PEORIA, Ariz. — When Matt Mangini says he feels fine, he really means it this time.
For the first time since midway through last season, the Seattle Mariners’ 25-year-old third-base prospect is healthy and eager to show what he can do at the plate and in the field at spring training.
“I’m all ears and I’m just working hard,” Mangini said Thursday before the Mariners’ morning workout.
Best of all, Mangini said he’s completely healed from a strained right quad muscle that was much worse than he’d thought as he played through the pain the last half of last season. He played well with it, finishing with a career-best .313 average, 18 home runs and 63 RBI at Class AAA Tacoma before being called up to the Mariners in September.
Mangini batted just .211 in 38 at-bats with the Mariners, but it was a taste of the big leagues and the perfect lead-in to an offseason of winter ball that would prepare him well for spring training.
Instead, Mangini spent the winter rehabbing the quad after a postseason exam revealed a partially torn (Grade 2 strain) muscle.
“I was really looking forward to playing in the fall league and I was going to try to go over to Venezuela,” he said. “But we decided it was probably better to make sure it was 100 percent going into spring training. That was my concern. I wanted to show up in shape and not have to get into shape at spring training. I feel good so far, so it was a good decision.”
Mangini hurt the leg during a game in July when he tried to stretch a hit into a double and felt the quad grab. He felt it the rest of the season.
“It wasn’t like I couldn’t walk or anything,” he said. “There was a little bit of pain, but you’re always going to be banged up in a 140-game season. You suck it up and keep going.”
Mangini sucked it up to produce the best of his four minor league seasons since the Mariners selected him in the supplemental round of the 2007 draft. He’d batted .273 with 12 homers and 67 RBI in 2009 at Class AA West Tennessee and backed it up at Tacoma, injury and all.
The key to that success, Mangini said, is that he settled into a routine last year with both his pregame and in-game work.
“I’m real big on routines. Routines give you confidence, they make you feel comfortable and relaxed,” he said. “I had a great routine last year and I’m sticking with it now.”
Darren Brown, who managed Mangini both at Tacoma and in Seattle after he became the Mariners’ interim manager, said the consistency in Mangini’s hitting throughout last year was the product of his hard work.
“We preach that to them but some of them don’t grasp it,” Brown said. “Those kinds of things keep you from getting into slumps. Did I think he’d hit .300 going into the year? No. But he surprised me and he swung the bat well the whole year. He worked at it, he had a routine that he stuck with and he never got into any kind of slump. He was consistent all year.”
Mangini’s slim September numbers with the Mariners weren’t so alarming because that’s part of the process nearly every young player experiences.
“What you saw in September was a kid coming up for the first time getting his feet wet,” Brown said. “He’s shown us he can hit. Now it’s a matter of doing it at the big-league level.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com/marinersblog and follow his Twitter updates on the team at @kirbyarnold.