As each day and each series passes in September, it seems less likely Mitch Haniger will return to the Seattle Mariners this season.
Mariners manager Scott Servais addressed Haniger’s ongoing injury situation Thursday with reporters in Houston, reiterating again, as he has so often throughout the summer, that there is no timeline for the outfielder’s return.
Is it possible Haniger even steps on the field again, with less than four weeks remaining in a season that will end well short of the playoffs?
“I don’t know,” Servais said. “I want to stay optimistic, and hopefully we can get him back out there, but I can’t answer that.”
The most recent report on Haniger, who has been out since the first week of June, is he is seeking a second opinion about lower back issues that cropped up while he was working through a rehab assignment.
Haniger was initially placed on the IL when he sustained a ruptured testicle after fouling a ball off himself. He spent two stints in the hospital, underwent surgical procedures and wasn’t able to resume any baseball activity for weeks.
He seemed close to a return to the Mariners in August, started fully participating in team workouts and appeared in three rehab games before he was temporarily shut down again. His most recent appearance was on Aug. 20 with Triple-A Tacoma, but his assignment was cut short by the back issues.
“I think just recovering from the surgeries, and having time off, I don’t think my core is back to where it was before, and it’s kind of led to some other things,” Haniger said in August. “Having the core, groin and low back issues kind of all tie hand-in-hand with the pelvis.
“I’m just trying to build up strength and get back on track as soon as possible.”
Haniger said he dealt with some lower back discomfort during spring training, and this recent flare up could be related to that, but he believes it’s more caused by the surgeries earlier in the summer, and missing so much time during the season.
“Just the constant battle of back and forth, I think some things are weak that probably wouldn’t have gotten weak if I had never missed any time,” he said. “Starting up and stopping, I think this became more of an issue.”
The Mariners have been approaching Haniger’s recovery on a day-to-day basis, and he would have to ramp up his running, hitting and throwing again before a late-season return would even be possible.
Haniger said he’s accepted he can’t control the duration of his recovery, but neither he nor the Mariners have yet suggested he needs to be completely shut down for the rest of 2019.
“Playing makes me happy,” Haniger said. “Competing makes me happy.”
Servais said during Seattle’s last homestand there is value to Haniger — or any player that returns from the IL during the final month — playing again this season, even if it is just a handful of games.
Even a single at-bat could trigger offseason progression, he said, and ending the season in a positive place could benefit Haniger, who was leading the majors in strikeouts with 81 before he was placed on the IL.
“You never know when it’s going to click, or when something like that is going to happen, but you’ve got to keep running out there looking for it, and that’s certainly Mitch,” Servais said. “He wants to play.”
OTHERS ON THE MEND
▪ Servais had more optimistic news Thursday in Houston about shortstop J.P. Crawford, who returned to Seattle from this long road trip early with a hamstring injury. Crawford has been working in the weight room and feels “really good,” Servais told reporters.
“We’ll see when we get back home, but I don’t think it’s going to be as long as the original thought was,” Servais said. “I am hoping to get him back before the end of the year, but I really want him to be 100 percent. There’s no reason to rush him out there. … It’s all good there. Moving in the right direction.”
▪ Mariners outfielder Domingo Santana, who has dealt with right elbow inflammation since the All-Star break, and was eventually placed on the IL on Aug. 20, could also return soon.
He’s playing catch “pain free” up to 60 feet, and will increase the distance to 90 feet in the coming days, Servais said. The Mariners could also go back to using Santana as a designated hitter when they face left-handed pitching, as they did for several games before he was placed on the IL.
“I’m curious to see where he’s at when we get home,” Servais said. “I don’t think he’s swung a bat yet. I know he wants to get out there, too, before the season’s over.”