Haniger closing '17 just like he started -- strong

September 17th, 2017

HOUSTON -- Mitch Haniger has come full circle this season and that's a welcome sign for the Mariners' future.

Seattle's rookie right fielder got off to a scorching start in April before straining his right oblique and having to sit out seven weeks. And when he returned, things got a little rocky.

While fighting to regain his timing at the plate, Haniger got hit in the right index finger as he attempted to lay down a bunt in mid-July and had to deal for several weeks with trying to hit and throw after losing his fingernail.

Then came the 95-mph fastball in the face from the Mets' that landed him back on the disabled list for three weeks.

It's probably not surprising then that after posting a superlative .342/.447/.608 slash line with four homers and 16 RBIs in his first 21 games before the oblique injury, Haniger put up just a .192/.282/.311 line with four homers and 14 RBIs in 46 games from mid-June to late August.

That slump was enough to raise eyebrows regarding how real Haniger's hot start had been, but the 26-year-old has answered those questions in impressive fashion. After going 1-for-4 in Sunday's 7-1 loss to the Astros, Haniger has slashed .403/.419/.722 with six doubles, a triple, five homers and 12 RBIs over his last 17 games.

"You always want to finish strong," Haniger said. "For me, right now my body feels back to normal. I feel healthy and 100 percent. I had some stretches with injuries that were nagging. My finger was messed up and then I got hit in the face. So now it's just go out there and play. I feel healthy, so it's good to just get back in the groove."

Acquired from the D-backs along with shortstop in the deal in November, Haniger has pieced together one of the better rookie seasons in Mariners history. His .832 OPS would be fourth best in franchise history, trailing only Danny Tartabull (.836) in the 1986 season, 2001 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner and MVP (.838) and 1984 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Alvin Davis (.888).

Mariners manager Scott Servais has consistently praised Haniger's professional approach and believed he'd be fine, but acknowledged it's good to see the return to form in September.

"It's really important how you finish seasons," Servais said. "Everybody says it, but to really put into play what Haniger has done and how he's bounced back and not just, 'Ah, he just had one good month.' No, he's had a couple good months. When he's healthy and playing every day, you can see how his preparation and how he goes about it start to pay off."

Haniger's first full season in the Majors has certainly come with highs and lows, but the long-range picture looks bright.

"He's finishing on a high note," Servais said. "Who knows what his numbers are going to look like at the end of the year, but they keep going up, so that's a good thing. I'm glad we've got him and we control him for a long time."