About a month ago, Braden Bishop was in the Mariners clubhouse, slowly cleaning out his locker as he prepared to depart for Triple-A Tacoma.
Tuesday afternoon, he returned to Seattle to prepare for his first game playing center field T-Mobile Park.
“I found out last night in Salt Lake City after the (Rainiers) game, and then took the early flight here, so I’m a little overwhelmed,” Bishop said.
The 25-year-old outfielder was recalled from Tacoma on Tuesday to take the place of everyday center fielder Mallex Smith, who was optioned to the Rainiers following a tough stretch offensively and defensively in April.
As Smith, who the Mariners acquired in the Mike Zunino trade with the Rays in November, heads to Tacoma to work on timing at the plate and getting back on track defensively, Bishop will become the fourth outfielder for Seattle, joining Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana, and Jay Bruce.
“I’m excited to play,” Bishop said. “I think anytime you can get on the field and mix it up, it’s a good thing.”
Seattle will face left-handed pitching during their upcoming road trip to Cleveland, New York and Boston, meaning Bishop, a right-handed hitter, will likely get plenty of at-bats.
“Braden had a great spring training,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s really changed his swing a lot. He used to kind of just be a speed guy, trying to hit down on it. He got off that program and really turned his career around once he got into pro ball and realized the value of getting the ball in the air.
“Certainly turning into more line drives, and just a tougher out, more productive player. I’m anxious to see him play. I want him to take it, run with it, have fun, put a smile on your face and catch all the fly balls out there.”
Bishop, a Washington Huskies product, was named to the Opening Day roster this season and made his MLB debut on March 21 against Oakland during the Mariners’ two-game Japan series. He was sent to Tacoma when the team returned to Seattle.
“I think the biggest thing is the relationships I was able to develop with these guys,” Bishop said of the Japan trip. “Although it was very short, it made it easier to come in here today.”
Bishop was 24 of 90 (.267) in 21 games with the Rainiers this season, including hitting safely in 16 games with seven multi-hit performances. He hit seven doubles, three homers and collected 13 RBIs while drawing 12 walks.
He said continuing to get on base — he posted a .356 on-base percentage with Tacoma — is what he most wants to translate to this stint with the Mariners.
“Try and put myself in a position to help us win,” Bishop said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Servais said there is nothing Bishop can do that will surprise him anymore.
“There’s some players that just keep getting better,” Servais said. “Some guys when you tell them (they) can’t do something, or a number of people say, ‘You’re probably not going to be this guy or that guy,’ they put the chip on their shoulder and they’re just out to prove you wrong.
“I think he’s one of those players. He’s certainly gone through a lot in his life. He’s got a good perspective on things. He is a worker, and he’s very inquisitive, and he wants to learn and just be the best player he can be, and he’ll go to all extremes to make sure that happens.”
Smith, 25, will head to Tacoma after struggling to produce for Seattle since returning from an elbow strain that cost him most of his spring.
Servais said the lack of a full spring training seemed to hinder Smith at times. Smith played in a handful of minor-league games in Arizona after the Mariners left for Japan, but Servais said at-bats were “crammed in” as Smith tried to play catch-up.
“When you’re doing that, you’re also not playing defense all the time,” Servais said. “So, you’re not in the normal flow of the game. We knew it was going to be an issue getting started, that’s what I mentioned when we came back from Japan.
“I didn’t want to play him every day. Played him a couple days, gave him a day off. You try to break it in, but it’s the big leagues and you need guys to produce and you need them out there. I think there’s a lot to be said for he didn’t have a normal spring.”
Smith hasn’t recorded a hit in his past 24 at-bats. In his past 15 appearances, he is hitting just 3 for 46 (.065) with 18 strikeouts during that span. His .165 season batting average is the lowest of the Mariners’ active position players.
Smith’s troubles extended to the outfield recently, when he missed a pair of fly balls in the Mariners’ final two games against Texas.
“Our job is to get players going and playing well, and sometimes you’ve got to take a step back,” Servais said. “With Mallex, no real spring training. We fired him right in there when we got here.
“I thought the first probably 30-40 at-bats he had were very good, very competitive. Just had a tough time here the last couple of weeks getting much going offensively, and then on the defensive side of the ball has been a little bit of a struggle there as well.”
Servais said when he and general manager Jerry Dipoto spoke with Smith, Smith asked if he could get on a plane and fly to Salt Lake City right away to try to get into Tacoma’s game Tuesday night. He did not arrive in time, but Servais said he will be in Wednesday’s Rainiers lineup.
“I feel very confident Mallex can get it going back in the right direction again,” Servais said. “He’s got a great track record of hitting and being a very productive major league player. He will be back.”