Braden Bishop wrapped up spring training in Arizona last month as one of the hottest hitters on the Seattle Mariners roster — and he hasn’t slowed down since being optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.
Entering Tuesday night’s home opener, Bishop had reached base safely in 14 of his 27 plate appearances since being optioned to Tacoma at the end of March.
And, he was riding a five-game hitting streak, extending back to the Rainiers’ season-opener in Sacramento last week.
“He’s swung the bat well,” Rainiers manager Daren Brown said. “He swung it well in Sacramento. It was good to see him get off to a good start.
“Last year, having him in Arkansas, he got off to a slow start, turned it around about the middle of May, end of May. I’m happy to see him take off the way that he has. Hopefully he just continues it.”
Bishop, a 25-year-old outfielder, was drafted by the Mariners out of the University of Washington in the third round in 2015, and has spent the past four seasons bouncing around the minor leagues.
He’s compiled a .294/.366/.385 career slash line in the minors, but his scorching batting this spring turned heads at the big-league level. In 15 games, Bishop had a .379/.419/.724 slash line, and hit three home runs while knocking in 12 RBIs.
That was enough to earn him an early-season appearance with the Mariners. Bishop traveled with the big-league club to Japan, and made his MLB debut there, replacing retiring Ichiro Suzuki in the eighth inning of Seattle’s second game.
“That experience was something I’ll never forget and will tell my kids about,” Bishop said. “I was happy that my family could come over there and see the whole experience and how they treat baseball out there. It was an unbelievable experience.
“The whole thing that I’ll take away from that is how celebrated Ichrio is, and how much respect he has from his teammates and opponents. And just to be a part of that whole sendoff for him was amazing.”
Bishop got just one at-bat with the Mariners before he was optioned to Triple-A on March 23. Soon after the Mariners returned from Japan, he packed up his locker in Seattle and headed south.
“I think any time you get sent down at any level it’s tough,” Bishop said. “Obviously you get a taste of what the big leagues is like. I was extremely grateful to be there. I learned a lot. It was tough to say bye because you feel like a part of that team, and they are obviously having a lot of fun, and it’s that same team.
“It just kind of gave me some extra motivation to come down here, and take some of the stuff I learned, and see if I could apply it here.”
He’s certainly made an early impression. The No. 11 prospect in the Mariners’ organization, Bishop’s four doubles in the first five games led the Pacific Coast League. His nine hits ranked tied for second in the league.
“I just think the biggest thing for me is not looking at one game as an end, but looking at a season as a body of work,” Bishop said.
“I know there’s going to be good ones, there’s going to be bad ones, but if I can put some emphasis on each at-bat and try to do some damage ... I’m not going to get so caught up in game-by-game results.”
Brown said, as with most players at the Triple-A level, the best way for Bishop to earn a promotion back to Seattle is to show consistent production.
“He started the season there, so he is a guy that’s on the radar, and he’s a guy that’s put himself on the radar the way he’s played the last couple of years,” Brown said.
“For most of the guys, when you’re here, it’s playing to keep yourself an option. When things happen, it’s going to take more than the 25 guys who are there right now in the big leagues. You just need to keep yourself an option and be ready to go help.”
Meanwhile, Bishop will play in a ballpark he’s familiar with. When he was with the Huskies, Bishop said the team played several games in Cheney Stadium while their park on campus was undergoing renovations.
“It’s been a while, but it’s nice to be back,” Bishop said.
Right-hander Erik Swanson, the No. 11 prospect in Seattle’s organization, was slated to make his second start for the Rainiers on Tuesday, but was recalled by Seattle early in the afternoon.
Swanson was sent to join the Mariners on the road in Kansas City, adding a fresh arm to the bullpen after starter Felix Hernandez was pulled with virus-like symptoms after one inning Monday night.
“With Felix going down yesterday, only one inning, led to our guy today going up to help,” Brown said. “So, we’ll try to put it together tonight and try to get through it.
“It was his day to start, he’s got plenty of pitches, so he can give them some length.”
Swanson tossed five scoreless innings in his first start for the Rainiers on Thursday in Sacramento. He allowed six hits, struck out eight batters, and walked none.
Right-hander Chasen Bradford was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation after throwing two innings in relief Monday night. He allowed two earned runs on five hits, while strike out one batter and walking one.
The Rainiers opted to start left-handed reliever Matt Tenuta on Tuesday, avoiding further disruption of the regular starting rotation.
Right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong (oblique), who is on a rehab assignment with the Rainiers, is nearing a return for the Mariners.
He was not on site Tuesday, instead working out in Seattle, but was expected to return to Tacoma on Wednesday.
Armstrong tossed a scoreless inning, including striking out two, in a relief appearance with the Rainiers on Sunday. Brown said Armstrong felt healthy after the outing, and is headed in the right direction.
“Everything the first day going out felt good, looked good,” Brown said.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said last week he hoped to have Armstrong back with the big-league club at some point during Seattle’s next homestand, which begins Friday.