Unlikely spark plug fueling Mariners' lineup

August 17th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer's Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ANAHEIM -- The fan club was small but adorable. A child in Arlington over the weekend stood atop the visiting dugout with his parents, donned eyeblack and a teal Mariners jersey with a makeshift taped name and number 0 on his back. But the biggest attribute to the kid’s look was the headband with Seattle’s ‘S’ logo under his cap.

It was the perfect mini-me to Sam Haggerty, and also a tangible token to the utility man’s growing popularity among Mariners fans.

“He was very cute, very fun,” Haggerty said. “I’m not too active on social media, but the warmth that fans have given me when I run out at T-Mobile has been great. I have fun with them, and it’s just been a great ride. I’m looking forward to the next couple of months.”

Haggerty spoke of contributing in the Mariners’ playoff push with conviction, and for good reason. He was again a key vessel in a critical moment of a late-innings win on Monday, sparking Seattle’s tiebreaking rally in the ninth at Angel Stadium.

And that was after he entered the week hitting .341/.380/.577 (.957 OPS) in 93 plate appearances over 34 games since being recalled from Triple-A Tacoma on June 29.

Before Monday, Haggerty had some huge production in August, including a pinch-hit homer and impressive instincts on the basepaths in a big victory in New York. Haggerty also broke up a no-hitter against those same Yankees less than a week later in Seattle with a tie-breaking homer off Nestor Cortes that put the Mariners in business in one of their biggest wins of the year. He also sneakily set up Julio Rodríguez’s heroics in an epic comeback against Texas last month.

“When he gets in the game, he makes things happen,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Haggerty was recalled when outfielder Taylor Trammell was placed on the 10-day IL. Haggerty plays multiple positions, switch-hits and hustles -- all attributes Servais loves. But even Servais didn’t envision Haggerty playing his way into a borderline everyday role. When Trammell was activated on Saturday, the Mariners opted to keep Haggerty and option Trammell to Tacoma.

So, what’s been behind Haggerty’s hitting transformation?

"I didn't ask Sam Haggerty to all of a sudden be Mickey Mantle,” Servais said. “It just worked out that way, because he wasn't trying to do too much."

Specifically, the Mariners wanted to see Haggerty have a stronger all-field approach. Though he’s slugging at a high clip, that’s not part of his offensive profile. He embraced the instruction after going to Tacoma in June. He also installed a mechanical adjustment where he moves his feet slightly before first pitch, a practice he began last offseason.

Here’s his spray chart on his 30 hits since being promoted:

“I had been working on it and felt like I was making some good headway, and I didn't get a ton of opportunities the first time around up here, which is, again, it's just baseball,” Haggerty said. “I was able to come back and got a few more at-bats and was able to prove that I could use the whole field.”

It sounds easier said than done though, yeah?

“You’re always trying to challenge yourself to practice and be very stringent and strict on yourself to control the barrel and move the baseball around,” Haggerty said of his BP routine. “And, like you said, you get into the game and just let it all go.”

Before scoring Monday’s go-ahead run, Haggerty started in left field against the Angels and Shohei Ohtani over Jesse Winker, whose defensive struggles have at times been a liability -- such as in Saturday’s loss in Texas. Haggerty profiles better at second base, but he’s also been at or slightly above average in the outfield, depending on the defensive metrics.

Might it be a sign of what’s to come, especially with each game becoming more and more important? Having a player with Haggerty’s ability -- and hustle -- is hugely valuable in the postseason. And if he keeps producing, like he did Monday, the Mariners will keep finding a place for him.