HOUSTON -- Mariners manager Scott Servais has regularly rotated his outfielders to keep them fresh for the last few months, splitting playing time between Denard Span, Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, Cameron Maybin and even Dee Gordon.But one thing has stayed the same. Since missing two games in early July with
HOUSTON -- Mariners manager Scott Servais has regularly rotated his outfielders to keep them fresh for the last few months, splitting playing time between Denard Span, Guillermo Heredia, Ben Gamel, Cameron Maybin and even Dee Gordon.
But one thing has stayed the same. Since missing two games in early July with a bruised knee, Mitch Haniger has been penciled in to right field, or even center field, every day. And for good reason.
Haniger has been the Mariners' best position player much of the year and he's taken that up another level in the stretch run.
The 27-year-old has hit .326 with 17 doubles, seven homers, 28 runs scored and 21 RBIs over his last 44 games entering Tuesday. The first-year All-Star was tied with teammate Nelson Cruz and the Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton for eighth in the American League in RBIs with 89 while batting .282 with 25 home runs.
For good measure, he shared the MLB lead in outfield assists with 12, which was two more than any other right fielder in the game, and had the highest bWAR on the Mariners at 5.7.
In typical Haniger fashion, he's shown no sign of letting up even as Seattle's playoff hopes have dwindled with their second-half fade.
"Whether your team is out of it in September or you're still in it, you have to take pride in your job and yourself," Haniger said. "These games matter for everyone and for next year. I'm just trying to take runs away in the outfield and produce at the plate."
Nobody appreciates that approach more than his manager, who acknowledges he probably needs to give Haniger a day off soon so he, too, can catch his breath.
"He is grinding through it," said Servais. "He's really tired. He's had an unbelievable season and he's not backing off the gas until it's over. He had a little downswing coming out of the All-Star Game and was struggling. He made a little adjustment and figured out what he was doing wrong a little mechanically at the plate and got back on track again."
Haniger's defense has also been on display recently as he's risen to the top of the outfield assist ranks. That, too, is something he's worked tirelessly at and credits being fully healthy this season as helping.
Last year he missed time with a strained oblique and then quietly played through a finger issue much of the second half that affected his throwing grip after getting hit in the right hand while trying to drop down a bunt in mid-July.
"I want to throw out everybody I can," Haniger said. 'It's something I've always been pretty good at, so I'm just looking to keep improving and getting better. Typically when I'm feeling good, accuracy isn't an issue. I'm usually pretty accurate."
He's been on target in all phases of his game lately, with his offense getting even better since moving into the leadoff role in mid-August.
"You just continue to see the confidence grow," Servais said. "The power, the quality of at-bats, the plays in the outfield, the throwing arm. He's the real deal, the complete package. He's having a phenomenal season."
Paxton, Felix could rejoin rotation soon
James Paxton threw a lengthy bullpen session prior to Tuesday's game at Minute Maid Park to see how he's bouncing back from last week's bout with flu and pneumonia. If the big lefty continues progressing, he could rejoin the rotation this weekend when the Mariners conclude their 10-game road trip with a three-game series in Arlington.
Felix Hernandez, who has stayed back in Seattle getting treatment on a sore right hamstring, is expected to rejoin the club in Arlington as well. Servais said the hope is for Hernandez to throw a bullpen session when he gets back with the club, then potentially slide back into the rotation after that if all goes well.
With those decisions still in flux, the Mariners haven't set their rotation for the Rangers series and also haven't announced who will start Wednesday's series finale against the Astros. That would have been Paxton's turn, but instead they'll go with a bullpen game.
Servais said Wednesday's starter could be Roenis Elias, who threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings in a spot start last Friday in Paxton's first missed start. But it's also possible the club could start right-handed long man Casey Lawrence or one of its more experienced right-handed relievers as an "opener" against the Astros' right-handed heavy lineup.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.