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Servais navigating lineup as injuries mount

MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

When Mariners manager Scott Servais was asked to provide a quick synopsis of the team's disabled list, he smiled.

He couldn't help himself.

When Mariners manager Scott Servais was asked to provide a quick synopsis of the team's disabled list, he smiled.

He couldn't help himself.

Hey, it was better than crying.

"We've got [nine] players on the disabled list," he said. "Let's talk about the guys who are here."

It's been that kind of season for the Mariners, who after a series of offseason moves designed to add speed and punch to the lineup showed up in Arizona for Spring Training with reason to feel they could be a factor in the American League West. Then the season started, and the painful truth surfaced.

This week began with 10 Mariners on the disabled list, including four of the five members of the season-opening rotation -- left-handers James Paxton, and Drew Smyly, and right-handers Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma.

And that doesn't include players on the active roster who are playing through ailments, including Nelson Cruz, the heart of the lineup, who is battling leg problems. Cruz was also forced out of Thursday's game after just two plate appearances after he was hit by a pitch on his right hand. Jean Segura also left Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Rockies after injuring his right ankle sliding into second base.

Cruz, Segura exit game with injuries

There are signs of hope, however.

Paxton was activated for Wednesday's start against the Rockies, and in his first time on the mound in 29 days worked 5 1/3 shutout innings in a 5-0 victory, improving his record to 4-0 and lowering his ERA to 1.26.

Video: COL@SEA: Paxton shuts down Rockies over 5 1/3 frames

Felix Hernandez is expected to begin a Minor League rehab assignment next week with a June 19 return to the big leagues from his battle with bursitis in his right shoulder. Iwakuma had a comfortable bullpen session in Colorado this week, and could move up to facing hitters soon, leading up to a late-June return from his battle with a strained right lat muscle. And there is the hope Smyly (left flexor strain in elbow) could be back around the All-Star break.

Oh, and outfielder Mitch Haniger, who was hitting .342 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 21 games before suffering a right oblique strain, is getting close to a rehab assignment, too.

But the season is two months old, and the Mariners went into Thursday in fourth place in the AL West, 13 games back of the Astros, who had a best-in-baseball 38-16 record. Now, the Mariners are within four games of the Wild Card spot, but they also would have to jump over seven teams in the process.

The Mariners did, however, go into Thursday with a four-game winning streak, matching their best of the season, before losing to the Rockies 6-3. And the Mariners had won five of their previous seven games. Not earth-shattering, by any means, but progress.

Such is life with a team that is closing in on making its 90th roster move two months into the season. The Mariners have used 44 different players in the first 54 games of the season, including 27 pitchers, 12 of whom have started a game. Not surprisingly, they went into Thursday with a 4.64 ERA, which ranked 25th among Major League teams, and 13th in the AL.

The 44 players lead the Majors, five more than the Blue Jays, six more than the Red Sox and seven more than the Angels, three other teams that have been challenged to stay in pennant races in the first two months of the season.

"It's very challenging is the best way to put it," Servais said. "You are trying to create a team environment, and it's hard."

Hard? This is a team that showed up in Spring Training having already bid adieu to 25 players who appeared in the big leagues for them last year, and with 17 new additions on the big league roster. And if that wasn't enough of a challenge for creating a clubhouse culture, the Mariners already have had nine players who weren't even on the 40-man roster at the start of Spring Training appear in games in the regular season.

How challenging have things been? Last Friday, the roster moves had such an organizational impact that the Mariners flew two pitchers in from extended spring training to pitch in a game for Triple-A Tacoma.

"The number of meetings I have had welcoming guys who I have never seen before," Servais said. "Guys haven't had a lot of experience. It has been a challenge. It's been about, 'Hang in there.'"

There are signs, however, of better things to come.

It began with the return of Paxton on Wednesday, the start of what the Mariners hope will be a return to roster strength in the coming weeks.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

Seattle Mariners