Removing from the conversation all of the relocation threats that soured the franchise’s first 20 years, the game in Detroit Tuesday had to be among the top five most dispiriting moments in the Mariners’ 41 years on the planet’s surface. But the Mariners Wednesday night came back with a statement, beating the Tigers 8-0 behind a four-hit, seven-inning masterpiece from starter James Paxton (box).
Regarding Tuesday, it’s been nine years since MLB has seen a game with 55 baserunners (56 in a 2008 Marlins-Rockies game). But tediously gloomy as was the magnitude and ineptitude of the 19-9 defeat, the loss to injury of two stars in different trajectories — one coming, one going — but both central to the prospects for success in 2017, was a shot to the nether parts.
Starter Felix Hernandez came out of the game in the second inning after giving up four runs because of what manager Scott Servais later termed a dead arm. An inning later, their hottest hitter, rookie Mitch Haniger, was removed after straining an oblique muscle during a hard swing, an injury that typically takes weeks to heal.
“Obviously the start Haniger is off to has opened a lot of eyes, not just in our clubhouse, but around baseball,” Servais told MLB.com before the game Wednesday. “And everyone knows what Felix means, and being able to run him out there every fifth day, and taking innings and getting us deep into games and giving us a chance to win.
“It is a bit of a blow. But it’s part of being a pro. You come to work the next day and try to get yourself in a good spot to help the team win a ballgame tonight.”
For a night, it worked. DH Nelson Cruz and LF Guillermo Heredia had two-run homers and SS Jean Segura had three hits as the Mariners won for the second time on a road trip that started with three losses in four games at Oakland.
Tuesday night in the fifth inning, the reportedly healthy bullpen gave up nine runs on eight hits via 13 plate appearances by the Tigers. Had Detroit’s star, Miguel Cabrera, not been on the disabled list, the game might have ended only by municipal curfew at Comerica Park.
Wednesday amid the ashes, the Mariners made a flurry of moves. Haniger and Hernandez were moved to the 10-day disabled list, calling the pitcher’s problem a right-shoulder inflammation. Also gone were Chris Heston and Evan Marshall, the relievers responsible for the the fifth-inning conflagration, the biggest inning in the park’s history. They were sent to AAA Tacoma, from where three pitchers and an outfielder were recalled.
Ben Gamel, who in his past nine Rainiers games hit .355 with six RBIs and seven walks, was inserted into Haniger’s place in right field. Two right-handers, Casey Fien and Chase De Jong, joined lefty Dillon Overton in Detroit for the second of the three-game series at 4:10 p.m. PT.
Servais said De Jong will take Hernandez’s place in the starting rotation, going Sunday in Cleveland.
After a downturn last season in his career arc, Hernandez and general manager Jerry Dipoto were adamant in spring training that, at 31 with more than 2,400 major league innings, the Mariners’ ace was still capable of a good season, suggesting that leg problems (not arm problems) were fixed.
But there’s nothing about the phrase “dead arm” that suggests a swift return to pre-2016 form. Hernandez (in five starts, a 2-2 record with a 4.73 ERA with 22 strikeouts and three walks) often has been hittable, especially by batters who’ve learned to get after him on the first pitch.
Haniger said after the game Tuesday that he was dealing with soreness for a few days before pulling the rib muscle.
“I felt a grab in my side in the first swing of the second at-bat (a foul ball),” Haniger told reporters. “And then running down the line, it was bugging me.”
Afer a single, Haniger had to dive back to first base on a pick-off attempt, and rose grimacing. He was taken from the game.
“It’s been tender the last couple of days,” he told the Seattle Times. “But honestly, with how grueling this game is, you are always battling something. It’s disappointing. I took all the precautionary steps as far as making sure I was really loose, treating it and trying to make sure things didn’t get worse. Unfortunately it did. Hopefully, it’s just a quick return and it’s not too big of a setback.”
Haniger was hitting .338 and leads the American League in runs (20), second in on-base percentage (.442), tied for third in hits (27) and doubles (seven), fourth in extra-base hits (12) and tied for fifth in RBIs (16).
The 10-day list is no indicator of the expected length of recovery. Oblique injuries can take from one to two months to heal. Hernandez’s injury also figures to be awhile. He declined to speak about it Tuesday night as well as during pre-game Wednesday. He and Haniger were booked to fly back to Seattle after Wednesday’s game.
If all of that weren’t enough, 3B Kyle Seager sat out his third game in a row with hip soreness, but is expected back Thursday.
Losers of four of five and 8-13, with fewer wins that all but two AL clubs heading into Wednesday’s games, the Mariners are missing two (Hernandez and Drew Smyly) of their five projected starters from spring training, have already jettisoned starting CF Leonys Martin, hitting .111, for poor production, and benched starting 1B Danny Valencia for same.
With four road games left in the month, including three at defending AL champion Cleveland, they are assured of a losing April. Remaining personnel moves look to be minimal, so avoiding more double-digit defeats may be the modest goal until health returns.