Seattle Mariners

Crawford continues to make strides as Mariners’ shortstop

J.P. Crawford passed a career milestone this week. Though he was only promoted from Triple-A Tacoma in May, and was later shut down for a brief stint with an ankle injury, the shortstop has already played more games in three months with the Seattle Mariners than he ever has in a single major-league season.

Crawford was set to make his usual start in Seattle’s infield Friday night, batting in his familiar No. 2 spot. In playing 52 games with the Mariners, he’s already eclipsed the former career-high 49 he played in Philadelphia last season, and the 23 he played for the Phillies the year before.

How has his first true season in the big leagues treated him so far?

“I feel good,” Crawford said. “I feel comfortable. I think that’s the main thing. I’m getting a chance to show what I can do, day in and day out. I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m not letting it slip.”

In a season of opportunity for younger players, Crawford has consistently showed why Seattle’s organization believes he’s their shortstop of the future. He’s made strides as a middle infielder, and he is one of the Mariners’ more consistent hitters, reaching base safely in more than 80 percent of the games he’s played.

After a brief slump early in July, he took an active four-game hitting streak into Friday night’s game, including notching a pair of multi-hit games this week.

“I just got that rhythm going,” Crawford said. “The first couple weeks (of July) I was missing pitches I should have been hitting, and now I’m not. It’s just a matter of that, and letting the ball travel a split-second more, so you can see it a little bit more, and having the confidence in your hands, that you’ve got the ability to drive the ball.”

Crawford has regained his consistency at the plate and continues to improve defensively even while transitioning to an everyday role in the majors.

“He’s learning playing every day at the big league level and what that takes out of you physically,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He’s dragging a little bit. I know he’s getting hits, and he’s playing really good defensively, but you have to learn how to play through it, and that’s part of going through every day at this level, certainly with the travel and everything else that goes on.

“He continues to grind it out. Quality at-bats. He knows the strike zone so well. If you swing at strikes, you’ve got a chance. It’s when you start chasing everything that it’s hard to get it reined in again. I’m really happy with the way he’s playing. ... It’s good to see him play through it and play well through it.”

More energy needs to be exerted when playing every day at the big-league level, Crawford said, and each game requires sharp focus. He’s more tired out when nine innings are complete than he was in the minors, but he’s learning to adjust to how taxing the season is.

“I’ve just learned you’ve got to take care of your body a lot more, before and after the game,” he said. “You’ve got to do a lot more to keep your body refreshed.”

He’s spent more time stretching when he wakes up in the morning, stretches more when he gets to the ballpark, uses the hot and cold tubs each day, and wears compression boots after games.

“It’s been paying off,” he said. “I feel good right now. It’s going well.”

ROSTER MOVES

With his debut Wednesday, rookie infielder Tim Lopes became the 57th player the Mariners have used this season. Seattle has led the majors in player usage for most of the season, and is quickly approaching its own franchise record — 61 players in 2017 — with two months left to play.

The tally should tick up to 58 this weekend.

“This roster has been crazy,” Servais said.

Friday afternoon, the Mariners placed Lopes, who made his first career start at second base a night earlier, on the seven-day concussion list. He was hit in the left jaw area by a 91-mph fastball midway through Thursday night’s win over Detroit, and was later removed from the game and entered concussion protocol.

Lopes reached base twice (walk, hit by pitch) and scored a pair of runs in the 10-2 win before his early exit.

Infielder Ryan Court was selected from Triple-A Tacoma to replace Lopes, and will make his MLB debut with his first appearance. Court has slashed at .279/.377/.581 with eight doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 37 RBIs in 37 games with the Rainiers this season.

The 31-year-old was drafted by the Diamondbacks in 2011 out of Illinois State and has played in the minor league systems of four different organizations during the past nine seasons. After he was released by the Cubs in March, he had a brief stint in the independent Atlantic League before signing with the Mariners in May.

“I always felt like I could play at this level,” Court said when asked what has kept him going through nearly a decade in the minors. “You play for so long, you see guys come up through the system and get to the big leagues. Playing winter ball, I’ve played with a lot of great players over in the Dominican (Republic) and I had some success over there and just knew I could do it.

“And, the classic, you still love the game. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing, as long as you still have a jersey. I know it sounds cliche, but until they take that jersey off your back, you’ve got to play as long as you can. Our window is so small. I’ve always wanted to be here.”

Court has primarily played infield in the minors, but Servais said he could be used to help Seattle’s depleted outfield, which is without Domingo Santana and Mitch Haniger.

To make room for Court on the 40-man roster, the Mariners transferred Ryon Healy to the 60-day IL as he continues to work through lower back inflammation and other health issues he has been dealing with the past two months in Arizona.

He was initially placed on the 10-day IL on May 21, and would already be eligible to return, but had another setback with hip discomfort, Servais said earlier in the week. Given the longevity of his injury, and his slow progression, it is possible Healy doesn’t play another game for the Mariners this season.

MAPLE VALLEY’S GOT TALENT

Maple Valley teenager Benicio Bryant, who will be a freshman at Tahoma High School in the fall, sang the national anthem ahead of Friday night’s game at T-Mobile Park, and earned one of the louder ovations from the crowd this season.

Bryant, 14, rose to considerable fame in June, when he performed on the popular reality show “America’s Got Talent” and was unanimously passed through by the four judges to the next round. His rendition of Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” has more than 3.1 million views on YouTube.

Bryant’s father, Jeremy Bryant, is the Mariners’ team chef. He stood alongside Servais and Seattle’s other coaches in the team line during the anthem.

INJURY UPDATES

Santana (elbow) was held out of the lineup again Friday, but took swings in the batting cage and during BP, and could be available to pinch hit during the rest of the Detroit series.

Hunter Strickland (lat strain) threw a scoreless inning with two strikeouts on rehab assignment with the Rainiers on Thursday night. He was in Seattle on Friday to get some extra throwing in, and could be activated this weekend, Servais said.

Felix Hernandez (lat strain) will not begin a rehab assignment with Short-A Everett on Sunday as originally planned. “I think it’s probably best for him to have one more live BP here,” Servais said. That will likely happen Sunday.

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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