Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais hinted during the last homestand that Domingo Santana, who has been dealing with right elbow inflammation since July, was nearing a late-season return from the injured list.
The outfielder was indeed activated Tuesday for this final two-week stretch.
Servais suggested earlier this week that Santana is unlikely to appear in the starting lineup during Seattle’s three-game series in Pittsburgh. Santana hasn’t been able to complete the usual rehab process, as the Mariners’ minor-league affiliates have finished playing for the year.
He will be available primarily as a pinch hitter against the Pirates and probably won’t appear in the outfield until at least the Baltimore series or perhaps when the Mariners return home next week for the season’s final six games as he continues to rebuild elbow strength.
“He hasn’t had any at-bats or anything for quite a while,” Servais said Sunday. “We’ll try to slowly work him in there. ... Just get him out there before the end of the year. That’s the only goal.”
Santana has been regularly participating in batting practice and swinging without issue, and he was playing catch up to 150-200 feet during the last homestand, but the Mariners have been hesitant to accelerate his return.
He has been battling soreness in his throwing arm since the All-Star break and was removed from the outfield during a game against Texas on July 23 when a pair of throws aggravated the issue.
Santana appeared in 15 more games after that, exclusively as a designated hitter, but was just 6-for-29 with a double, two homers, four RBI, nine walks and 27 strikeouts, prompting the Mariners to send him to the IL on Aug. 20.
Santana, who is 27 and not part of Seattle’s long-term outfield plans, is a possible offseason trade piece for the Mariners. Any games he plays down the stretch could improve his value. He was reportedly of interest to the Indians and Rays at the trade deadline but no deal came to fruition.
He is one of several Mariners outfielders on one-year contracts after arriving from the Brewers last offseason, but Seattle has plenty coming up through the pipeline, with rookies Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley (shut down for the season with a thumb injury) having already debuted. They join a crowded outfield that includes Mallex Smith, Mitch Haniger (on the IL since June) and Braden Bishop.
Top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are progressing quickly and could potentially arrive in Seattle sometime during the next two seasons.
The options the Mariners have in their growing outfield, paired with the 12 errors Santana committed playing left and right field in 101 games — which leads all outfielders in the majors by a margin of five — make him a possible candidate for an offseason swap.
Santana has had an intriguing season offensively. He was slashing at .256/.332/.449 with 20 doubles, 21 homers, 69 RBI, 49 walks and eight stolen bases in 115 games before he was placed on the IL. Those numbers were propelled by a quick start in the spring, though he also led the majors with 159 strikeouts before his injury.
Where to put Shed?
Despite a broken finger hampering Mariners prospect Shed Long for much of the second half of the Triple-A season, he is seeing a good share of playing time since joining the big-league club Sept. 3.
What would the Mariners like to learn about Long in the final two weeks?
“I think the biggest thing to find out about Shed is just where is he ultimately going to land positionally on the field? It may be for a while he kind of moves around a little bit,” Servais told reporters in Pittsburgh. “I do like the versatility and what you’re able to do lineup-wise being able to move him around.”
It’s possible Long someday ends up as the Mariners’ second baseman, should they eventually move Dee Gordon, but he’s played second, third and left field in three stints with Seattle this season and had a similar distribution with the Rainiers.
“We have a pretty good idea how he’s wired in the batter’s box, but just (want to) see how he handles more things defensively, whether it’s at second base, left field, third base, wherever we put him,” Servais said.
The Mariners have been impressed with the pop in Long’s bat and had him batting leadoff for the sixth consecutive game Tuesday. He is 11-for-35 (.314) with a double, two homers and four RBI since his call-up.
“He’s got the ability to hit a double, hit a homer. It’s not just get on base and steal a base, like a prototypical leadoff guy,” Servais said. “But, the leadoff position has changed a lot over the years with the George Springers, and we even had Haniger in that spot for a good chunk of last year.
“When the lineup flips over, having that guy at the top that can drive the ball and drive in a few more runs sometimes is valuable.”
Story of September
Lewis was slotted to bat cleanup for the Mariners again Tuesday, looking to continue what was a spectacular first week in the majors.
Entering the game, Lewis had reached base safely in each of his first six career games, including logging a hit in five of those, and a homer in four. He was 9-for-25 (.360) with two doubles, the four homers and nine RBI entering the road trip.
“I hope his confidence is growing,” Servais said. “Kyle is off to a great start. He’s trying to learn, take it all in. He’s still got things to work on in his game, but it’s nice when players come up and they can get off to that kind of start. It does take a little bit of the pressure off.”
How even keeled Lewis has stayed through this stretch and the maturity he’s shown at the plate have been particularly striking to Servais.
“His skill set and how he’s handled his at-bats, the ability to make some adjustments in the course of an at-bat, is something we’ve seen, based on how other teams are going to pitch him and attack him,” Servais said. “I’m really impressed with all of that stuff.”
DUNN’S NEXT START
Rookie starter Justin Dunn’s debut last week against the Reds didn’t quite pan out as hoped — he issued five walks, allowed three steals and a pair of runs before exiting with two outs in the first inning.
But, Servais believes his second start against the Pirates will be much more efficient.
“He’ll get the ball (Wednesday), and hopefully it goes a little bit better,” Servais said. “I’m pretty sure it will. ... You have to go through it, experience it, and experience how to handle your emotions.
“Justin’s a pretty sharp guy. He’s going to learn from it. He knew right away what happened. Now can he make an adjustment? We’ll find out.”
Dunn was 9-5 with a 3.55 ERA in 25 starts for Double-A Arkansas before his September promotion.
“Eventually he will settle in and he’s going to be who we think he is,” Servais said.