Even Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais is impressed with how well their first baseman has performed defensively.
“Ryon Healy has done a really nice job over at first — probably better than what we first anticipated after we acquired him after the trade,” Servais said.
Healy has spent the six months since the Mariners completed that offseason trade to acquire him from the Oakland Athletics trying to not just show that he can play, but that he belongs.
Because he could see he didn’t belong with the Athletics anymore.
Healy had nothing bad to say about his time with Oakland, the team that he reached the majors with two seasons ago. He is still close to former teammates. He said he was at Chad Pinder’s bachelor party when he found out he was heading to Seattle in a deal for reliever Emilio Pagan.
But Oakland had moved him from third base to first base to designated hitter. And it was clear they felt they had other players for those positions and could live without Healy.
“I just didn’t see a fit for myself anymore, kind of like they did, which is why I was traded,” Healy said. “It was pretty black and white. There was just really no slot for me to play.”
But he fits with the Mariners.
He and Dee Gordon bring plenty of energy to the Mariners’ clubhouse since general manager Jerry Dipoto brought them in. Except Healy’s is a different kind of energy. Servais called it “combustive energy.”
“Ryon is wired to be hard on himself,” Servais said. “A particular at-bat or play doesn’t go well and he will let himself know. You don’t have to remind Ryon on that stuff. He’s been combustive since the day we’ve had him. Some guys get a couple of bad at-bats and you’ll hear them down in the tunnel leading up to the clubhouse or whatever and it gets loud. He’s yelling at himself or taking it out on his equipment — and we have a couple of guys like that.
“But he’s been able to calm himself down in the batter’s box and it’s been really good to see the past couple of days.”
And part of that comes from Healy wanting to prove so bad that he belongs.
That’s why he was in Miami before spring training working out with Nelson Cruz, Gordon and others instead of soaking in the final few days before the season.
He missed some of the spring after getting surgery on his hand. He couldn’t swing a bat, but, while recovering, he was on the field, getting defensive work with bench coach Manny Acta and third base coach Scott Brosius.
“Ryon is going to be a big part of what we’re doing going forward,” Servais said.
No one hated that .091 batting average after a 2-for-22 start more than Healy. He sprained his ankle during a postgame workout after a bases-loaded double in a win against the Minnesota Twins, but when he returned from the disabled list he hit three home runs in the span of four games against the Cleveland Indians.
“It got me hungry, to be honest,” Healy said about his time on the disabled list. “I’m really excited to be back on the field and show these Seattle fans the kind of player that I am.”
Then he hit the walk-off single last Saturday, pulling a slider in on his hands in the bottom of the 11th inning against the Los Angeles Angels. The next day he hit a two-run home run against Shohei Ohtani.
And it reminded everyone why he hit .271 with 25 home runs with the Athletics in 2017.
“He’s a power hitter is what he is,” Athletics and former Mariners manager Bob Melvin said while his team was in Seattle last week. “When he gets on a roll he can carry you for a little while.”
And it said enough about the Mariners’ lineup that Healy was batting ninth for a while.
“You look up and down their lineup — and he’s hitting ninth?” Melvin said. “That means it’s a really deep lineup. There’s power throughout their lineup … they are a handful.”
Despite missing almost three weeks with the ankle injury, Healy’s six home runs heading into Friday were tied for the third most on the Mariners, behind Mitch Haniger (10) and Nelson Cruz (seven).
But that game-winning hit down the line against the Angels proved he can be more than just a power hitter.
“Probably the biggest thing with Ryon is not getting him in chase mode and chasing pitches or looking for a home run and things like that,” Servais said. “Controlling the strike zone is really big. That’s kind of the next step in his maturation as a hitter. Certainly the tools are there and the power is there — using the whole field and all those other things you are looking for, controlling the strike zone, working himself into better counts is kind of the next step.
“And it looks like he’s ready to take that step.”
But, as Servais said, defensively is where he’s been most impressive.
It’s easy to underrate the importance of a quality defensive first baseman. But there isn’t an infielder who doesn’t appreciate how the 6-foot-5 Healy can stretch for outs, or pick balls out of the dirt.
“There’s a lot of things that go into first base and the fact that I can spend all of my time in my prep work just into that has helped me a lot,” Healy said.
“I’ve always been a first baseman my entire life. It was third base that was more of the challenge for me. It’s been nice to go back to first and get my feet back under me there.”
He was asked how much he’s looking forward to proving just how valuable he can be.
“I’m going to be honest,” Healy said. “I’m going to show that out there on the field instead of sit here and tell you about it.”