SEATTLE — It’s not the type of experience that Mitch Haniger prefers to relive, but it’s a situation he has dealt with before in his career and understands the process of a return.
In 2017, he got off to a promising start to his first season with the Seattle Mariners, but it was interrupted by injury, or more specifically injuries. A badly strained oblique suffered in late May, a setback in that recovery and a 95 mph fastball off his face from Jacob de Grom in late July derailed a promising season, causing him to miss 60 games.
And now in 2019, a gruesome injury has derailed another season for the Mariners’ All-Star right fielder. Haniger suffered a ruptured testicle on June 6 when he fouled a ball into his groin. It required immediate surgery. During his recovery and rehab, Haniger experienced from pushing himself a little too hard and experienced some pain after running. He’s now missed 49 games. It’s galling for a player that prided himself on playing in 157 games in 2018.
On Wednesday afternoon, Haniger was another full participant in the Mariners’ pregame workout. He’s on the cusp of a return to game action with a rehab stint that could possibly start next week.
“He’s looked good,” manager Scott Servais said. “I sat down and talked to Mitch yesterday and we want to get through the workouts here on this homestand and see where he’s at. If he keeps progressing, I would hope at some point, maybe when we are on the road trip, that he starts a rehab.”
If Haniger goes out on a rehab assignment, he could perhaps return to the team by the next homestand, starting on Aug. 23. That would give him 30-plus games to finish out the season.
“It’s been good to just get going and start cranking things up again,” Haniger said. “It’s a lot better this time. I think everything is fully healed and now it’s just about building up and getting going.”
He hopes to follow a path similar to 2017 and get healthy enough to return to the field for a strong finish and build for next season.
“Everyone wants to do well and finish strong,” Haniger said. “For me, I’m just buying into controlling what I can control, coming back and getting my work in and being mentally and physically ready to help this team win and finish the year strong.”
In 2017, Haniger missed 18 games after taking a fastball to the face and returned on Aug. 19. He’d been struggling prior to the injury, but ended the year on a torrid run, posting a .318/.344/.580 slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 12 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 23 RBI in his final 38 games. That stretch also included a slight tweak to his swing about nine games into it. Over his final 29 games, he posted a .366/.386/.659 line with 10 doubles, a triple, eight homers and 17 RBI.
He’d be happy to end that way again, especially since he wasn’t pleased with his production prior to his injury. He had a .220/.314/.463 line with 13 doubles, a triple, 15 homers, 30 RBI and a whopping 81 strikeouts in 63 games.
“I think that’s all every player wants to do the last couple months of the year, just end it on a good note and go into the offseason feeling good,” he said. “But when everything is going great and you’re having success, it’s tough to really learn from some things. For me at least, I was able to kind of step back and take a look at stuff I’ve been struggling with and now be able to know why and move forward.”
He was even willing to sort of share some of what was learned from those struggles.
“Just some mechanical things,” he said. “I was getting too rotational with my swing. Obviously, any hitter, when you’re going through a slump, you start pressing and trying to go after hits instead of staying process-oriented. For me, I’ve never been a guy who wasn’t going to work hard. The work has always been there, but just staying committed and focused that it’s going to come around. I feel really good with how everything is going and I’m excited to get back out there.”
Haniger is an integral part of the Mariners’ rebuild process as either a foundational player or a valuable future trade chip. So a strong finish to 2019 and a push into 2020 would be optimal for all parties involved.