Notes: Lewis starts on IL; Paxton moved back

April 1st, 2021

SEATTLE -- ' recovery from a deep bone bruise in his right knee will be a matter of weeks, Mariners manager Scott Servais said on Wednesday. That will land the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner on the 10-day injured list to begin the regular season.

The transaction can be retroactive to Monday, meaning Lewis could be back as soon as next Thursday, when the Mariners begin their first road trip of the season against the Twins at Target Field. But by that point, Lewis will have gone more than two weeks without a live at-bat. Lewis also has not been working out since suffering the injury running into a wall in a Cactus League game on March 22, just as he was starting to heat up at the plate.

This is why Servais was speaking in measures of weeks when discussing the center fielder’s recovery, which the club initially thought would be a matter of days until an MRI taken a few days after the injury revealed the severity of the bruise. Lewis tore his ACL in the same knee just after he was selected in the 2016 MLB Draft.

“In my mind, I want to give him probably a couple weeks just to make sure it is 100 percent,” Servais said. “It is not at 100 percent right now, and I do not want to risk running him out there and something else happens. But his knee is totally fine. It's structurally fine. There are no issues with that. It’s a bone bruise and we want to be really smart with this.”

In a breakout 2020, Lewis was Seattle’s top run producer, leading the club in homers (11), OPS (.800), wRC+ (126) and WAR (1.6), while hitting .262/.364/.437 and playing in 58 of the club’s 60 games.

The Mariners went 24-8 in games they scored four or more runs and 3-25 in games in which they scored fewer than three. The lineup should be more improved with the returns of All-Star Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy, and a full season of the hot-hitting Ty France. But Lewis was set to take on the role of everyday cleanup hitter, which puts the team's lineup in a more vulnerable position.

Taylor Trammell, who would’ve made the team as the left fielder regardless of Lewis’ situation, will slot into center for the time being, leaving left field open for a combination of José Marmolejos and Jake Fraley, both of whom Servais confirmed made the team before Wednesday’s workout at T-Mobile Park.

Paxton pushed back

James Paxton will not pitch in Friday’s game against the Giants, as was initially planned. Big Maple will instead start on Tuesday against the White Sox, and Yusei Kikuchi will instead pitch in Game 2 against the Giants. That leaves the rotation order, beginning Opening Day on Thursday: Marco Gonzales, Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, Justus Sheffield, Paxton and Justin Dunn.

The decision to delay Paxton was rooted in his unique Spring Training. Paxton’s Cactus League debut was delayed until his fourth turn through the rotation due to work visa issues regarding his status as Canadian citizen, and he wound up making just two starts -- both stellar -- in which he struck out a combined 17 over 8 2/3 innings.

“Looking at how the spring played out with Pax, I just want to give him plenty of time to get before it gets going and cranking it up,” Servais said. “But I thought he threw the ball really well the last couple times out. But you remember, he was a little slow to get going into the “A” games and … I think it picks up the intensity quite a bit, so it just gives him a couple more days to make sure he's good to go his first time out there.”

Mariners’ vaccination eligibility

The Mariners are still working out logistics of vaccinating their players and staff. Clubs were informed on Monday that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 individuals and for clubs where 85% of their Tier 1 individuals are fully vaccinated. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.

Many Seattle players and staff won’t be able to receive the vaccine until April 15, when Washington state citizens ages 16 and older will become eligible. Servais said on Wednesday that the club did not reach the 85% mark before departing Spring Training in Arizona, which has already opened eligibility to those age 16 and older.

“First of all, it's got to be accessible,” Servais said. “What I understand, we just got back in the state of Washington. It is not accessible, age-wise, to our players here. Down in Arizona, they did lower the standards down there, age-wise, so it was accessible down there. But I have not had a lot of in-depth talks with our players. I know it's starting to get talked about a little bit more now as some teams have been more aggressive. But ultimately, it is up to the player. That is a personal decision whether they want to get vaccinated or not.”

The April 15 eligibility date, which on Wednesday was moved up from May 1 by Gov. Jay Inslee, puts the Mariners in a more challenging position to clear the 85% threshold than other clubs, such as the Cardinals, who reached the mark on Wednesday. Protocols won’t be eased until two weeks after the group of 85% on each club has received their final dose.

Servais said the Mariners’ front office is seeking possible eligibility avenues to receive the vaccine on the road. But that could become complicated if vaccine recipients must return to the same site for their second dose, unless they are receiving the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“There's been some people investigating, looking and seeing what might be options for us,” Servais said. “I kind of let other people do that and fill me in on where it's at. I think a lot of it will be driven by the willingness or want from our players to get vaccinated if that is available. So again, we're home for the next week. I know we're not eligible to get it here in the state of Washington, so we have to wait and see how it plays out.”