Seattle Mariners

Mariners infield closer to complete with return of shortstop J.P. Crawford

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The Mariners changed a lot in the offseason. Watch as fans struggle mightily on opening day to name as many players as they can on the roster.

As many combinations as the Seattle Mariners have used in the infield, Friday night’s setup in Oakland offered some stability.

For the first time this season, veterans Dee Gordon and Kyle Seager were slated to share the field with shortstop J.P. Crawford, who the club considers a key part of its future.

Crawford was reactivated from the 10-day injured list early in the afternoon after missing 15 games with an ankle sprain he sustained in a rundown during Seattle’s most recent homestand. He was removed in the ninth inning after trying to avoid a tag and severely turning his left ankle an inning prior.

He said throughout the two-week stretch he missed he didn’t think it would be a long injury, and immediately returned to his starting shortstop role, batting seventh against the A’s on Friday.

Earlier in the week, Crawford spent three games just down the road in California with high Single-A Modesto, going 1-for-10 with a home run, three RBIs and two walks.

“He’s running fine,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters in Oakland on Friday. “He played down there (in Modesto) with no limitations. … He’s anxious to get back out there.”

Crawford’s return should help improve a defense that also returned Gordon this week, and Seager from a much longer IL stint at the end of May. Those three infielders — who have rarely seen the field in the same game in any combination so far — have combined for just eight errors this season.

Seattle’s infielders have committed 41 total — the club as a whole still leads the majors with 74 entering Friday — with Gordon, Crawford and Seager responsible for less than 20 percent of that through the first 72 games.

Crawford’s return in particular should provide needed stability in the middle infield. In the first 17 games he played with the Mariners before his injury, Crawford recorded just two errors, which is tied for the club-low this season among infielders. He also helped turn eight double plays during that span.

“He’s certainly done a great job defensively,” Servais said of Crawford’s defensive play before the injury. “He’s handled everything that we’ve thrown at him. Everything that’s been hit at him has been under control. He’s just made plays.

“It’s pretty much what we thought we were going to get when he got him, and I think the offense will continue to improve as he goes along.”

Before he was placed on the IL, Crawford was slashing at .279/.343/.426. He had reached base safely in 15 of the 17 games he played, and hit safely in 13 of them.

Servais noted Crawford’s impressive progress back in May, before the injury temporarily sidetracked his season.

“You can just see the confidence starting to come out of him,” Servais said.

ROSTER MOVES

In addition to bringing Crawford back from his rehab assignment, the Mariners placed right-handed reliever Brandon Brennan to the 10-day IL with a strained right shoulder.

Brennan, a Rule 5 Draft pickup in December, was one of the Mariners’ most consistent relievers during the first two months of the season, but has been shaky his past several outings.

Servais said Brennan had some spasms in his shoulder, but didn’t anticipate it will be a long injury.

“He’s a reliever,” Servais said. “He’ll be back rather quickly when he’s able to start throwing again.”

Brennan was 2-2 with a 2.05 ERA across his first 21 relief appearances this season, but has been tagged with four more losses since May 21, pushing his season ERA to 5.56 in 34 innings in 30 appearances.

Right-hander Matt Festa, who will begin his fourth stint with the Mariners this season, was recalled from Triple-A Tacoma to replace Brennan. Festa has a 0-1 record and 5.73 ERA in nine relief appearances with nine strikeouts and seven walks in 11 innings.

Rookie Shed Long, as expected, was returned to Triple-A after filling in as an extra infield and utility option while Crawford and Gordon were out.

Long played second, third and left field while with Seattle, but Servais said he will focus on second base with the Rainiers.

“I like a lot what Shed Long brings, and I think the important thing is we get him back in Triple-A playing regularly at second base the majority of his time,” Servais said. “He’ll still move around some, but he needs to really continue to develop at second base going forward.”

Long has slashed at .232/.329/.377 in 19 games across two stints with Seattle this season.

“He’s learning a ton,” Servais said. “I’m happy with the way he played, and he’ll be back. … I think he understands where we’re at organizationally, where he’s at with his development. He’s 23 years old, and he’s already touched the big leagues. That’s a really good thing.”

SHEFFIELD DEMOTED

Mariners top prospect Justus Sheffield, who played the first two months of the season with Tacoma, has reportedly been demoted to Double-A Arkansas to continue to iron out mechanical issues that have slowed his progress throughout the season.

Sheffield has recorded four losses in as many starts since the end of May, and has allowed 23 earned runs during that span, while striking out 14 and walking 12 in just 11 innings.

He hasn’t worked past the fourth inning since May 22, when he pitched a season-high seven.

INJURY UPDATES

Felix Hernandez (lat) made a rehab start with the Rainiers on Friday in San Antonio. He was scheduled to throw 55-60 pitches or four complete innings.

Mariners first baseman and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion was held out of the starting lineup Friday with some back tightness, though Servais said it was a precautionary measure. Daniel Vogelbach got the start at first base for the third consecutive game.

Lauren Smith covers the Seattle Mariners for The News Tribune. She previously covered high school sports at TNT and The Olympian, beginning in 2015. She is a graduate of the University of Washington and Emerald Ridge High School.

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