John McGrath

‘Run of freak injuries’ doesn’t do the Mariners’ past two weeks justice

Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz, right, celebrates with Dee Gordon in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run against the Cleveland Indians on March 31. Moments later Cruz sprained his ankle in the dugout and has not played since.
Seattle Mariners' Nelson Cruz, right, celebrates with Dee Gordon in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run against the Cleveland Indians on March 31. Moments later Cruz sprained his ankle in the dugout and has not played since. The Associated Press

Home runs that break seventh-inning ties and lead to victories are not a typical source of anxiety for a manager. But after Dee Gordon put a line drive into the right-field seats last week, Scott Servais was tempted to wince.

Celebrating at home plate with teammate Robinson Cano, Gordon performed the kind of standing vertical jump that would drop the jaws of scouts at the NFL combine. Gordon returned to earth safely, but not before scaring a skipper who has become an expert on the many occupational hazards of a non-contact sport.

Although the Mariners matinee against the Twins was postponed Sunday, there was more bad news on the fluke-injury front. First baseman Ryon Healy, who finally appeared to find his bat-swing timing in Seattle’s 11-4 victory on Saturday, turned his ankle during a postgame workout. He’s expected to sit out a few days and likely several more, as the term “slight sprain” is an oxymoron similar to “friendly interest rates.”

The Healy injury means the Mariners now have lost players before, during and after games. Catcher Mike Zunino set the trend when he strained his oblique in the batting cage one day prior to the season opener. Then DH Nelson Cruz slipped on a dugout step, incurring an ankle sprain has kept the slugger out of action for more than a week.

Healy’s mishap underscored the cruel sense of humor of the baseball gods. The gametime temperature Saturday was 27 degrees — coldest in the history of the M’s franchise — and posed all sorts of problems for ballplayers challenged to get loose.

Conditions were ripe for sprains and pulled muscles, but the Mariners somehow survived the frigid weather. Whew!

It was the comfortable, room-temperature climate of the exercise room that proved daunting.

I can’t imagine that my first priority upon concluding a three-hour game in subfreezing temperatures would be stretching and lifting weights. My first priority would be camping out in the hot tub, followed by a scalding shower, followed by another extended stay in the hot tub.

Then again, I’m not a professional athlete tethered to a strict regimen espoused by trainers. Workouts following games are as routine nowadays as feasting on fried chicken and cold cuts, while sipping beer from a bottomless beer keg in the clubhouse, used to be 50 years ago.

I am reminded of the “Ice Bowl,” the 1967 NFL championship game between the Packers and Cowboys at Green Bay. When halftime presented a chance for a 30-minute thaw, several Packers wrapped their cold fingers around the cigarettes they’d been craving since stepping onto the frozen tundra.

Players are vastly more about vigilant about taking care of their bodies — the last person I saw lighting up a cigarette in the Mariners clubhouse was Lou Piniella, when he managed the team between 1993 and 2002 — and the postgame workout is embedded into their schedule.

All well and good, until the guy committed to the postgame workout shows up at the ballpark the following morning on crutches.

The Cruz injury is a particular baffler. He’s as well-conditioned as anybody in the game, a 37-year old veteran with uncommon eye-hand coordination, and he hurts himself negotiating a dugout step? Seriously?

Just connecting some dots here, trying not to overreact, but the fact he slipped tells me the dugout step is, ahem, slippery. A different surface would seem to be in order — something like a mat, or a carpet, but I suppose cleats also can get entangled on a carpet, and more problematic than a slight ankle sprain is a slight knee injury.

Here’s what I know: The Mariners are seven games into the new season, and their manager has yet to assemble his regular lineup of position players. If they had played Sunday, almost half of that anticipated lineup — Zunino, Cruz, Healy and left fielder Ben Gamel — would have been out.

As an optimist steeped in the cup-is-half-full school, I am looking forward to that day when Servais is able to craft the batting order he wants, with speed at the top and power in the middle and some combination of both at the bottom.

It will happen.

But if “Deep” Gordon decides an understated fist bump might be a more prudent way to revel in the joy of an occasional home run than a sky-high leap, hey, I’m all on board with that, too.

No player has been placed on the disabled list with an injury sustained in a fist-bump exchange. Home plate should be safe for celebration, a pristine haven preceding that dangerous trek down the dugout stairs.

  Comments