By Jose Romero
The Associated Press
PEORIA, Ariz. — It will be months, at best, before Mitch Haniger is ready to suit up and take the field for the Seattle Mariners.
But after three surgeries in seven months and two within the last four weeks, Haniger is in a positive frame of mind.
The 2018 All-Star outfielder said Thursday that he isn’t feeling much pain from surgery in his core area in January plus a back procedure earlier this month.
“Excited to be in camp with the guys and be around everybody,” Haniger said. “Hopefully I can contribute to the team as much as I can during this time that I’m not going to be on the field.”
Haniger said he believes he can play at some point this season.
“I tend to and I hope so and I expect to be,” he said.
Haniger, who hit .285 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs in 2018, took time to rehash his recent timeline of medical events. It all started last June when he fouled a pitch off his groin area during a game.
Haniger went on the 10-day injured list with a ruptured testicle, and in August went out on a rehab assignment. But he began to feel back pain and was shut down for the rest of the season.
Haniger said that early in his rehabilitation last summer he tore an adductor muscle attachment in his core, which eventually led to his back pain. The injury went undiagnosed and he continued his work into the offseason.
He felt good enough physically in early January to ramp up baseball activities, until one morning he woke up in a great deal of pain and could barely walk. That led to the core surgery.
His back pain got worse when he started his rehab from the core procedure, and an MRI showed a herniated lower spine. So on Feb. 13 he underwent a small repair of vertebrae in his back.
“I’m really happy now that the problems are fixed. Surgery intervention was needed to fix both of those issues and now I’m really excited that I can move forward,” he said. “I have a clear plan to get back on the field. Whenever that may be, I don’t know what timetables are as of right now.”
The first step in Haniger’s rehabilitation process from his latest surgery is simply walking, he said, with no lifting, bending or twisting.
Visibly thinner without the muscular frame he builds when in game shape, Haniger said he’s learned a good deal about mental toughness. He enjoys working out and said he gets skinny if he isn’t bulking up with weights.
“I think I can get through anything. Been tested in a lot of ways these last seven months,” he said. “But I’ve done a lot of work in that department over the years and continue to put in more and more work every year.”
Mariners manager Scott Servais said he’s glad Haniger is at spring training with the team. Haniger, 29, is one of the few veterans on a largely young Mariners roster.
“It’s going to be a process for him just trying to get the strength back and work from there,” Servais said.
Haniger’s absence opens the door for Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop, two players who made their big league debuts last season, to start the season in right field as the Mariners move forward with their rebuild. Veteran Carlos Gonzalez, a three-time All-Star in camp on a minor-league deal, is also in contention.
Suzuki first pitch
Longtime Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki will throw out the first ball in the regular-season opener March 26 at home against Texas. The 10-time All-Star outfielder, 46 has been shagging flyballs and pitching batting practice in spring training as a special assistant/instructor. He started the Mariners’ first two games last year when they opened in Japan, then retired as a player. … Servais said left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr., who arrived in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees, is scheduled to start the first game of spring training Saturday and work a couple of innings.