at-bats? One of the two home runs he’s hit landed over the Hit It Here Café in the third deck of the right-field seats at Safeco Field.
The Mariners don’t have a 25-man roster setup to carry two first basemen, especially since Vogelbach can only play first or designated hitter. As Dipoto said, the Mariners have planned all along that Healy is their everyday first baseman since they acquired him in a trade from the Oakland Athletics.
Healy, a 26-year-old right-handed hitter who is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, batted .271 last season with 25 home runs. He batted .305 in 72 games in his first big-league experience in 2016.
Healy was 1-for-21 in his first six games as a Mariner before hitting a bases-loaded double against the Twins. That was his final plate appearance before he sprained his ankle while working out after the game.
That sent him to the disabled list, but the Mariners could replace him with Vogelbach.
But that was before they needed five starting pitchers. Now they do, and they since activated right-hander Erasmo Ramirez from the disabled list, which takes up a roster spot.
So with five starters, and their prerogative to carry eight relievers in the bullpen, that leaves then with 12 position players – meaning their three-player bench has to be a backup catcher (David Freitas), utility infielder (Andrew Romine) and a fourth outfielder (Ichiro Suzuki).
There was just no more room left for Vogelbach – though with his productive spring training and what he showed in Healy’s absence, he’s further up the Mariners’ depth chart than when the season started.
Healy is 5-for-15 with a home run and six RBI in five games with Arkansas.
“I would think that Healy gets on our roster at some point here this weekend,” Servais told reporters before Wednesday’s game. “Things have gone OK for him on the rehab assignment. I watched some video of him this morning and he looks fine.
“He needs to come in and contribute and he knows that. He was off to a slow start. So giving him the extra days of at-bats and playing time on the rehab assignment probably helps him. But facing minor league pitching vs. Cleveland pitching is a little bit different.”
So that would give the Mariners their full-health lineup for the first time this season – coming after playing the first 23 games without it.
But soon the Mariners will have to determine what to do with Ichiro.
They already opted to keep the 44-year-old franchise icon him over right-handed hitting 27-year-old Guillermo Heredia. They also signed 38-year-old former All-Star Jayson Werth to a minor-league contract in late March and on Tuesday added him to Triple-A Tacoma’s roster out of extended spring training.
Then they sent left-handed reliever Dario Alvarez through waivers and added him to Tacoma (where he already was) on Wednesday, which cleared a spot on the 40-man roster.
So that gives the Mariners room to add Werth to the 40-man if they choose to.
But Servais and Dipoto had been adamant that Heredia will be back with the Mariners, though they haven’t specified when (seemed likely as soon as his 10-day minimum was up). And they said Heredia was only sent down because they were to face a slate of right-handed pitchers.
Heredia was 9-for-29 (.310) with a couple of home runs in the 16 games he played while he and Ichiro were platooning in left field and Ben Gamel was on the disabled list.
Ichiro is 9-for- 36 (.250, all singles), though he didn’t appear at all in this three-game series against the White Sox after one start in the three-game series at the Texas Rangers.
Dipoto detailed more of why the Mariners opted to keep Ichiro over Heredia, touting Ichiro’s veteran presence on an already veteran team.
“The impact he’s made in the clubhouse mentoring our young players and even to a certain degree mentoring our veteran players of which he is the most senior – what he’s done for guys like Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez and more importantly guys like Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, that outfield group feeds off of him,” Dipoto said.
“We’ll come up with a solution that is more permanent than this. Guillermo is part of our team. You’ll see him very soon and we’re allowing ourselves a little bit of time to navigate this in the most dignified manner that we can while keeping Ichiro a part of what we’re doing on the everyday – because we feel like it has made a very big difference to this team.”
And Dipoto addressed the scrutiny that’s come because of the decision.
“Those decisions usually come from accounting for more information than local columnists are managing,” Dipoto said. “That’s not to be critical. They are allowed their own opinion and taking heat is part of my gig. But we made a move that we thought was best for the management of our group – not just Ichiro, and not just Guillermo Heredia, but our group.”
They believed Gamel would be out all of April with his oblique strain. But he returned at least two weeks sooner than the Mariners expected, which threw a wrench into their timetable of how long they thought they had to decide on what to do with their fourth outfield spot.
“I understood that probably not everybody would be happy with the fact Heredia was playing so well and was sent to Tacoma,” Dipoto said.
“I hope this was the right decision. I know Scott, the coaching staff, the players – everyone understood what we were trying to achieve when we did it. … And more importantly Guillermo Heredia, who has had to spend 10 days in the minor leagues minimally, was absolutely aware of what was going on and why we were trying to do what we were doing. This was about preservation of the pitching staff. It was about trying to do the right thing in the moment not just for a player who has been a legend in this market, but who has been important to this team.
“Ichiro has been that. It may not look that way in the stat sheet, but it has been that way.”